Florida: What is the Constitution Revision Commission looking at regarding the judiciary?

Although not technically a legislative entity, Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission is, like the legislature, allowed to submit constitutional amendments onto the ballot affecting the courts. While there were 103 CRC proposals, these have been narrowed to Proposals Under Active Consideration as of today. Those affecting the courts include

      • Proposal 6: Requires any state court or administrative law judge to interpret a state statute or rule de novo, independent of an agency’s interpretation, in any litigation proceedings between a private party and an administrative agency.
      • Proposal 39: Among other things, prohibits a justice or judge from personally representing another person for compensation before the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of state government, other than practicing law before a judicial tribunal, for a period of six years following vacation of office.
      • Proposal 41: Allows judges to serve until age 75. Currently judges must retire at 70, but can serve out their current term if they already served at least 1/2 of it when they hit 70.
      • Proposal 47: Provides a person must be a member of a U.S. state or territory for 10 years to be eligible for a trial court judgeship (Circuit or County Courts).
      • Proposal 55: Requires the legislature to provide funding sufficient to offset the Clerks costs in providing services in criminal and other court cases in which the parties do not pay fees and costs.

Gone are any proposals regarding changes to judicial selection.


West Virginia: Senate approves big changes to judiciary; constitutional amendment would let legislature control judiciary’s budget; creation of intermediate appellate court advances

The West Virginia Senate approved two big changes to the state’s judiciary yesterday

Judicial Budget Oversight Amendment

SJR 3 as approved addresses funding for the state’s judiciary. Currently the West Virginia judiciary is unique among all states in that it’s budget request must be approved by the legislature without a decrease

The Legislature shall may not amend the budget bill so as to create a deficit but may amend the bill by increasing or decreasing any item therein. Provided, That no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased

SJR 3 as introduced would have reasserted legislative control, striking the “That no item relating to the judiciary shall be decreased” language.

SJR 3 as approved by the House Judiciary committee struck the language, but added a protection.

Provided, That the Legislature may not condition the increase or decrease of an item relating to the judiciary upon a particular ruling, order or decision of a court of this state.

SJR 3 as approved by the House Finance committee changed the wording further still

Provided, That the Legislature may not make any law that conditions the increase or decrease of an item relating to the judiciary upon a particular ruling, order, or decision of a court of this state

The Senate Finance language was approved by the full Senate. If approved by the House it would still have be approved by voters.

Intermediate Appellate Court (at least for the next 10 years)

SB 341 as amended and approved by the full Senate yesterday is the latest in a 20 year effort to get an intermediate appellate court in the state.

SB 341 would create a court with two geographic districts (Northern and Southern) each with its own panel made up of 3 judges. Judges would not be “borrowed” from other courts; prior proposals would have created 3 judge panels made of 1 Supreme Court justice sitting with 3 Circuit Court judges. The court would automatically sunset in July 2029.

Interestingly, the judges of the new court would NOT be subject to any sort of election. Instead there would be a 3-step process.

  1. The state’s existing Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission, currently used to fill interim vacancies, would submit names to the governor for each vacancy.
  2. The governor would then appoint a person subject to Senate confirmation.
  3. Once appointed, the judge serves for 10 years and may be reappointed. (Some of the first set of judges would serve 6-year or 8-year terms in order to create a staggered term system).

Included is a provision that civil appeals would lie either to the Intermediate Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of Appeals and that in civil cases “shall be afforded a full and meaningful review, and an opportunity to be heard, by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals or the Intermediate Court of Appeals, and a written decision on the merits shall be issued, as a matter of right.”

SB 341 now goes to the House.

Virginia: Senate committee OKs bill to mandate civil e-filing in under 18 months; no paper documents accepted after July 2019; provides for paying for system based on annual subscription fee

The Virginia Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee approved on a 15-0 vote last week a plan to mandate civil e-filing in the state within 18 months.

SB 980 provides that

  1. Except in limited instances no document filed in court shall contain the social security number of any party, or of any minor child of any party, or any identifying financial information of any party. If needed, the information must be filed in a separate addendum file by the attorney or party in such civil case.
  2. Requires all circuit clerks to establish and operate a system for electronic filing. Currently law provides they may create such a system.
  3. Provides that in civil cases after July 2019 all nonconfidential documents filed with the clerk are to be in electronic form and available through secure remote access and searchable by name and case number across all circuit courts that use the Office of the Executive Secretary’s electronic imaging system.
  4. Direcst the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to administer a paid subscription service that provides access to all electronic records maintained by the clerks who use such electronic imaging system for civil cases filed on or after July 1, 2019.
  5. Specifies that such subscription shall be on an annual basis, with an annual fee to be established by the Judicial Council of Virginia.
  6. Provides that any sums collected pursuant to such subscription shall be deposited into the state treasury to the credit of the Courts Technology Fund.
  7. Directs the Virginia Information Technologies Agency to update its document entitled “Security Standard for Restricted Remote Access to Documents on Court-Controlled Websites” consistent with the provisions of the bill by July 1, 2019.

Iowa: Anger over Supreme Court orders limiting guns in courthouses continues, House member wants to cut Supreme Court salaries down to $25,000 (salary of a legislator), reduce their terms & term limit them

A member of the Iowa House has introduced 3 pieces of legislation targeting the state’s Supreme Court, the latest legislative reaction to orders released by the Supreme Court last year regarding a new law that expanded where guns could be carried first discussed here. The orders limited courthouse carrying of firearms, much to the anger of some legislators.

All three bills are not pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

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) .