Oklahoma: House and Senate appear to near agreement on restructuring state’s supreme court seats; bills specify 2 at-large justices come from counties with a population under 75,000

A plan to redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court appears nearing House and Senate agreement, with the House’s plan to require justices from more rural counties winning the day.

Currently the 9 members of the Supreme Court are appointed from 9 districts, but run statewide for yes/no retention elections.

HB 1925 as approved by the House last month and by the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week would provide that starting in November 2017

  • 5 justices would be appointed, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017. For transition purposes, the current seats from Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would turn into Congressional-District based seats.
  • 4 justices appointed at-large, however 2 justices must come from counties with a population of less than 75,000. The current seats from Districts 2, 7, 8, and 9 would transition to at-large.

The justices would still run statewide for yes/no retention elections.

 

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Efforts to ban state courts from using or referencing foreign/international law in general, and sharia law in particular, continue apace with two legislatures approving versions while a bill in North Dakota was rejected.

Arkansas enacted a ban (HB 1041). An earlier version noted here would have re-declared that marriage in Arkansas was limited to a man and a woman, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying the opposite. The amended/enacted HB 1041 provides

A court ruling or decision violates the public policy of this state and is void and unenforceable if the court bases its ruling or decision in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code, or system that does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision one (1) or more of the following fundamental rights, liberties, and privileges granted under the Arkansas Constitution or the United States Constitution:
(1) The right to due process;
(2) The right to equal protection;
(3) Freedom of religion;
(4) Freedom of speech;
(5) Freedom of the press;
(6) The right to keep and bear arms;
(7) The right to privacy; or
(8) The right to marry, as “marriage” is defined by the Arkansas Constitution, to the extent that the definition of marriage does not conflict with federal law or a holding by the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the Montana legislature approved a version (SB 97) that is currently pending on the governor’s desk that reads in operative part

A court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision violates the public policy of Montana and is void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its ruling or decision on a law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the Montana constitution or the United States constitution, including but not limited to due process, equal protection, freedom of religion, speech, or press, the right to keep and bear arms, and any right of privacy or marriage.

Finally, North Dakota’s House approved HB 1425 in February, but in late March the Senate rejected the proposal. At issue was the situation similar to Arkansas, namely, that the bill would have attempted to re-establish a ban on same-sex marriage. Senators objected to the marriage provision and amended it out, but also worried this was an “insult to our judges” and assumes North Dakota judges would violate the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions without this bill.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Montana: “Supreme Court Candidate Public Forum Program” killed; effort at public funding for court races but opponents worried about using court fees to pay for it

A plan discussed here to create publicly funded public forums to hear from candidates for Montana’s non-partisan Supreme Court races is dead for the session.

HB 636 would have directed the Secretary of State hold public forums throughout the state and invite all candidates for the high court participate. The funding from the program would have come, in part, from an increase in filing fees in appellate and civil cases. Opponents (audio here starting at 1:50) expressed concern that the increase in fees would be problematic from an access-to-justice perspective and that while the forums should be encouraged, community groups should be taking care of them. They also objected to candidates having their travel expenses to the forums being paid for via the forum.

The bill was heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 28 and left in the committee. A motion to pull it out of committee and bring it to the floor was rejected by the full House on March 29 41-58.

State legislatures debating use of dogs in courtrooms to calm, assist witnesses; bills out of committee in several states, enacted in Idaho

I mentioned in 2016 that there’s been an increasing number of bills introduced to address the use of animals in court proceedings to calm and assist witnesses. The 2017 session has continued this trend. The bills often contend with two issues: who can have access to such animals (children only? others?) and in what kinds of cases can such an animal be used (criminal? any?)

Alabama HB 393 and SB 273 would permit at the judge’s discretion registered therapy dogs into courtrooms to assist any victim or witness “to reduce unnecessary emotional distress experience by a victim or witness and allow full and factual testimony.” The District Attorney would have to provide instructions on court protocol to the handler. The bills also deal with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury and authorizes judges to use discretionary court funds to offset the costs for a registered handler for the therapy dog.

SB 273 was approved 7-0 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday. HB 393 is in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security but has not yet come up for a hearing.

California AB 411 as amended focuses on 1) child witnesses in cases involving a serious or violation felony and 2) victims entitled under existing law to support persons. These individuals under the bill would be able to have access to a therapy or facility dog and defines these terms, subject to approval by a judge. The bill also deals with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury.

AB 411 as amended was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on March 15 and is currently on the Assembly floor (3rd Reading Calendar).

Connecticut HB 6999 as filed would have authorized the use of therapy dogs for those under the age of 18 in criminal cases.

During testimony on the bill by the Connecticut Judicial Branch, it was noted that the state’s supreme court had recently ruled that judges already have the inherent authority to allow for a therapy dog for any witness, in any court proceeding, and that therefore the bill as filed might have the effect of limiting the court’s ability to make such accommodations.

HB 6999 as amended, instead provides the Judicial Branch shall maintain on its website a section providing information regarding the availability of an accommodation, granted at the court’s discretion, for the presence of a dog to provide comfort and support for a child under the age of eighteen during such child’s testimony in the criminal prosecution of an offense involving the alleged assault, abuse or sexual abuse of such child. it also directs that trial judges be trained on this issue.

