Pennsylvania: constitutional amendment would require non-attorneys pass exam before they can even run for judicial office; currently they can run and be elected, but can’t assume office

The Pennsylvania Constitution currently provides that justices of the peace (referred to in statute as magisterial district court judges) are to be elected. For non-attorneys election is only the first step, they must then “complete a course of training and instruction in the duties of their respective offices and pass an examination prior to assuming office.”

This presents a problem: what happens if the non-attorney doesn’t pass the exam? Or take the course at all?

Back in the 1970s the state legislature tried to require non-attorneys take the exam prior to running for office to avoid this, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court (Flegal v. Dixon, 472 Pa. 249, 372 A.2d 406 (1977))

The Act’s imposition of the additional requirement that the instruction and examination be completed before filing nominating petitions is therefore unconstitutional.

Now, members of the Pennsylvania House wants to amend the constitution to in effect overturn Flegal.

Under HB 1645 as introduced a non-attorney would have to take the course and pass the exam prior to even being nominated or running for office.

HB 1645 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

This isn’t the first time legislators have attempted amend the state’s constitution to require non-attorney pass the exam before they can run for office. Similar efforts were made on the Senate side (SB 521 of 2015; SB 170 of 2013; SB 57 of 2011; SB 1119 of 2009; SB 696 of 2007), none of which advanced out of committee.

North Carolina: amendment to revise all or almost all of the state’s judicial election districts approved in committee but unable to advance to floor

A plan to restructure North Carolina’s entire judicial election map was approved in committee earlier this week but appears to have been blocked from a floor vote.

HB 717 as originally filed in April would have altered a few judicial election districts. The amendment, offered according to news reports with little or no notice in the House Judiciary I committee, would have instead restructured all judicial divisions and districts in the state. Opponents accused the sponsors of wanting to gerrymander the judicial districts in favor of Republicans. The lead author claimed he was correcting an existing pro-Democratic gerrymander of the districts. The author did acknowledge during the committee hearing that the new maps were drawn without input from judges, prosecutors (whose lines would also be redrawn), court clerks, or the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.

Although the plan did come out of committee, objections to the bill swiftly reduced the odds of a floor vote in the House this session and HB 717 has been sent back to committee (Elections and Ethics Law).

Wisconsin: bills to require municipal court judges be attorneys re-introduced

Wisconsin legislators are once again considering the question of whether or not municipal court judges in the state should be required to be attorneys.

AB 33 filed in January 2017 and SB 294 filed in mid-June both provide that a person may not qualify for election or appointment as a municipal court judge unless he or she is an attorney licensed to practice in Wisconsin and a member in good standing of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

The is the latest effort to mandate that municipal court judges be attorneys. In the 2011/2012 session, AB 101 was heard in committee be failed to advance; Gavel to Gavel coverage of that effort and hearing can be found here. The identical SB 318 was never even taken up on committee.

There the matter lay for almost 4 years until AB 230 of 2015/2016. It too was never taken up in 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.

Publication note: my article in latest Judicature on guns in courthouses/courtrooms

I have this in the latest edition of Judicature.

Guns in court: States are easing restrictions on firearms in courthouses and courtrooms

The article looks at location bans (“courthouse”, “exclusive use”, etc.) and personnel exemptions (e.g. judges, law enforcement in general, law enforcement assigned to court security). It also examines the legislative efforts to expand courthouse/courtroom carry.

Michigan: bills set for hearing next week would require state court administrative office certify all veterans, drug, DWI, and mental health courts

A set of bills up for a hearing next week in the Michigan Senate’s Judiciary Committee would require that judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets would have to be certified by the state court administrator’s office.

SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.

The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.

The hearing is set for June 13.

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.