South Carolina: bill out of committee requires Magistrate Court Judges have at least a four-year baccalaureate degree, requires attorney-judges in counties over 75k

South Carolina maintains 5 trial courts, one of which is Magistrate Court (in many/most states a “magistrate” is a quasi-judicial officer of some other court, not a judge of a separate court). South Carolina Magistrate Court Judges are appointed by the governor with senate confirmation and have both civil and criminal jurisdiction, but aren’t required to be lawyers or even to have graduated college; a GED is all that is required. That may change under a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week.

HB 4811 as filed provided that starting in July 2018 newly appointed Magistrate Court Judges must have received a four-year baccalaureate degree. In counties over 75,000, the judges must also be a licensed attorney. The version as amended in committee extends the deadline to July 2019.

HB 4811 now goes to the full House.

Florida: Senate bill would make several changes to judiciary; court security, civil jurisdiction limits, Supreme Court justice remote chambers; bill may require 2/3rds majority

A bill approved last week by the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee and set for a full Senate vote soon effectively merges several bills into one with potential major ramifications for the courts.

SB 1396 as it presently reads includes

  • A new section of law regarding the role and responsibility of sheriffs to provide court security and the authority of chief judges in this area. The language appears to be similar if not identical to portions of HB 7089 discussed here.
  • Increases the civil jurisdiction for the state’s County Courts from $15,000 to $50,000 effective 2020.
  • Authorizes a Supreme Court justice who resides outside of Tallahassee to maintain his or her headquarters in a district court of appeal courthouse, a county courthouse, or other appropriate facility in the justice’s district and be reimbursed for travel and subsistence while in Tallahassee.
  • The addition of judges to certain Circuits

This last item may prove a sticking point. Under the state’s constitution the supreme court “certifies” the number of judges needed in each Circuit Court or County Court. If the legislature wants to alter the supreme court’s numbers up or down, it must have “a finding of two-thirds of the membership of both houses of the legislature.”

Wyoming: Legislature approves court information technology equipment bill; provides whether judiciary or counties are responsible

Earlier this week the Wyoming legislature approved SF 24, an attempt to specify the responsibilities for court information technology equipment between the state judicial branch and county governments.

Key elements of the bill include:

  1. Defines “Court information technology equipment” (hardware equipment located in state court facilities necessary to meet, but not exceed, court information technology equipment standards adopted by the board of judicial policy and administration)
  2. Defines “State court facility” to include circuit and district courtrooms, circuit and district court jury rooms, circuit and district court judges’ chambers and the offices of circuit court clerks. Wyoming does have municipal courts, but these are not discussed.
  3. Implementation of court information technology equipment that requires alteration of a county building requires consultation with the board of county commissioners or the board’s appointed designee.
  4. The supreme court shall install court information technology equipment in all state court facilities in a phased approach. Upon installation of court information technology equipment in a state court facility, the supreme court shall maintain and support the equipment installed by the supreme court.
  5. Each county shall provide and maintain infrastructure to ensure the proper function of court information technology equipment including, but not limited to, requisite power outlets, network drops, audio and visual drops and associated wiring for connectivity of all endpoints and peripherals associated with court information technology equipment.

SF 24 now goes to the governor.

Iowa: Senate approves 26-24 bill to require supermajority of state Supreme Court (5/7) to declare laws unconstitutional

A plan discussed here to require the Iowa Supreme Court have a 5/7 supermajority to declare laws unconstitutional cleared the Senate yesterday.

News reports quote the lead author of SF 2282 as claiming the proposal is not targeting the current court but that “It’s just too much power to give to four judges to make fundamental changes in our law.” Proponents also liken it to a legislature overriding a governor’s veto by 2/3rds, however that provision in the is found in the Iowa constitution, not a statute.

As noted before, there are two states with similar supermajority requirements (Nebraska and North Dakota) but those are due to constitutional provisions, not statutes.

SF 2153 now goes to the House.

Louisiana: bill provides Judicial Council would no longer report whether court costs/fees “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system”

A 2003 law that requires the state’s Judicial Council report whether new court costs of fees are “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system” may be effectively repealed.

HB 493 as prefiled for the 2018 session would repeal a provision requiring the Judicial Council weigh in on the “reasonably related.”

No law to provide for a new court cost or fee or to increase an existing court cost or fee shall be enacted unless first submitted to the Judicial Council for review and recommendation to the legislature as to whether the court cost or fee is reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system.

This follows on a 2011 amendment that had added the “reasonably related” language, but removed the power of the Judicial Council to review fees/costs in Mayor’s Courts or Justice of the Peace Courts (HB 522 of 2011)

HB 493 has been preliminarily filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

Rhode Island: bill would require judicial nominating commission focus on “nominee’s perspicacity based on their unique background and experience in order to diversify the perspective of the judiciary”

The ongoing efforts by members of the Rhode Island House to diversify the bench continues.

HB 7908 as filed would require the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission focus on diversity and not emphasize courtroom and/or trial experience.

The commission shall consider each nominee’s perspicacity based on their unique background and experience in order to diversify the perspective of the judiciary of this state. When considering the qualifications of a nominee, courtroom and/or trial experience shall not be emphasized, but rather the commission shall consider the competence of the nominee in their chosen field of practice.

This is the latest in a series of bills related to judicial diversity introduced in the last threeweeks.

HB 7532 would require the 9-member Judicial Nominating Commission have at least 3 persons of color.

HB 7648 provides that when a person of color leaves a trial court bench (Superior, Family, District, Traffic Tribunal, Workers’ Compensation, or Municipal) “their replacement must be a person of color, so as not to diminish the number of judges of color in that court.”

HB 7649 requires the judicial selection commission actively and aggressively solicit members of color to apply for judicial appointments, including practicing members of the Rhode Island Bar residing in border states.

Oklahoma: Constitutional amendment to abolish Court of Criminal Appeals passes House Rules Committee

There are two states that have two separate courts of last resort: Oklahoma and Texas. Both have a court of last resort for civil matters (Supreme Court) and one for criminal (Court of Criminal Appeals). Texas has debated and attempted for 20 years to merge their courts, now Oklahoma appears to be trying to do the same.

HJR 1051 as filed and approved by the House Rules Committee yesterday would abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals within one year of approval by voters. All “duties, powers, cases, records, property, and personnel” EXCEPT judges would transfer to the Supreme Court. It appears the judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals would simply have their existing offices and terms ended.

The last and only time in recent history an effort like this was attempted in 2012 (discussed here).

There has been a single attempt in the last 20 years to merge the two courts. SJR 83 of 2012 would have abolished the constitutional references to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This was part of a package of bills, including SJR 84 of 2012 which would have stripped the newly combined Supreme Court of the power to strike down any law as unconstitutional, instead allowing an “Ad Hoc Court of Constitutional Review” created by the legislature itself to determine whether its laws were constitutional.