Michigan: plan to study how trial courts are funded clears legislature; report due by 2019

Michigan’s House and Senate approved yesterday (June 15) creation of a commission to examine how Michigan’s trial courts are funded.

HB 4613 as approved by both chambers would create the Trial Court Funding Commission. The Commission comes in light of People v. Cunningham, a July 2014 Michigan Supreme Court decision holding that a section of the Code of Criminal Procedure did not provide courts with the independent authority to impose costs upon criminal defendants. Those costs helped pay for trial courts in the state.

The Commission shall

(a) Review and recommend changes to the trial court funding system.

(b) Review and recommend changes to the methods by which the courts impose and allocate fees and costs.

(c) Suggest statutory changes necessary to effectuate recommended changes.

(d) Prepare a final report to the governor and legislative leaders “not later than 2 years after the effective date of this act.”

HB 4613 now goes to the governor for approval.

Maine: bill to end state’s Judicial Compensation Commission clears legislature

A plan to eliminate Maine’s Judicial Compensation Commission has cleared the legislature.

Under HP 1006 the Judicial Compensation Commission would end; the existing State Compensation Commission would make recommendations for judicial salaries plus recommendations for the salary of the state’s governors.

An amendment added during the legislative process provides the Chief Justice and other judicial staff are still permitted to make recommendations regarding judicial compensation.

HP 1006 will now go to the governor for approval.

Arizona: statewide court security funding put into state budget & passed; similar moves occurred in Minnesota (2016) & Wyoming (2014)

Portions of a bill to provide court security funding for Arizona courthouses discussed here and apparently killed has come back as part of the state’s budget.

SB 1161 created a Arizona Statewide Court Security Fund which was to have been administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts and used for “assistance, training and grants to courts to meet minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the supreme court.Funding would come from an apparently 2% increase on all court fees.

SB 1161 was subject to a “strike everything” amendment in the House that removed all existing language, the “new” SB 1161 instead focused on water improvement districts.

Now, an appropriation has been made as part of SB 1525 (criminal justice budget reconciliation) to the Arizona AOC using much the same language as SB 1161.

The sum of $750,000 is appropriated from the judicial collection enhancement fund established by section 12-113, Arizona Revised Statutes, in fiscal year 2017-2018 to the administrative office of the courts for the purposes of providing assistance, training and grants to courts to meet the minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the Arizona supreme court.

The use of a budget appropriation, rather than a standalone bill, also occurred in Minnesota in 2016. That state’s omnibus supplemental budget bill (HF 2749) included appropriation language.

$1,000,000 For a competitive grant program established by the chief justice for the distribution of safe and secure courthouse fund grants to government entities responsible for providing or maintaining a courthouse or other facility where court proceedings are held. Grant recipients must provide a 50 percent nonstate match. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2019.

The Arizona move is also similar to what occurred in Wyoming in 2014 where a standalone bill (SB 14) to create a Court Security Fund overseen by a Court Security Commission evolved into an appropriation/allocation in the state’s budget (Section 328 of HB 1) .

Texas: House committee approves 3-part formula to set judicial salaries; computation includes other states + US Court of Appeals + in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been approved by a House committee.

HB 3971 as amended and approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provides two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a justice of the Supreme Court other than chief justice would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys in Texas employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

 

Florida: House considers cutting salaries of “poor performing” judges, transferring to “top performing” judges; 2011 effort for similar “judge bonuses” system rejected

The Florida legislature has reached a stalemate over the state’s budget. Among the issues being discussed, a House plan to reduce the pay of “poor performing” judges and transfer them to “top performing” judges.

Under the House plan (pages 62-86 here)

  • Judges ranked in the top 25 percent would receive a pay increase.
  • Judges ranked from 26 to 74 percent would maintain their base pay.
  • Judges ranked in the bottom 25 percent would have their pay cut. The savings would be transferred to the top performers.

Performance would be based on high clearance rates. Other possible measures include those from the CourTools set of measures (note: CourTools is a product on the National Center for State Courts; Gavel to Gavel is a NCSC product).

While the 2017 bill is coming from the House, a 2011 plan discussed here that made it through various Florida Senate committees would have provided for “bonuses”  judges who cleared cases/had a high clearance rate. That plan was ultimately rejected.

Maine: bill ends state’s judicial compensation commission and merges with other salary commission; Connecticut went in opposite direction in 2012

Since 1995 Maine has had a Judicial Compensation Commission that makes non-binding recommendations to the legislature regarding judicial salary, benefits and retirement. Now a bill has been introduced to end the Commission and transfer its powers to an existing commission.

Currently the Maine State Compensation Commission makes recommendations for salaries for legislators and top executive branch officials (Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Treasurer of State and the State Auditor). Under HP 1006 the Judicial Compensation Commission would end; the State Compensation Commission would make recommendations for judicial salaries plus recommendations for the salary of the state’s governors.

The Maine bill is effectively the opposite of what occurred in Connecticut in 2012 where that state’s legislature created a stand-alone judicial compensation commission and pulled judicial salary issues out of the existing Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and Judges.

HP 1006 has been filed in the Joint Committee on State and Local Government.

Colorado: Senate committee advances bill repealing 2015 law linking legislative salaries to judicial salaries; executive salaries would still be linked

A 2015 law that links the salaries of Colorado’s state legislators and top executive officials to judicial salaries could be heading for a partial repeal.

SB 288 of 2015, discussed here, made the link for both legislators and top executive branch officials (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer). Legislators received an amount equal to 25% of the total annual salary paid to the judges of the county court in a Class B county.

SB 288 of 2017 effectively decouples the salaries for legislators. 25% of current salaries for county court in a Class B county would serve as the base-point for legislative salaries starting in 2019. Thereafter, there would be inflation adjustments to the legislative salaries starting in 2025.

SB 288 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and floor amended earlier this week. It is currently on the Senate’s April 17 floor calendar.