Michigan: repeal of mandatory judicial retirement age advances out of House committee; would allow judges older than 70 to run for or be appointed to judicial office

Michigan’s mandatory retirement age is something of a misnomer. A judge who reaches the age of 70 isn’t forced to retire that day, month, year, or even term, they just aren’t allowed to run for or be appointed to judicial office again. Or, as the state’s constitution puts it

No person shall be elected or appointed to a judicial office after reaching the age of 70 years.

Under HJR G of 2017, however, that restriction would be repealed. The repeal plan advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on April 25.

HJR G is just the latest attempt to bring forth such a repeal.

  • HJR S and SJR J of 2015/2016 House: Died in committee. Senate: Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • SJR F of 2013/2014 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • SJR U of 2011/2012 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • HJR FF of 2007/2008 Filed, never taken up.

 

Arizona: statewide court security funding put into state budget & passed; similar moves occurred in Minnesota (2016) & Wyoming (2014)

Portions of a bill to provide court security funding for Arizona courthouses discussed here and apparently killed has come back as part of the state’s budget.

SB 1161 created a Arizona Statewide Court Security Fund which was to have been administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts and used for “assistance, training and grants to courts to meet minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the supreme court.Funding would come from an apparently 2% increase on all court fees.

SB 1161 was subject to a “strike everything” amendment in the House that removed all existing language, the “new” SB 1161 instead focused on water improvement districts.

Now, an appropriation has been made as part of SB 1525 (criminal justice budget reconciliation) to the Arizona AOC using much the same language as SB 1161.

The sum of $750,000 is appropriated from the judicial collection enhancement fund established by section 12-113, Arizona Revised Statutes, in fiscal year 2017-2018 to the administrative office of the courts for the purposes of providing assistance, training and grants to courts to meet the minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the Arizona supreme court.

The use of a budget appropriation, rather than a standalone bill, also occurred in Minnesota in 2016. That state’s omnibus supplemental budget bill (HF 2749) included appropriation language.

$1,000,000 For a competitive grant program established by the chief justice for the distribution of safe and secure courthouse fund grants to government entities responsible for providing or maintaining a courthouse or other facility where court proceedings are held. Grant recipients must provide a 50 percent nonstate match. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2019.

The Arizona move is also similar to what occurred in Wyoming in 2014 where a standalone bill (SB 14) to create a Court Security Fund overseen by a Court Security Commission evolved into an appropriation/allocation in the state’s budget (Section 328 of HB 1) .

New Hampshire: Senate committee rejects specific language for judges to use for jury nullification; House had approved 170-160

Earlier this week the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 to reject HB 133 which would require judges in criminal cases give a specific jury instruction (discussed here). The House had previously approved the bill on a 170-160 vote.

If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the state has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty.  However if you find that the state has proved all the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.  Even if you find that the state has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find that based upon the facts of this case a guilty verdict will yield an unjust result, and you may find the defendant not guilty.

The bill is just the latest in a 20-year effort by the state’s legislature to force judges to give jury nullification instructions and do to so with specific verbiage. A similar bill without specifying what words were to be used was enacted in 2012 only to have the state’s supreme court rule that the law did not require a specific jury nullification instruction.

Texas: House committee approves 3-part formula to set judicial salaries; computation includes other states + US Court of Appeals + in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been approved by a House committee.

HB 3971 as amended and approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provides two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a justice of the Supreme Court other than chief justice would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys in Texas employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

 

Alabama: 2nd hearing today on plan to require legislature approve of judicial disciplinary proceeding that would remove a judge from office

In September of 2016 Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term by the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (Court of the Judiciary) on a complaint from the state judicial investigatory arm (the Judicial Inquiry Commission). Now members of the Alabama legislature want to disband both or strip them of power (news reports here and here).

SB 8 of 2017 is a constitutional amendment that would require 2/3rds legislative approval of Supreme Court decisions to remove judges from office. The move comes after the suspension from office of Chief Justice Roy Moore. During the hearing on the bill the lead proponent complained that in the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission “We have popularly elected judges, and we have a small, unelected body that takes them out.” Opponents expressed concern over separation of powers issues.

SB 8 also ends the practice where a judge or justice is suspended from office upon filing of a complaint by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.

Colorado: Changes to Judicial Performance Evaluation system set for House vote; commissions would no longer issue “retain/do not retain” recommendations to voters

A plan (HB 1303) to revamp Colorado’s Judicial Performance Evaluation system is set for a vote by the House this week. The plan would make changes to the existing system of statewide and district-based commissions that put out evaluations of judges for voters to examine. Among the changes:

  1. Commissions would have the power to recommend after an interim evaluation that a judge be subject to a judicial improvement plan.
  2. The commissions would be required to create a “standards matrix” and clearly define or describe whether a judge “meets performance standard” or “does not meet performance standard” and defined how that information will be made available to the public.
  3. During an election year, commissions would no longer issue a statement for
    “retain”, “do not retain”, or “no opinion”.
  4. Adds senior, retired judges who have returned to temporary judicial duties per contract with the judicial department to the list of those evaluated.
  5. The creation of a systemwide volunteer courtroom observer program.
  6. Currently commission members serve for 4 years. HB 1303 calls for the terms of sitting members to be cut short as of February 1, 2019.
  7. Membership on the commissions would change, with House and Senate minority leaders getting to select members of the commissions.
Current State and District (10 members) New State (11 members) New District (10 members)
Speaker of the House 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney
President of the Senate 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney
Governor 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 2 nonattorneys
Chief Justice 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 2 attorneys 2 attorneys
House Minority Leader n/a 1 nonattorney 1 nonattorney
Senate Minority leader n/a 1 nonattorney 1 nonattorney

HB 1303 could be voted on by the full House as early as today.

Nevada: Constitutional amendment to create judicial compensation commission appears dead; plan to repeal defunct advisory statutory commission advances in Assembly

A constitutional amendment which would have created a new binding compensation commission to set salaries for judges and other elected officials in Nevada appears dead while plans to repeal a defunct statutory body have cleared the Assembly.

AJR 10, which had been approved by the 2015/2016 Nevada legislature, would have created a Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Certain Elected Officers to set salaries for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Courts, and other state and local officials. The Commission’s recommendations would have been binding.

All seven members were to have been appointed to the commission by the governor; AJR 10 as originally introduced would have had seats chosen by members of each of the 3 branches of government.

The constitutional amendment needed to be passed by the 2017 session (Nevada’s legislature sits every other year) in order to get on the 2018 ballot. Under Joint Standing Rule No. 14.3.2 final action on a joint resolution may only be taken by the house of origin on or before the 79th calendar day of the legislative session (April 25 for this year).

The existing Commission to Review Compensation, which is created by statute and merely advisory, appears not to have met or held a session since the 1990s (see page 3). That body was to have reviewed the compensation paid to same officials covered by the proposed constitutional amendment. A bill to eliminate the Commission to Review Compensation (AB 126) and others commissions passed the Assembly.