Texas State Court Administrator testifies before House committee on e-filing in the state

Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin

At this point, at least some courts in nearly every U.S. state have some form of e-filing of court documents (details can be found at the National Center for State Court’s e-filing Resource Guide), including Texas. That state’s system was the subject of an interim meeting of the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence. The
July 11, 2012 hearing focused on questions typically asked in many states, such as:

  • How do you pay for an e-filing system?
  • How much do e-filing systems cost?
  • Should each county/trial court have its own system or a single, unified one?
  • Is it better to try to buy “off-the-shelf”, develop the software with the judicial branch (or a particular court), license existing software, or something else?
  • Is e-filing the right way to go for every court and county?
  • Should the state take on the entirety of financing for e-filing?

Testimony on these and related issues were provided by from David Slayton, Administrative Director of the Texas Office of Court Administration and Martin Zelinsky, General Counsel for the state’s Department of Information Resources.

Louisiana Senate committee approves bill to create new crime of filing false liens on judges, court staff

States have in the past several years been grappling with the issue of litigants and others filing false liens on judges and court staff. Some states, like Arkansas in 2011, increased the penalties in existing law. Others, such as Louisiana, are considering creating a new crime that would specifically contend with instances where the false documents are filed against judges, court staff, and law enforcement.
The Louisiana bill, HB 616, was previously approved by the House. The video below is from the Senate Judiciary C committee’s hearing on the matter. It was approved on a voice vote by the committee.

Tennessee House committee rejects plan to make it easier for judges to carry guns in courtrooms

2011 saw a slew of bills introduced and enacted to make it easier for people in general, and judges in particular, to carry firearms into courthouses and courtrooms. Tennessee, for example, enacted HB 2039 / SB 1775 which authorized judges to carry firearms into a courtroom. However, under the law, the judge must :

  1. have a handgun carry permit
  2. successfully completes 16 hours of POST court security training
  3. successfully completes eight hours of POST firearm training on an annual basis
  4. be vested with judicial powers and in the actual discharge of those official duties as a judge

The fourth provision was aimed at limiting a judge’s ability to carry to his/her own courtroom.

Dissatisfied with the restrictions, HB 3222 / SB 2942 was introduced. It would effectively eliminate the training requirements (i.e. elements 2 and 3 listed above) from the existing law, allowing any judge with only a carry permit to being a firearm into his or her courtroom.

The matter was heard before the Tennessee House Judiciary Committee’s General Sub-committee on March 21. The plan was ultimately rejected on a 2-4 vote with one member voting present. The video below was from that hearing.

CT: Judicial compensation commission with binding powers advances out of Joint Judiciary Committee

A plan to change the way Connecticut sets judicial salaries has passed its first hurdle (prior coverage here).

Copying much of the language from New York’s relatively new judicial compensation commissionSB 31 would create a commission that would make recommendations every 4 years on judicial salaries that would go into effect automatically unless overridden or altered by the legislature. The automatic nature of the recommendations was the primary concern cited by opponents.

Currently, there is a joint commission (Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and Judges) that makes nonbinding recommendations to the legislature. That commission would continue, but without jurisdiction over judicial salaries.

The video below is from the March 26 Joint Committee on the Judiciary hearing and vote on the bill. The bill was approved on a 34-8 vote.

Tennessee House Judiciary Committee approves 9-6 plan to put merit selection explicitly in state’s constitution

There has been copious amounts written on this blog and in the Gavel to Gavel publication on Tennessee’s merit selection system (here’s an overview). The latest effort, HJR 753, would specifically place a merit-selection system in the state’s constitution for appellate judges in the state. Specifically the proposed constitutional amendment would replace the existing Article VI, Section 3…

The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state. The Legislature shall have power to prescribe such rules as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section two of this article. Every judge of the Supreme Court shall be thirty-five years of age, and shall before his election have been a resident of the state for five years. His term of service shall be eight years.

…with this…

Each judge of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be initially selected via merit-based gubernatorial appointment from a panel of qualified candidates submitted by a nominating commission; shall be legislatively confirmed; and, thereafter, contingent upon a satisfactory job performance evaluation, shall be subject to retention election by the qualified voters of the state. The Legislature shall prescribe such rules as may be necessary to implement sections two and three of this article. Each such judge shall be at least thirty-five years of age and shall have been a resident of the state for the five-year period immediately preceding appointment. The term of service shall be eight years.

The plan has the support of the state’s governor and legislative leaders. Despite this, the bill passed by only a 9-6 vote earlier today on its way to the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

The video below is from the (short) Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the bill on March 14 and the (longer) hearing and vote from March 20.

Creating court security fees in Minnesota

The recent spate of courthouse shootings and attacks has brought the focus back to court security and specifically how to pay for it.