HB 6999 as amended was approved by the Joint Committee on Children on March 2 and remains pending.

Florida HB 151 amends an existing law that allows the court to use service or therapy animals in proceedings involving a sexual offense to assist a child victim or witness or a sexual offense victim or witness.

As amended, HB 151

  1. Expands the list of proceedings in which support animals may be used to include any proceeding involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
  2. Expands the categories of allowable animals to include a “facility dog”;
  3. Allows a court to set any conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a person who has an intellectual disability, including the use of a therapy animal or facility dog;
  4. Removes the requirement for evaluation and registration of an animal pursuant to national standards, and replaces it with a requirement that an animal be trained, evaluated, and certified according to industry standards; and
  5. Provides definitions for the terms “facility dog” and “therapy animal.”

HB 151 was approved by the full Senate yesterday and is on its way to the governor. The Senate’s similar bill (SB 416) addressed the same issues and was approved on committee, but was ultimately shelved in favor of HB 151.

Idaho SB 1089 as enacted provides when a child is summoned as a witness in any hearing in a noncriminal matter that involves the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child, including any preliminary hearing, notwithstanding any other statutory provision, a facility dog shall be allowed to remain in the courtroom at the witness stand with the child during the child’s testimony. The bill also defines what a “facility dog” is. SB 1089 was signed into law by the governor in March, with an effective date of July 1, 2017.

Maryland SB 77 amends a 2016 law (SB 1106) that created a pilot program for the use of both facility and therapy dogs with respect to child witnesses in criminal cases and limited the program to two counties (Anne Arundel and Harford). SB 77 would delete the word “criminal”, allowing for the use of such dogs in any case.

SB 77 was approved by the House on April 4 and is in back in the Senate pending transmission to the Governor.

North Carolina: Plans to shrink Court of Appeals clear Senate committee; already approved by full House

Plans to reduce the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 members down to 12 have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee having been previously approved by the full House.

HB 239 would reduce the court from 15 to 12 by attrition; no judges would lose their office. Opponents claim it is a political move by the Republican controlled legislature to avoid giving the Democratic governor the power to fill interim vacancies set to occur as several members of the court are forced into mandatory retirement in the next few years. Proponents argue that that Court of Appeals’ caseload has dropped thus there isn’t the need for as many judges. They also note provisions in the bill that shift some cases directly to the Supreme Court.

HB 239 now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.

Illinois: House committee approves bill to require posting in public areas of courthouses how to file disciplinary complaints against trial judges

A bill in the Illinois House discussed here that would have required trial judges make an announcement on a daily basis in their court about the existence of the state’s judicial disciplinary body has been heavily amended.

HB 3054 as filed contained 3 elements

  1. All Circuit Judges must announce that a person can file a complaint against him or her with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board prior to calling the first case of the day.
  2. The Clerk of the Circuit Court must make a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint form with instructions available.
  3. The Clerk must also post within each courtroom a notice that a person may file a complaint against the judge and that instructions for filing a complaint may be obtained from the clerk.

HB 3054 as amended removes Item 1 entirely and heavily modifies Items 2 and 3. The new bill provides

  1. Circuit Court Clerks are to post in the common areas of the courthouse a notice a person may file a complaint against the judge that includes contact information for the Judicial Inquiry Board.
  2. The Judicial Inquiry Board shall develop a uniform statewide notice and provide the format of the notice to each clerk.

The posting requirement is similar to a 2008 Tennessee bill (HB 3906 / SB 4053) although that version would have placed the notice just outside the courtroom. The Tennessee plan was introduced but never taken up in either chamber.

This amended bill was approved by the House Judiciary – Civil Committee on a 11-0 vote and is currently pending on the House floor.

Delaware: Senate approves 17-0 constitutional amendment to give governor & senate more time to consider judicial nominees, allow for prospective appointment

A constitutional amendment discussed here to give Delaware’s governor and senate more time to consider judicial nominations cleared the Senate last week. With House approval, the constitutional amendment would go into effect (Delaware doesn’t require voter approval of constitutional amendments).

Currently, the constitution provides the governor makes nominations and the Senate confirms for the state’s top courts (all but Alderman’s). Since 1977 every governor has used an advisory Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor and senate, however, are on a timetable:

  • The governor must submit a name to the Senate within 60 days after the occurrence of a vacancy.
  • The Senate, if in session, takes up the name. If not in session, the Governor must within 60 days convene the Senate to take up the nomination.
  • If an incumbent judge remains in office, they can holdover up to 60 days after the expiration of their term.

SB 25 of 2017 would effectively extend these deadlines and allow for prospective appointments if a vacancy is set to occur; the current constitution is silent on the matter.

  • The governor could submit a name to the Senate “from 30 days before to 90 days after” the vacancy happens.
  • The Senate could also be called back into session “from 30 days before to 90 days after” the vacancy happens.
  • Incumbent judges could holdover in office up to 90 days.

The constitutional amendment (then called SB 275 of 2016) was approved unanimously by both chambers last year.