Several bills affecting the state courts are getting committee hearings today, (see update below) including:
Montana HB 332 (House Judiciary committee audio will be here) would permit jury nullification and require judges inform jurors they may judge both the facts and the law in the case> Judges would be required to provide jurors state and federal constitutions and any statute books they request. In criminal cases, the judge would be required to inform jurors they may vote their conscience to acquit an accused in spite of technical guilt. Finally, the bill defines “obstruction” of these provisions as reversible error.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Senate Judiciary committee (live streaming video here) will be considering two bills of particular note. SB 212 would move the state closer to a restructured system of consolidated trial courts. It provides that all circuit courts, superior courts, and probate courts have: (1) original and concurrent jurisdiction in all civil cases and in all criminal cases; (2) de novo appellate jurisdiction of appeals from city and town courts; and (3) in Marion County, de novo appellate jurisdiction of appeals from township small claims courts. The bill would also repeal authorization for the establishment and operation of county courts (since January 1, 2009, no county court exists in Indiana.).Also up for debate is SB 463 which would repeal all provisions that establish a mandatory retirement age for superior court and county court judges.
Update 2/2/11 @ 8:44 Eastern: The massive snow storm affecting most of the country has shut down the Indiana Legislature Tuesday and Wednesday. According to the legislature’s website, Senate hearings may be conducted Thursday.
With ongoing efforts in Iowa to impeach the remaining 4 justices on the state’s supreme court (details here), a more administrative judicial struggle is winding its way back through the legislature
In 2010, SB 2343 was approve by the legislature. The bill had several elements, including:
- Filling vacancies – Grants authority to the chief justice to delay the nomination of a supreme court justice, court of appeals judge, district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge magistrate for budgetary reasons up to one year. Grants authority to delay nomination for magistrates with certain limits.
- Terms – Specifies that a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a one-year term and a succeeding one-year term at the discretion of the supreme court. Currently, a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a two-year term at the discretion of the supreme court.
- Judicial allocation – Authorizes chief justice to apportion a trial judge vacancy to another judicial election district upon finding a substantial disparity exists in the allocation of judgeships and judicial workload between judicial election districts and a majority of the judicial council approves the apportionment. Requires state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula in addition to the other criteria already listed in statute. Permits the chief judge to assign a magistrate to hold court outside of the magistrate’s county of appointment for the orderly administration of justice.
- Residence – Requires district associate judge reside *in the judicial election district* in which he or she serves (currently must reside in county). Allows a magistrate to be a resident of a county contiguous to the county of appointment during the magistrate’s term of office.
Then-Governor Chester Culver vetoed the bill. In his veto letter, Governor Culver cited two portions of the bill he disapproved of:
- a requirement that only one district judicial nominating commission member may be appointed from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners and
- the sections allowing the Chief Justice to delay the appointment of judges for up to one year.
In 2011, with Terry Branstad now set to be sworn in as Governor next week, the bill is being redrafted and set for reintroduction (current draft is D. 1281). Governor Culver’s first objection (judicial nominating commission member allocation) is removed however the second (chief justice may delay filling judicial vacancies) is in the current draft. Additionally, a section that was dropped from the original has been re-added.
- Selection – Permits chief judge of judicial district to appoint clerk of court and remove clerk for cause after consultation with other judges (currently, clerk is appointed and removed by a majority vote of all district judges in district)
It is unclear if the new bill will face a legislature as-receptive as the one in 2010 and/or a governor less veto-prone
For the fifth year in a row, Virginia is considering increasing the retirement age for its judges above its current 70.
The effort began in 2007 with SB 997, a bill that would have increased the age from 70 to 75. Its author submitted the bill “because many judges aren’t ready to retire by age 70.” A proposed committee amendment to remove the limit altogether failed because as the Senator in opposition put it “I know some judges who are so committed to practice they’d never retire.” The full Senate passed it 38-0, but the House failed to take it up.
In 2008, at least three bills (HB 783, SB 19, SB 34) made their way through various committees. Much of the focus was on SB 19, although passed by both chambers it was so heavily amended in each version they could not be reconciled before adjournment. 2009 proved no better: despite a unanimous 2007 Senate two years prior, an increase to 75 (SB 856) was rejected by the 2009 Senate 18-22; the House version (HB 1818) never even made it out of committee.
2010 marked a breakthrough year: SB 206 (increase to 73) made it through the Senate and the House Courts of Justice Committee, but died when referred to House Appropriations.
HB 1497 is picking up where SB 206 left off, with 73 the apparent target age.
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.
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.
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.
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.