Several states provide for court security fees to be added to civil and/or criminal cases. Minnesota is considering such a plan, one that would allow counties that feel the need for such a fee to impose it up to $15.

This video is from the March 15, 2012 hearing on the bill (HF 2000) before the Minnesota House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.

Kentucky House Judiciary Committee approves plan for public financing of Supreme Court races on 9-7 party line vote UPDATED: 9-6 non-party line vote

As I noted previously, Kentucky has almost its entire judiciary on the ballot in 2014, including 5 of the state supreme court’s 7 members. It is this, plus the view of judicial elections in other states and concern over the impact Citizens United has had on elections, that has prompted several bills in the last few years to create a public financing system for judicial elections in the state.

First, some background.

The first attempt at a Kentucky “clean judicial elections” fund was in 2006. HB 682 of that year covered all judicial elections for trial and appellate courts. It met with approval in the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and was floor amended to permit the Supreme Court to require members of the Kentucky Bar Association to submit an annual fixed amount not to exceed $25 to be dedicated to the clean judicial elections fund. It was then sent to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee where it died.

From 2006 to 2010 there were no indications the bill was reintroduced. In 2011, HB 21 was put forward with much (if not all) the same language of the 2006 bill. This time it failed to advance in the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

2012 saw two iterations: HB 47 (which was withdrawn almost the day it was introduced) and HB 230. The major difference: HB 47 would have covered all judicial races (like HB 682 of 2006 had) while HB 230 is focused only on Supreme Court races. While initially sent back to the House Elections committee, HB 230 was re-assigned two weeks after introduction to the House Judiciary Committee.

The video below is from two hearings before the House Judiciary Committee: the informational hearing held February 29 and the actual committee vote held March 14, where the committee voted 9 to 7 along party lines (all Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed) to advance the bill.

UPDATE 3/15/12: I misheard some of the audio. According to this news account the vote was 9-6 with 8 Democrats joined by Republican Rep. Michael Nemes (h/t Gavel Grab).

Maryland: Punishing judges for their opinions via the Commission on Judicial Disabilities; judges are just “employees”

The last several years have seen efforts to make use of the judicial disciplinary process to examine judicial opinions and punish judges for those opinions.

The latest such effort is Maryland’s HB 1061, a constitutional amendment that:

  • Authorizes Commission on Judicial Disabilities to remove a judge from office for refusal to enforce applicable law, rendering a decision contrary to applicable law, or knowingly disregarding applicable law.
  • Provides judge found by commission to have engaged in above conduct forfeits pension.
  • Provides any person may file complaint alleging above with commission.

Prior coverage here.

The video below is from the hearing held this afternoon on the bill.

Add Maryland to list of states considering public financing of judicial races

First it was Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin considering public financing for judicial races.

Then Pennsylvania.

Somewhere in between I neglected to mention Maryland’s SB 181, an error I am now rectifying. But first, some background.

In 2011 the Maryland legislature adopted HJR 7, which created a Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law. The 17 member commission is made up of mostly legislators (12) and members of the executive branch (State Administrator of Elections & Executive Director of the State Ethics Commission). The Governor opted to use one of his appointments to name a retired judge to the panel.

The commission was tasked with examining numerous issues, including public financing of campaigns for judicial offices and the costs and practical funding sources for such a system (other than via the state’s general fund). The commission submitted an interim report on December 31, 2011 that made no mention of public financing of judicial elections. Its final report is due December 31, 2012.

Enter SB 181 of 2012, a bill to create a Task Force to Study the Public Financing of Judicial Elections. The sole purposes of this task force, made up of legislators, judges, and others, would be to:

  1. study the feasibility of adopting a public finance system for judicial elections
  2. review best practices for publicly financing judicial elections
  3. develop a proposal to institute a public finance system for judicial elections

SB 181 requires the Task Force report back on these three elements by December 31, 2012.

The video below is from the February 7, 2012 hearing on the bill.

Arizona Senator tries to “push back” against state’s supreme court decision by cutting court of appeals from 22 judges to 6

Legislative anger of state supreme court decisions is nothing new, nor is the practice of “punishing” the judiciary as a whole for the decisions of that court. The most visible example so far this year may have been the attempt made in Arizona last week.

Arizona has an independent redistricting commission (IRC). In November 2011, the state’s Senate and Governor attempted to remove the chair of that commission. The chair filed an action in the state’s Supreme Court, which held the attempted removal unconstitutional.

Angry over the decision, a state senator attempted to “push back” against the judiciary as a branch in two ways. The first was an effort to end the state’s merit selection system and replace it with partisan elections (SB 1371 / SCR 1034).

The second would have reduced the state’s Court of Appeals (which did not hear the IRC case and had nothing to do with it) from 22 judges to 6 (SB 1372).

The video below is from the February 13, 2012 hearing on these bills before the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee.