AL: Lobbying to include efforts to obtain judicial branch contracts

Current law in Alabama, indeed in most places, defines lobbying to include efforts to promote or oppose legislation or regulatory action. In all such cases the focus is either on the legislature OR the executive branch OR an administrative agency. Alabama’s Legislature, however, is on the verge of expanding the definition of lobbying to include “promoting or attempting to influence the award of a contract or grant by the executive, legislative, or judicial branch“. According to the latest information from The Birmingham News, the Alabama Senate’s Ethics Committee passed that language as part of HB 11 (Special Session) on Monday.  Due to the addition of an amendment in the Senate, the bill would have to be readopted by the House before submission to the Governor, which could happen as early as next week.

OK: Efforts to impeach/remove trial judge already starting

Readers may recall earlier this year I noted a case involving legislative efforts to remove OK trial judge Thomas Bartheld.

Media reports of legislators planning his ouster made the news in June 2009 after Judge Bartheld sentenced a man who had pled no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Judge Bartheld, however, noted that “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant all agreed to this [plea bargain].”

HR 1001 of 2011 asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office.

House considers “informing” Chief Justice Georgia is not a “democracy”

Most states allow their chief justices to offer State of the Judiciary addresses to the legislature or legislative and executive branch leaders.  (A collection of the 2010 State of the Judiciary speeches and archive of past ones is available here.)

Georgia did so via a formal resolution (HR 1682) inviting Chief Justice Carol Hunstein to “address a joint session” on March 16. The Chief Justice did so and in her address noted, “The separation of powers is the very bedrock of our nation’s democracy” and, citing Judge Learned Hand, that “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”

The reference to “democracy” did not sit well with several members of the House, at least 6 of whom introduced a resolution (HR 1770) on March 26 to “inform Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein that the State of Georgia is a republic and not a democracy.”

However, in his January State of the State address, Governor Sonny Perdue made three separate references to the U.S. and/or Georgia as being a “democracy”.

No word on any similar resolution having been introduced for his references.

CO: Legislature asks for Supreme Court opinion on Citizens United

While generally courts are permitted to entertain only cases and controversies, several states allow their Supreme Court to issue advisory opinions. Colorado’s Constitution gives its Supreme Court the power to weigh in “upon important questions upon solemn occasions when required by the governor, the senate, or the house of representatives”.

Colorado’s Governor made such a request on February 9 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. The request paid specific attention to a provision in Colorado’s constitution that states “it shall be unlawful for a corporation or labor organization to provide funding for an electioneering communication; except that any political committee or small donor committee established by such corporation or labor organization may provide funding for an electioneering communication.”

Although the governor alone could have asked for a Supreme Court advisory opinion, both chambers of the state’s legislature added their request through HJR 1011 on February 10. The joint resolution found the questions posed by the governor of “extreme importance and public interest [and] that it is essential that an immediate determination be secured…”

Pennsylvania’s House considers impeaching Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.

Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.  has served in that office in 1996 and had, prior too taking office, purchased over a dozen properties in Philadelphia. The properties were in poor condition and the judge cited over 70 times. According to the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline, Judge Berry made use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to “assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning his properties.” The Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him for four months without pay and he was encouraged to resign by the Philadelphia Bar. Instead, Berry returned to work on January 4.

HR 603 appoints a sub-committee of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Judge Berry’s actions and determine whether they rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Judge, please don’t buy that lotto ticket. Unless you are on a trial court…

Article XVII, Section 8 of the South Carolina constitution states “It shall be unlawful for any person holding an office of honor, trust, or profit to engage in gambling or betting on games of chance; and any such officer, upon conviction thereof, shall become thereby disqualified from the further exercise of the functions of his office, and the office of said person shall become vacant, as in the case of resignation or death.”

HB 3943 would lift the prohibition on “gambling or betting” for lotteries conducted by the state for most officer holders, including trial court judges, but specifically not including “judges sitting on the State Supreme Court or the South Carolina Court of Appeals.”

Judicial Removal Week: Marital Master Philip Cross (NH)

The third New Hampshire bill of address (HA 3) this year focuses on Marital Master Philip Cross. While details are not provided as to specific case number or names in the bill of address, the charges appear to duplicate most of those found in the bill of address Judge Lucinda Sadler but do not involve the “Amanda” case for which Sadler and Marital Master Michael Garner face the prospect of being removed from their respective offices.

It remains to be seen among all three of these bills of address if a committee will be convened to examine the matter. According to the bill status reports from the NH legislature’s website, all three must be voted out of committee and onto the floor by February 18.