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.

 

Florida: appellate term limits bills reintroduced; Senate version is retroactive, requires nominees be at least 50 years old, and have prior judicial experience

Proposals to subject Florida appellate judges to term limits have been refiled for the 2017 session. A version passed the House in 2015 (see discussion here). As a I noted at the time, no state has term limits for its judges (with the odd exception of New Mexico’s part-time, non-attorney Probate Court judges).

HJR 1 appears to be similar if not identical to the 2015 version (HJR 197); it 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.”)

SJR 482 also has a term limits provision (two consecutive full terms) but includes some unique elements.

First, it would require a nominee for the Supreme Court have been a judge for a least one year. While effectively every state requires appellate judges be attorney s, no state requires prior judicial experience.

Second, it would require nominees for both appellate courts to be at least 50 years old. While some states require appellate judges be at least a certain age, they range from 25 to 35, not 50.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, the term limit provisions would be retroactive (“The limitations of the amendment on the terms of justices and judges apply to justices and judges in office on the effective date of this amendment [January 1, 2019].”)

Both bills have been filed in their respective chambers but not yet sent to committee.

In 2015 Indiana required all Town/City judges be attorneys, now some in the legislature want to go back to lay judges

In 2015 Indiana moved to the end practice of allowing non-attorney judges in the state’s lowest tier of trial courts: Town and City (discussed here). Now members of both the House and Senate want to go back to lay judges.

SB 238 would generally remove the attorney-judge requirement except for 9 specifically name courts and any court located in Lake County.

HB 1564 takes a slightly different approach and is more population based.

  1. Attorney-judges would be required in the 9 courts + any in Lake County (as in SB 238).
  2. Attorney-judges would not be required in a Town/City Court with a population under 10,000.
  3. Attorney-judges would (apparently) be required in a Town/City Court with a population over 10,000.

HB 1564 is in the House Courts and Criminal Code while SB 238 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.