Omnibus bills affecting the courts week: 2011

With the notable exception of budget/appropriations bills, most legislation affecting the courts are handled in single subject bills that affect only selection or court jurisdiction or salary, etc. Several states have in the recent past, however, consolidated numerous other bills into one omnibus bill that affects a variety of aspects of the judiciary. This year is no exception, with such bills be introduced in at least 4 states. This week I’ll be looking at each one individually and the various and sundry elements in each.

Virginia Chief Justice Names Judicial Boundary Realignment Study Committee, will make recommendations to legislature

I mentioned in Gavel to Gavel 5:8 that Virginia appeared to be on its way to a legislative redistricting of the state’s judicial districts/circuits. That effort (HB 1990 and SB 1240) was short circuited at the last minute with the legislature instead sending a letter to the state’s supreme court asking its assistance on the matter.

The result, according to the Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly blog, is a  22-member committee set to study the issue of realignment. (click here for Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser’s letter to the Virginia State Bar on the subject)

According to the VLW blog, “The committee includes Virginia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Walter S. Felton Jr.; eight circuit judges; six general district or J&DR judges; a circuit, a J&DR and a general district clerk; a chief magistrate; and representatives from the Virginia State Bar, the Virginia Bar Association and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.”

The committee is expected to meet throughout the state and finalize its report by November 1.

 

Louisiana’s legislature scrambling to rewrite laws related to courts due to population shifts and declines in state

A variety of states grant certain areas or the judges/clerks/employees of certain courts options or authorities based on the population they serve. For example, in South Carolina, each county with a population over 130,000 in the latest census is required to have a master-in-equity court. (Sec. 14-11-10)

Several states have, however, started to move away from specifications based on population and identification of counties, localities, or municipalities by name. Louisiana’s legislature, as part of its special redistricting session, is doing so with respect to numerous courts in the state, in particular focusing on the changing population in the city of New Orleans and Orleans Parish post-Hurricane Katrina. In the past, references to the power of traffic courts in “parishes with a population in excess of four hundred seventy-five thousand” could only mean Orleans Parish with a population of 484,674 in the 2000 Census. As of 2010, however, no parishes in the state have a population over 441,000. Similar references to courts in areas having a population between X and Y became confused, no longer applicable, or possibly applicable to courts not originally intended.

As a result, the following pieces of legislation have been introduced to address just some of the changes to the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, or other codified law collections separate from the R.S. (such as the Code of Criminal Procedure).

HB 13A Title 49 (State Administration)

HB 15A Title 32 (Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation)

HB 21A Title 11 (Consolidated Public Retirement Systems)

HB 22A Code of Criminal Procedure

HB 24A Title 15 (Criminal Procedure)

HB 26A Title 33 (Municipalities and Parishes)

HB 28A Titles 11 (Consolidated Public Retirement Systems), 18 (Election Code), 25 (Libraries, Museums, & Cultural Affairs), 33 (Municipalities and Parishes), and 42 (Public Officers and Employees)

SB 7A Children’s Code

SB 8A Code of Civil Procedure

SB 9A Title 9 (Civil Code – Ancillaries)

SB 15A Title 43 (Public Printing and Advertisements)

SB 17A Title 13 (Courts and Judicial Procedure)

Florida House Judiciary Committee to take up nine bills that would reshape the state’s judicial branch

I’ve noted several bills that have been pressed by Florida’s House Speaker and their prior hearing dates, including March 17 (see here), along with delays on the Senate side on their versions (see here). Tomorrow, April 7 may prove a fateful day for such efforts. Among the bills on the committee’s agenda:

HJR 1097, a constitutional amendment that ends the state’s merit selection system for future Supreme Court and district courts of appeals judges. Instead, those seeking initial terms would be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. HJR 1097 would, however keep retention elections for subsequent terms. This had previously been approved by the Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 17.

HJR 7025, a constitutional amendment that repeals the Supreme Court’s power, and that of any court, to adopt rules for the practice and procedure. Instead, the Supreme Court could recommend such rules to the legislature, which would have the power to adopt, amend, or reject any proposed or existing rule by law.

HB 7027 is a bill with statutory changes related to HJR 7025. In addition to specifying how the supreme court’s recommendations to the legislature would be handled, it would also create a judicial conference made up of the chief justice, the chief judge of each district court of appeal, and circuit judges and gives it broad oversight over the state’s judiciary.

HJR 7037, a constitutional amendment that provides all records, materials, & proceedings related to complaints & investigations of Judicial Qualifications Commission not otherwise exempt from disclosure are public upon filing of formal charges against judge or upon determination by commission or investigative panel that formal charges will not be filed. This is similar, but not identical, to SJR 1704 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 4.

HJR 7039, a constitutional amendment that requires justices or judges receive at least 60% of vote to be retained in office starting with 2012 election.

HB 7101, a statutory change that replaces entirely the state’s existing judicial nominating commissions. New commissions would be selected entirely by the governor with no input from the state bar (currently, bar sends three names for each vacancy for the governor to select from). The bill sets terms of the commission members concurrent with the governor and retains provisions that commission members selection should “ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution” of the population and that the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide all administrative support for each judicial nominating commission.

