Rhode Island: House committee holds hearing on bills that would guarantee certain trial court judgeships & 3 seats on Judicial Nominating Commission to “persons of color”

A hearing was held earlier this week on a series of bills filed to address diversity in the Rhode Island judiciary. Video of the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is here, starts at around 38:15 and ends at around 44:00. During testimony the author of the bills asserted that of Rhode Island’s 85 judges, only 4 were “of color” and that the Judicial Nominating Commission had demonstrated bias in the past against persons of color.

The bills were

HB 5301 requires the judicial selection commission actively and aggressively solicit members of color to apply for judicial appointments, including practicing members of the Rhode Island Bar residing in border states.

HB 5302 provides any trial court seat currently filled by a “person of color” can only be filled in the future by another “person of color.”

HB 5303 would guarantee at least one-third of the seats on the 9-member Judicial Nominating Commission go to “persons of color” and require the governor to make the corresponding appointments.

The House Judiciary committee recommended the measures be held for further study.

Florida: House votes to send term limits for appellate courts to voters by 1 vote; constitutional amendment now goes to Senate

A plan to impose term limits on Florida appellate judges narrowly passed the House earlier today. HJR 1 needed 60% (72 votes) to advance, it got only 73 votes vs. 46 no votes. By comparison, the 2016 version (HJR 197) cleared with 76 yes votes.

HJR 1 as approved by the House limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. It is specifically not retroactive and does not count any prior years of service on a court against a judge (“time served by the justice or district court judge in that office prior to January 9, 2019, shall not be included in the calculation of the total number of consecutive years served in that office.”)

The constitutional amendment now goes to the Senate.

Florida House votes tomorrow on term limits for appellate judges, over a dozen floor amendments filed by same representative who tried to create a “Scalia rule” in 2016

A plan to impose term limits on Florida’s appellate judges is set for a full House vote tomorrow and one House member has introduced over a dozen amendments to the bill.

HJR 1 as filed limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. It is specifically not retroactive and does not count any prior years of service on a court against a judge (“time served by the justice or district court judge in that office prior to January 9, 2019, shall not be included in the calculation of the total number of consecutive years served in that office.”)

A series of floor amendments, however, have been filed for consideration as part of the vote. All these amendments were offered up by the same Representative who tried to amend a “Scalia rule” into the 2016 version of appellate term limits. The “Scalia rule” would have prohibited Florida governors from appointing members of the Florida Supreme Court in their last year in office.

  1. Amendment 769097 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit on appellate judges and ends the state’s merit/commission system of selection, replacing it with governor-appointment with the judge requiring a 2/3rds majority of the House and Senate to be confirmed.
  2. Amendment 240027 puts a 28-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts (supreme and district court of appeal).
  3. Amendment 115709 puts a 24-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  4. Amendment 203245 puts a 20-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  5. Amendment 368361 puts a 16-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  6. Amendment 924205 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  7. Amendment 439969 puts a 24-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  8. Amendment 221391 puts a 20-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  9. Amendment 961487 puts a 16-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  10. Amendment 221391 puts an 8-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  11. Amendment 501941 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) may not represent a client before the court on which they served for 6 years after leaving the court.
  12. Amendment 728183 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) must disclose how much they were paid by clients to appear before the courts on which they served.
  13. Amendment 760147 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) may not represent a client before any Florida state court for 2 years after leaving the court.

 

Oklahoma: Senate approves 37-3 bill to require all District Court nominees have tried at least 3 jury trials; no other state has such a provision

A plan (discussed here) to require nominees for Oklahoma’s main trial court (District) have jury trial experience has cleared the Senate.

Many, but not all, states require their judges be “attorneys” or in some cases “practicing attorneys”. And the Oklahoma constitution already requires “a minimum of four years’ experience as a licensed practicing attorney” or service as a judge of some other court of record before taking to the District Court bench. The same constitutional provision also allows the legislature to add to these criteria (“and shall have such additional qualifications as may be prescribed by statute.”)

Under SB 708 of 2017 those “additional qualifications” would now include “experience as lead counsel in a minimum of three (3) jury trials brought to verdict prior to filing for such office or appointment.” No other state has such a trial-experience provision.

SB 708 having passed the Senate 37-3 on March 21 has been sent to the House.

Washington: modified version of 2015 bill to create Tax Court refiled, this time with a constitutional amendment

A 2015 plan to create a Tax Court in Washington (discussed here) composed of sitting Court of Appeals judges was hobbled with concerns that the state’s constitution didn’t give the legislature the power to create such a court. Now the 2017 version of the plan is back, this time with a constitutional amendment and some changes.

SJR 8209 amends the state’s judiciary article to authorize the creation of a Tax Court and spells out in general its jurisdiction. It provides that decisions of the Tax Court would go directly to the state supreme court. Finally, it provides that the number, election, terms, and compensation of Tax Court judges would be left to the legislature.

SB 5866 fleshes out SJR 8209’s provisions and appears to be similar to the 2015 plan. It abolishes the existing State Board of Tax Appeals in favor of the new Tax Court.

The Court would be made up of two “departments”.

  • The Main Department would consist of 3 judges who may individually or as a panel hear tax appeals. All decisions of the Main Department would have to be rendered within 6 months of submission, although the court could extend this for good cause an additional 3 months.

Unlike the 2015 plan, which called for using Court of Appeals judges, the 2017 plan would have the 3 judges elected to the Court in their own right to 6 year terms. It appears the judges would be elected by Court of Appeals district.

The judges would have to have “at least five years’ experience as an attorney practicing in Washington state and local tax law.” A similar provision created some controversy in 2015 when it was questioned who would determine whether a person met this requirement.

  • The Commissioner Department would be for “cost-effective and informal” reviews and would include a voluntary mediation system. Commissioners would be appointed by the judges of the Main Department.

A hearing on the implementing legislation (SB 5866) is set for tomorrow (March 14) in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. A hearing on both the bill and constitutional amendment are set for March 16.

Florida: bills targeting appellate courts clear House Judiciary Committee, heading to full House for vote

Two bills targeting Florida’s appellate courts have cleared the House Judiciary Committee and are now heading for a vote of the full House.

HJR 1, which was approved 11-8 and discussed here, limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. Proponents complained the state’s retention election system was “broken” because no appellate judge had ever lost a race and that therefore term limits were required.

As previously noted, no state puts term limits on its appellate judges and only New Mexico does so in one limited-instance at the trial level (part-time Probate Court judges).

HB 301 approved 12-6 and discussed here requires the Florida Supreme Court to provide a “detailed explanation” to the governor and legislature when a case goes longer than 180 days from oral argument to decision. A similar law was enacted in Kansas in 2014 as a section 4 of HB 2446. That law set time limits of 120 days (trial courts) or 180 days (appellate court) for decisions. Section 4 of HB 2446 was struck down as an unconstitutional infringement on the separation of powers a year later (State v. Buser).

 

Arizona: hearing next week on plan to end merit/commission selection of judges & reduce terms down to 2 years; bill sent to House Appropriations, not House Judiciary

The latest effort to end merit/commission selection for Arizona’s appellate courts and Superior Courts has been refiled. HCR 2030 would require partisan elections for all appellate and Superior Courts and reduce judge’s terms in office from the current 6 (appellate) or 4 (Superior) down to 2 years. The companion HB 2534 provides the implementing statutes, contingent on passage of HCR 2030 and makes clear it is a partisan race.

As occurred last year the bill is not being heard in the House Judiciary Committee. Instead it has been sent into the House Appropriations Committee, which approved a similar version (HCR 2028 of 2016) although that version made the races nonpartisan (“without partisan or other designation.”)