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

MD: Bill would move judges out of Judges’ Retirement System

Readers may recall that in 2010 I did a feature on the massive changes being proposed to retirement systems for judges and court staff. (Click here for a review). This year is starting off on exactly the same footing in Maryland, whose public-employee retirement system was poorly reviewed by the Pew Center on the States and whose plight is near direMaryland’s SB 6 of 2011 provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join. Instead, all judges previously eligible for the Judges’ Retirement System would be placed into the state’s Optional Retirement Program. The same would apply to those who would otherwise be eligible for most of the state’s pension systems. The bill is currently in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

VA: The Governor, the Legislature, the State Bar, and a bit of retaliation with bar dues?

In 2010, the Virginia state legislature imposed a judicial hiring freeze, declining to fill any newly created vacancies created due to judges retiring, resigning, or otherwise leaving the bench. The council of the state’s mandatory bar (Virginia State Bar), itself an agency of the Virginia Supreme Court, passed a February 2010 resolution urging funding for the vacancies. Nevertheless, the freeze was approved.

In December 2010 the president of the VSB sent a letter to all bar members urging they indicate to their state legislators the impact the freeze was having in Virginia’s courts.

According to the Virginia Lawyer Weekly’s blog, the pressure initially appeared to have succeeded in getting additional funding for judgeships in 2011. However, the Governor’s plan for funding those positions includes use of $5 million in mandatory bar dues. Existing state law directs the bar dues go to a State Bar Fund to pay for the Bar itself and its functions.

The incoming chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee indicated to Virginia Lawyers Weekly he thought this was a direct response by the Governor to VSB’s efforts at advocacy against the hiring freeze plan.

Are state bar dues nationally subject to this sort of general appropriation movement? Virginia’s state appropriations bill (HB 30 of 2010) at pages 25-26 go into detail with respect to state bar funding. Contrast this to South Dakota’s appropriations bill (SB 196 of 2010) which lists State Bar of South Dakota appropriations as “Informational” only.

KY: Paying for more court staff with a fee on the homeless?

With the next legislative year expected to be the worst yet for operating expenses and long term debt, state legislators are scrambling to address increasing homelessness (from foreclosures or otherwise) and ways to pay for courts. One proposal, filed earlier this month in Kentucky as SB 26 would combine the two in an interesting fashion by adding a new statute (KRS 186.531(1)(f)(3)(a)) to read:

The cost of operators’ licenses and permits shall be as follows…fee for an identification card for a person who does not have a fixed, permanent address shall be four dollars ($4), two dollars ($2) of which shall be used to cover the Transportation Cabinet’s cost of equipment and supplies, and two dollars ($2) of which shall be an administrative fee of the circuit clerk for issuing the card that shall be deposited by the Administrative Office of the Courts into a trust and agency account for the circuit clerks and used for the purposes of hiring additional deputy clerks and providing salary adjustment to deputy clerks. (emphasis added)

The prefiled bill has yet to be referred to a committee.

NY: Hurry up and wait for state’s new judicial compensation commission

After over a decade without a salary increase, New York’s judges are expected to get some relief, but not until 2012. The state legislature and governor reached a deal (listed in the state legislature’s database as SB 42010 and AB 42010) in late November that would establish a judicial compensation commission. The panel would meet every 4 years starting in 2011 and recommend salary levels. Those recommendations would have the force of law one year later (i.e. in 2012) unless overridden by a separately enacted statute.

Once announced, the agreement moved quickly: the bills went from introduced to passed by both houses in three days.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Missouri

A reader alerts me to Missouri SB 714 which creates an entirely different retirement plan for any judge entering service on or after January 1, 2011.

Judges will be required to reach age sixty-seven and have at least twelve years of service or reach age sixty-two and have twenty years of service before they are eligible for normal retirement. If a judge retires at age sixty-seven with less than twelve years of service, or at sixty-two with less than twenty years service, their retirement compensation will be reduced proportionately. Judges in this retirement plan will be required to contribute four percent of their compensation to the retirement system. Judges will not be able to purchase credit in the retirement plan for their past non-federal full-time public employment or their military service. Judges under this plan who continue to work after their normal retirement date will not have cost-of-living increases added to their retirement compensation for the period of time between their eligibility for retirement and their actual retirement date. When a retired judge under this plan dies, their beneficiary will not receive an amount equal to fifty percent of the judge’s retirement compensation. Instead, judges will make a choice at retirement among the benefit payment options, that includes options for the amount received by the beneficiary. The employee contribution rate, the benefits under the judicial retirement plan, and any other provision of the judicial retirement plan may be altered, amended, increased, decreased, or repealed, but such change will only apply to service or interest credits after the effective date of the change.

This act prohibits a retired judge who becomes employed after January 1, 2011, as an employee eligible to participate in the Missouri State Employees Retirement System retirement plan from receiving their judicial retirement benefits while they are employed. Any judge who serves as a judge while he or she is receiving their judicial retirement is prohibited from receiving their judicial retirement while serving as a judge. A judge who serves as a senior judge or senior commissioner while receiving judicial retirement will continue to receive judicial retirement and additional credit and salary for their service.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Western States

California AB 399 Requires, for the Judges’ Retirement System and the Judges’ Retirement System II, that calculations of retirement benefits and Extended Service Incentive Program benefits for any judge who voluntarily waives salary, as described above, include salary and contributions that would have been paid had the judge not done so, and that the state pay costs that result from the increased benefits and monetary credits. Signed into law by Governor 10/11/09.

California AB 590 Requires that a person who is retired under the Judges’ Retirement System who is again appointed or elected to serve as a judge reinstate from retirement and become a member of the system, as specified. Revises provisions governing the payment of accrued, unpaid allowances in both judges’ retirement systems to provide for their payment to either the estate of the deceased or the duly authorized representative of the estate when the court receives a court order appointing an executor, administrator, or personal representative. Provides if the estate does not require probate, the bill would also authorize the payment to be made to a successor trustee, or to a beneficiary of the deceased named in a valid will, as applicable. Signed into law by Governor 8/5/09.

Utah SB 130 Repeals allocation of certain small claims fees to the Judges’ Retirement Trust Fund. Signed into law by Governor 3/22/10.