Florida House Judiciary Committee to take up nine bills that would reshape the state’s judicial branch

I’ve noted several bills that have been pressed by Florida’s House Speaker and their prior hearing dates, including March 17 (see here), along with delays on the Senate side on their versions (see here). Tomorrow, April 7 may prove a fateful day for such efforts. Among the bills on the committee’s agenda:

HJR 1097, a constitutional amendment that ends the state’s merit selection system for future Supreme Court and district courts of appeals judges. Instead, those seeking initial terms would be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. HJR 1097 would, however keep retention elections for subsequent terms. This had previously been approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 17.

HJR 7025, a constitutional amendment that repeals the Supreme Court’s power, and that of any court, to adopt rules for the practice and procedure. Instead, the Supreme Court could recommend such rules to the legislature, which would have the power to adopt, amend, or reject any proposed or existing rule by law.

HB 7027 is a bill with statutory changes related to HJR 7025. In addition to specifying how the supreme court’s recommendations to the legislature would be handled, it would also create a judicial conference made up of the chief justice, the chief judge of each district court of appeal, and circuit judges and gives it broad oversight over the state’s judiciary.

HJR 7037, a constitutional amendment that provides all records, materials, & proceedings related to complaints & investigations of Judicial Qualifications Commission not otherwise exempt from disclosure are public upon filing of formal charges against judge or upon determination by commission or investigative panel that formal charges will not be filed. This is similar, but not identical, to SJR 1704 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 4.

HJR 7039, a constitutional amendment that requires justices or judges receive at least 60% of vote to be retained in office starting with 2012 election.

HB 7101, a statutory change that replaces entirely the state’s existing judicial nominating commissions. New commissions would be selected entirely by the governor with no input from the state bar (currently, bar sends three names for each vacancy for the governor to select from). The bill sets terms of the commission members concurrent with the governor and retains provisions that commission members selection should “ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution” of the population and that the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide all administrative support for each judicial nominating commission.

HJR 7111 a constitutional amendment that would rename the existing Supreme Court the Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and create a second court of last resort (a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals). Both courts would be made up of five justices selected using the existing merit selection system, each with its own judicial nominating commission. The three most senior justices of the existing Supreme Court would transfer to the new Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal and the existing Supreme Court’s pending caseload divided.

The constitutional amendment specifies the two courts “are to be separate courts of last resort”, this in contrast to the original reports that the proposal would simply expand the existing supreme court into two panels of five. The constitutional amendment would provide the chief justices of these courts would be named by the governor subject to senate confirmation (the current chief justice is chosen by the court itself). While both courts (acting jointly) would still be able to recommend increases in the number of trial judges, rule-making powers of the court(s) would be curtailed by a new provision that “Administration of the court system shall be as provided in general law.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals would hear complaints from the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

HB 7119, repeals statutory provisions relating to requirement that district court sit in three judge panels & have majority for decision & requirement that clerk of district court perform duties prescribed by rule of court. This had been noticed for hearing and action previously on March 24 and March 30, but the bill was never taken up for consideration.

HB 7199 would change numerous statutes putting HJR 7111 into effect.

KS House: Effort to end merit selection for court of appeals added onto bill dealing with recalling retired judges back into service

I noted several weeks ago the effort to end merit selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals (see here and here). That bill, HB 2101 was approved by the full House February 25 and has been pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee since March 3.

An utterly unrelated bill, SB 83, was introduced in February. SB 83 removes timing provisions requiring that a retired judge seeking to be temporarily recalled back to service enter into a written agreement for such employment with the Kansas Supreme Court either before retirement or else within 5 years after retirement and within 30 days before the judge’s retirement anniversary. SB 83 was introduced at the request of the state’s supreme court and sailed through the Senate on a 39-0 vote on February 24.

The House, however, had other ideas for the bill. An amendment added in the House Committee on Judiciary required any agreements be signed by the chief justice, or the chief justice’s designee, with the approval of a majority of the justices of the supreme court.

On the House floor, however, an amendment was offered on March 23 that added the language of HB 2101 to SB 83. The Democratic House Minority Leader asked for a ruling on whether the amendment was germane to the bill. The amendment was ruled germane (see House Journal pages 695-697 here) and the bill passed on a 66-57 vote (the original HB 2101 vote was 66-53).

The Senate declined to concur with the House amendment(s) and both chambers appointed a conference committee on March 28 and 29.

Several bills would require Maryland Orphans’ Court judges be attorneys in select counties

Last year, Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to require that, for the city of Baltimore only, Orphans’ Court judges be attorneys (HB 417 of 2010). The effort to expand the use of attorney-judges has resulted in four additional bills introduced this year.

HB 930 and HB 1165 would require Orphans’ Court judges in Baltimore County (which is different and distinct from the independent city of Baltimore) be attorneys. Interestingly, while HB 930 is in the House Judiciary Committee, while HB 1165 is in the House Rules Committee.

On the Senate side, SB 832, which was limited to Baltimore County only, was withdrawn by its  sponsor on March 21. Instead, SB 281, which includes Baltimore and Prince George’s counties was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 8 and is set for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee March 30.

FL: Bills to split supreme court and change judicial elections up for hearing on March 17

Tomorrow’s (March 17) House Judiciary Committee, Civil Justice Subcommittee promises to be very active with respect to the state’s judicial structure and election. A podcast of the hearing will be available here and video here.

