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.”)

 

Florida: House committee approves 3 bills focused on courts; appellate term limits + removing supreme court’s power over training of judges

Angry at recent state court decisions against the legislature,  members of the House have moved a series of bills targeting the judiciary in general and the state’s supreme court in particular. The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee yesterday cleared 3 bills in this area:

HJR 1, which was approved 8-7 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.

HB 175 approved 11-5 would remove the supreme court’s power over judicial training and shift it to the Florida Court Educational Council which currently advises the supreme court on judicial education.

HB 301 approved 13-3 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.

The bills now move on to the full Judiciary Committee.

 

 

Wyoming: House rejects by 1 vote plan to stop Municipal Court judges from serving as at-will employees of municipality; concerns judges subject to reprisal for ruling against cities

A plan to end the practice of treating Municipal Court judges in Wyoming’s biggest cities as at-will employees failed by a single vote last week 29-30 (1 excused).

Currently all Wyoming Municipal Court judges are appointed and re-appointed by mayors with the consent of local governing bodies and may be removed by the local government. As such, they effectively serve as at-will employees.

HB 89 would have made several changes to these practices for judges in first class cities (population over 4,000) in order to “remove politics from the judicial process and allow municipal judges to work without fear of reprisal for ruling against their city’s interests.”

  1. Municipal Court judges would receive set 4-year terms (reduced to 2-years by floor amendment).
  2. Municipal Court judges would no longer be subject to removal at the will of the mayor or local government officials.
  3. Municipal Court judges would still receive their initial nomination from the mayor and approval by the governing body and serve for 1 year. After that year, the judge would be subject to a yes/no retention election rather than re-appointment. If they won, they would be subject to yes/no retention votes for additional terms.

Oklahoma: litany of bills targeting state’s appellate courts clear Senate committee- end merit/commission selection, creation of mandatory retirement age that could clear appellate benches, supermajority retention elections

Earlier today the Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee approved a series of bills targeting the state’s appellate courts, this after the state’s Supreme Court (the court of last resort for civil matters) has ruled against the legislature in a variety of cases in recent years.

  • SJR 14 as introduced requires appellate judges up for retention elections receive at least a 60% “yes” vote to remain in office.
  • SJR 42 as introduced requires partisan elections for all appellate courts.
  • SJR 43 as introduced ends merit/commission selection for the state’s appellate courts. Instead, the governor would nominate an individual and submit his/her name to the Judicial Nominating Commission for a review as “qualified” or “not qualified”. The nominee would then be subject to Senate confirmation.
  • SJR 44 as introduced would keep the state’s merit/commission selection system but require the Judicial Nominating Commission send the Governor 5 names (currently 3) for consideration and allow the Governor to ask for another list, for a total of 10 names. Requires nominee be subject to Senate confirmation. Provides that if Senate fails to act within certain time frame(s) nominee is confirmed by default.
  • SB 213 as introduced provides of 9 members of Supreme Court, 5 to be selected from Congressional Districts and 4 statewide.
  • SB 699 as introduced requires all appellate judges retire when years of judicial service + age = 80. It appears this is retroactive, as prior efforts have been, meaning that many if not most members of the state’s appellate courts could be forced off the bench.
  • SB 700 as introduced removes all attorney-chosen members of the Judicial Nominating Commission. Provides attorney-members to be selected by legislative leaders.
  • SB 702 as introduced adjusts counties in each Supreme Court Judicial District.

All the bills have now been referred to the Senate Rules committee.