HJR 7111 a constitutional amendment that would rename the existing Supreme Court the Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and create a second court of last resort (a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals). Both courts would be made up of five justices selected using the existing merit selection system, each with its own judicial nominating commission. The three most senior justices of the existing Supreme Court would transfer to the new Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal and the existing Supreme Court’s pending caseload divided.

The constitutional amendment specifies the two courts “are to be separate courts of last resort”, this in contrast to the original reports that the proposal would simply expand the existing supreme court into two panels of five. The constitutional amendment would provide the chief justices of these courts would be named by the governor subject to senate confirmation (the current chief justice is chosen by the court itself). While both courts (acting jointly) would still be able to recommend increases in the number of trial judges, rule-making powers of the court(s) would be curtailed by a new provision that “Administration of the court system shall be as provided in general law.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals would hear complaints from the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

HB 7119, repeals statutory provisions relating to requirement that district court sit in three judge panels & have majority for decision & requirement that clerk of district court perform duties prescribed by rule of court. This had been noticed for hearing and action previously on March 24 and March 30, but the bill was never taken up for consideration.

HB 7199 would change numerous statutes putting HJR 7111 into effect.

Is the fourth time a charm? Nevada tries yet again to create an intermediate appellate court

Nevada is one of only 10 states + DC without an intermediate appellate court. Like many other states, the state’s constitutional article related to the judiciary locks the state into a supreme court, district courts, justice of the peace courts, and (if the legislature approves, which it has), municipal courts. In 1980 and 1992 voters rejected efforts to amend the constitution to allow, but not require, the legislature to create an intermediate appellate. A third attempt in 2010 (Question 2) was rejected 47/53%.

Last week, a new effort at creating an intermediate appellate court was introduced in the state’s Assembly (AJR 7) and Senate (SJR 14). Unlike the 2010 version which allowed the legislature to create an intermediate appellate court (called the “court of appeals”) these amendments would directly create the court. The court would have civil and criminal jurisdiction, but the Supreme Court also “shall fix by rule the jurisdiction of the court of appeals.” Interestingly, while the Supreme Court can temporarily “assign down” a court of appeals judge to sit as a supplemental district court judge, temporarily elevations to the court of appeals due to disability or disqualification would be made by the governor. While initially a three-member court, the amendments would allow for expansion by the legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding held hearings today and a work session on April 7 on its version, while the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee will hold hearings on April 5.

FL: Bills to split supreme court and change judicial elections up for hearing on March 17

Tomorrow’s (March 17) House Judiciary Committee, Civil Justice Subcommittee promises to be very active with respect to the state’s judicial structure and election. A podcast of the hearing will be available here and video here.

On the agenda already are:

HJR 1097, a constitutional amendment that ends the state’s merit selection system for future supreme court and district courts of appeals judges. Instead, those seeking initial terms would be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. HJR 1097 would, however keep retention elections for subsequent terms.

PCB CVJS 11-06, a constitutional amendment that would rename the existing supreme court the Supreme Court of Civil Appeals and create a second court of last resort (a Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals). Both courts would be made up of five justices selected using the existing merit selection system, each with its own judicial nominating commission. The three most senior justices of the existing supreme court would transfer to the new Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal and the existing supreme court’s pending caseload divided.

The constitutional amendment specifies the two courts “are to be separate courts of last resort”, this in contrast to the original reports that the proposal would simply expand the existing supreme court into two panels of five. The constitutional amendment would provide the chief justices of these courts would be named by the governor subject to senate confirmation (the current chief justice is chosen by the court itself). While both courts (acting jointly) would still be able to recommend increases in the number of trial judges, rule-making powers of the court(s) would be curtailed by a new provision that “Administration of the court system shall be as provided in general law.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals would hear complaints from the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

PCB CVJS 11-07 would change numerous statutes putting CVJS 11-06 into effect.

PCB CVJS 11-08 would replace the state’s existing judicial nominating commissions. The new commissions would be selected entirely by the governor with no input from the state bar (currently, bar sends three names for each vacancy for the governor to select from). The terms of the commission members would be concurrent with the governor, meaning a new governor would be able to pick all new commissions (currently, serve for 4 years). The bill does retain provisions that commission members selection should “ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution” of the population and that the Executive Office of the Governor shall provide all administrative support for each judicial nominating commission.

Bill to consolidate New Hampshire’s trial courts advances

Last year’s big trial court consolidation effort was Vermont’s HB 470 which resulted in the state’s Probate, Family, and District courts being absorbed into the state’s Superior Court (the state’s Judicial Bureau, which handles minor violations, remains as a separate court).

New Hampshire is on its way to a similar consolidation with HB 609 which would consolidate the state’s District, Probate, and Judicial Branch Family Division into a newly created limited jurisdiction court called the Circuit Court. The state’s Superior Court would remain a general jurisdiction court. Like the Vermont consolidation, the older courts would be converted to divisions of a court rather than simply eliminated outright.

HB 609 was approved with committee amendment by the House Judiciary Committee on a 16-0 vote on March 10. The committee will hold a second vote to approve the amendment on March 15 before sending it to the full House.