On the agenda already are:

HJR 1097, a constitutional amendment that ends the state’s merit selection system for future supreme court and district courts of appeals judges. Instead, those seeking initial terms would be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. HJR 1097 would, however keep retention elections for subsequent terms.

PCB CVJS 11-06, a constitutional amendment that would rename the existing supreme court the Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and create a second court of last resort (a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals). Both courts would be made up of five justices selected using the existing merit selection system, each with its own judicial nominating commission. The three most senior justices of the existing supreme court would transfer to the new Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal and the existing supreme court’s pending caseload divided.

The constitutional amendment specifies the two courts “are to be separate courts of last resort”, this in contrast to the original reports that the proposal would simply expand the existing supreme court into two panels of five. The constitutional amendment would provide the chief justices of these courts would be named by the governor subject to senate confirmation (the current chief justice is chosen by the court itself). While both courts (acting jointly) would still be able to recommend increases in the number of trial judges, rule-making powers of the court(s) would be curtailed by a new provision that “Administration of the court system shall be as provided in general law.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals would hear complaints from the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

PCB CVJS 11-07 would change numerous statutes putting CVJS 11-06 into effect.

PCB CVJS 11-08 would replace the state’s existing judicial nominating commissions. The new commissions would be selected entirely by the governor with no input from the state bar (currently, bar sends three names for each vacancy for the governor to select from). The terms of the commission members would be concurrent with the governor, meaning a new governor would be able to pick all new commissions (currently, serve for 4 years). The bill does retain provisions that commission members selection should “ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution” of the population and that the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide all administrative support for each judicial nominating commission.

You can adjudicate my case, but you can’t buy a beer: Legislative efforts to increase minimum ages for judges

Over the last several years, I’ve examine numerous efforts to increase or eliminate the mandatory retirement ages for judges. I have, however, paid less attention to the other end: minimum ages. Interestingly, most appellate courts do not have a minimum age to serve, however they do have minimum years of bar admission and/or active practice which would presumably get the person past the age of 21.

Many state trial courts, however, have relatively low minimum age requirements. In some cases this is offset by bar admission requirements. For example, to serve as an Alabama Municipal Court Judge one need only be a “qualified elector” (i.e. 18), but the same provision requires they “be licensed to practice law in this state” (Code of Ala. § 12-14-30). This would presumably get a person to at least 21 years of age, although there are rare exceptions. Virginia Pearcy reportedly became the youngest attorney in the US in 1998 after graduating from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law at age 20.

21 is not always the magic number to serve as a judge, however. Arizona Justices of the Peace need only be 18 and  a qualified voter and resident; they do not have to be attorneys. Similarly, Connecticut Probate Judges appointed prior to 2011 need only be electors setting the minimum for that court as 18 as well (a 2010 law mandates new Probate Judges be attorneys).

In addition to Connecticut’s de facto increase in age requirement in 2010, Pennsylvania’s HB 917 of 2010 which would have increased the age threshold from 21 to 25 for magisterial judges only. Pennsylvania HB 998 of 2011 would raise the minimum age for all judges from 21 to 25.

Similarly, New York’s AB 10945 of 2010, reintroduced as AB 5674 of 2011, would increase the minimum age for service as a town or village justice from 18 to 25.

MN: Bill would increase mandatory retirement age, but do away with “incumbent” designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection

The last several years have seen dozens of efforts to lift or raise mandatory retirement ages for judges. Minnesota’s SB 627 does so minimally. Currently judges must retire on the last day of the month they turn 70. This would extend the term to the last day of the “official year of the state in the first even-numbered year during which a judge has attained 70 years of age.”

While the verbiage of Section 1 of the bill is somewhat obtuse, the language of Section 2 is starkly clear: “Minnesota Statutes 2010, section 204B.36, subdivision 5 is repealed.” That section provides that “If a chief justice, associate justice, or judge is a candidate to succeed again, the word “incumbent” shall be printed after that judge’s name as a candidate.”

It is unclear why these two items (one dealing with judicial selection, the other judicial qualifications & terms) are in the same bill.

SB 627 is currently pending in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Just who exactly gets to administer the oath of office to a judge? Maryland and Arkansas grapple with the question.

It may sound relatively mundane, but in many states judges of various courts may only be sworn into office by specific office holders. The issue came to a head in Maryland recently. In November 2010, state voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring Orphan’s Court judges in Baltimore City be attorneys. At the same election, Baltimore City residents voted into office as an Orphan’s Court judge non-attorney Laudette Ramona Moore Baker. The state’s governor did not issue her a commission and the circuit clerk, who under existing Maryland law administers the oath personally or through a designated deputy, declined to swear her in.

Enter HB 410 of 2011, which would expand the list of those who could administer a judicial swearing in to include “any officer whose office is established in the Maryland Constitution”. The bill is set for a hearing on February 23 before the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

At the same time, Arkansas is also recodifying who gets to swear in judicial and other elected officials via SB 156. Current law provides Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, and District Court judges have a choice of taking their oath before

  1. the Governor
  2. a Supreme Court Justice
  3. a Circuit Court Judge
  4. the clerk of the county court or
  5. the clerk of the circuit court.

SB 156 keeps these 5 but adds judges of the Court of Appeals to the list. SB 156 was approved by the full Senate February 14 and is currently pending in the House State Agencies and Government Affairs Committee where it had a hearing earlier today (February 16).