Pennsylvania’s House considers impeaching Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.

Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry, Jr.  has served in that office in 1996 and had, prior too taking office, purchased over a dozen properties in Philadelphia. The properties were in poor condition and the judge cited over 70 times. According to the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline, Judge Berry made use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to “assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning his properties.” The Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him for four months without pay and he was encouraged to resign by the Philadelphia Bar. Instead, Berry returned to work on January 4.

HR 603 appoints a sub-committee of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Judge Berry’s actions and determine whether they rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Coming Up: Week of February 22, 2010

Crossover
South Dakota – 2/23
Indiana – 2/25
Mississippi – 2/26
Kansas – 2/27

Hearings

Illinois HB 4822 Removes Probation Services as a Division of the Supreme Court and places it as an independent agency headed by a Director appointed by the Governor. In House Rules Committee.

Kansas SB 541 Delays expansion of court of appeals from 13 to 14 judges until 2012. In Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judge, please don’t buy that lotto ticket. Unless you are on a trial court…

Article XVII, Section 8 of the South Carolina constitution states “It shall be unlawful for any person holding an office of honor, trust, or profit to engage in gambling or betting on games of chance; and any such officer, upon conviction thereof, shall become thereby disqualified from the further exercise of the functions of his office, and the office of said person shall become vacant, as in the case of resignation or death.”

HB 3943 would lift the prohibition on “gambling or betting” for lotteries conducted by the state for most officer holders, including trial court judges, but specifically not including “judges sitting on the State Supreme Court or the South Carolina Court of Appeals.”

No more non-attorney judges?

While no longer as popular as in the past, many states continue to retain non-attorney judges. Trial judges in at least 27 states, most in probate, justice of the peace, or other similar limited jurisdiction courts, are not required to be attorneys. Several states, however, are trying to eliminate this practice.

Georgia’s HB 478 requires municipal court judges be attorneys unless already serving as municipal court judge. It was approved by the House Committee on Governmental Affairs on February 4.

Indiana’s SB 122 would require City and Town judges be attorneys as well.

Maryland HB 417 would require Orphan’s Court judges, in the city of Baltimore only, be attorneys. Prior versions (such as HB 387 and SB 293 of 2008) would have required most if not all of the state’s Orphan’s Court judges be attorneys. The Senate version made it through that chamber in 2008 (42-4), while the House version failed to achieve the three-fifths majority needed (failed 84-50, with 85 votes needed).

Legislation to ban the use of Karma, Sharia, and Canon Law by Courts

Efforts to strip courts of jurisdiction over case types, such as taxation and school funding, are nothing new. See, for example, Kansas’ SCR 1613 which would prohibit the judicial branch from directing the legislative branch make any appropriation of money or to redirect the expenditure of funds.

2010 however is perhaps the first time a state legislature has tried to stop the use of karma by the courts (although it is not clear any courts are presently using it). Arizona’s HB 2379 and SB 1026 prohibits courts from implementing, referring or incorporating or using “a tenet of any body of religious sectarian law” and specifically includes sharia law, canon law, halacha, and karma. Decisions that make use of a body of religious sectarian law or foreign law are declared void and such usages declared to be grounds for impeachment. Moreover, the bills are not just targetting Arizona’s state courts; the same legislation declares these provisions apply to Federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction and requires any court that construes the statutes must do so in a way to confine the power of Congress and the federal judiciary.

A similar bill in Oklahoma, HJR 1056, would amend that state’s constitution to prohibit the courts from “look[ing] to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider Sharia Law…” That  bill was approved by the House Rules Committee on February 4.

Public financing for WA Supreme Court races: On the way or out of the question?

Washington State’s proposed public financing system for their Supreme Court elections advances out of its first House Committee, over a year after introduction. HB 1738 of 2009 had its first hearing in March 2009 and lay in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Affairs until February 2010 when it finally passed and sent on to House Ways & Means. Its Senate counterpart, SB 5912, had a similar resuscitation, finally making it out of its Committee on Government Operations & Elections February 4. According to the Spokesman-Review’s blog, the state’s Lieutenant Governor has ruled, as President of the Senate, the additional $3 charge for filing fees is a tax. Under Washington law, taxes need a two-thirds majority of both chambers, while fees require a simple majority.