FL: Increasing requirements to be a trial court judge

There have been numerous efforts to try and avoid the excesses of judicial elections, but one Florida House member has proposed a unique solution. In 2010, Broward County faced an “unwieldy primary election for judges [with] 42 candidates including 15 incumbents in 20 races”. (h/t Florida Bar News) This prompted state Sen. Jeremy Ring to introduce SB 140, a constitutional amendment that increases the number of years a person must be a member of the Florida bar before being eligible for a trial court judgeship. Circuit and county court judges would need to have 10 years as an attorney (currently 5 years for circuit, and bar admission only for county), the same qualifications needed as with the state’s appellate courts. An identical bill (HB 47) was also introduced in the House.

Mandatory judicial retirement and Justice John Paul Stevens

The speculation over the (possible) resignation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has drawn attention to his age. At nearly 90, Justice Stevens has the option of resigning or not, however most of his state supreme court counterparts have no choice but to resign when they reach their 70s.

This NCSC Backgrounder looks at current state restrictions and legislation being tracked by Gavel to Gavel that would change or eliminate such state provisions.

FL: Retired judges/justices recall to service program

We have this submission from Cristina Alonso, an attorney with Carlton Fields and co-chair of the NCSC Young Lawyers committee.

Florida is considering bringing judges out of retirement to help the courts. HB 13 and SB 130 permit the chief judge of a judicial circuit, subject to approval by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to establish a program for retired justices or judges to preside over civil cases & trials or to hear motions upon written request of one or more parties. The bills further provide for compensation of such justices or judges to be paid by the parties by deposit into the Operating Trust Fund of the state courts system.

A similar bill  (HB 369 of 2009) was passed by the House 114-0 last year, but was not taken up in the Senate.

This year’s House version was approved by the chamber’s Civil Justice and Courts Policy Committee on February 16. The Senate version was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 9.

Boosting the minimum years admitted to the bar to be a judge

Several weeks ago we looked several states looking to do away with non-attorney judges. Other states are looking at increasing the minimum number of years an attorney must practice law (or at least be admitted to the bar) before becoming a judge. For example, Alabama in 2009 passed a law (SB 28) requiring a minimum number of years to serve on certain courts: 10 for the appellate courts (Supreme, Civil Appeals, Criminal Appeals), 5 for Circuit, 3 for District.

In 2010, Illinois, which currently requires only that a would-be jurist be admitted to the bar, is considering requiring (HCA 57)  a set number of years or practice before reaching certain courts: 15 years for their  Supreme Court, 12 for their Appellate Court, and 10 for their Circuit Court.

Also active this year, New Jersey is considering (SCR 83) increasing from 10 years to 15  its existing minimum  for the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court (i.e. the state’s intermediate appellate court), and the Superior Court.

MN: One step closer to retention elections

Earlier today the Senate Rules Committee approved SB 70, a bill to establish retention elections for judges. The bill also expands terms of office from six to eight years and creates a judicial performance commission. the commission must issue in the year a judge seeks retention ean valuation of “well-qualified,” “qualified,” or “unqualified”. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

No more non-attorney judges?

While no longer as popular as in the past, many states continue to retain non-attorney judges. Trial judges in at least 27 states, most in probate, justice of the peace, or other similar limited jurisdiction courts, are not required to be attorneys. Several states, however, are trying to eliminate this practice.

Georgia’s HB 478 requires municipal court judges be attorneys unless already serving as municipal court judge. It was approved by the House Committee on Governmental Affairs on February 4.

Indiana’s SB 122 would require City and Town judges be attorneys as well.

Maryland HB 417 would require Orphan’s Court judges, in the city of Baltimore only, be attorneys. Prior versions (such as HB 387 and SB 293 of 2008) would have required most if not all of the state’s Orphan’s Court judges be attorneys. The Senate version made it through that chamber in 2008 (42-4), while the House version failed to achieve the three-fifths majority needed (failed 84-50, with 85 votes needed).