IA: Judicial overhaul bill, vetoed in 2010, resubmitted in 2011

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:

  1. a requirement that only one district judicial nominating commission member may be appointed from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners and
  2. 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

TX: Cost-benefit analysis for Rules of Court changes?

According to Texas Lawyer’s Blog, a piece of prefiled legislation in that state’s House would require the Texas Supreme Court conduct a cost-benefit analysis of proposed rules prior to adoption or amendment by the court. HB 352 would require the analysis for a host of rules, such as civil and criminal procedure and bar discipline.

Unlike some states which have constitutionally derived rule making authority that cannot be altered or interfered with by the state legislature, the Texas Supreme Court may  “promulgate rules of administration not inconsistent with the laws of the state as may be necessary for the efficient and uniform administration of justice in the various courts.

No word yet as to what prompted this particular piece of legislation to be introduced.

Legislation on control of the court’s docket/calendar

Who controls a court’s docket/calendar? This is somewhat of an open question in many states, particularly as it relates to trials in criminal matters. In this legislative cycle, three states have explored granted judges more power over the matter.

Maryland’s HB 208 establishes that the date for trial of a criminal matter in the circuit court shall be set by the county administrative judge and not the prosecution. It was overwhelmingly approved by the House (134-2) in February. The Senate version (SB 398) however has had less luck. Having been approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee in early March, it was amended on the floor, delayed, and ultimately sent back to committee in mid-March.

Coincidentally, the South Carolina Senate debated a nearly identical bill (SB 4450) at the same time. That bill provides that it is exclusively the power of magistrates in Magistrates Court and municipal judges in Municipal Courts to set the dockets for their courts and to set the order in which cases may be tried. The Senate Committee on Judiciary approved the bill as amended on March 24.

A similar calendar/docket control bill was introduced in North Carolina in 2009 (HB 1396). It was never taken up by its assigned committee.

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.

Emergencies and the courts

How courts operate, or don’t, post-disaster has been of considerable concern since 9/11 and all the more so after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Several states have tackled the matter. For example, Delaware’s SB 25 of 2009 provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency and grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities with such order limited to an initial duration of 30 days but renewable for 30 day periods. It allows the Chief Justice to order the conducting of courts outside their normal county, extend statutes of limitations, and similar measures.

In 2010, several states are looking at similar measures.

Georgia’s HB 185 authorizes the Chief Justice to extend the duration of a judicial emergency order when a public health emergency exists until the emergency ends (currently there is a maximum of 60 days).

Virginia’s HB 883 sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. The bill permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.