Colorado Chief Justice delivers State of the Judiciary: “I have not come here today to present budgetary needs.”

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

With the adoption of HJR 1103 of 2011 the Colorado House and Senate met in Joint Session on January 14 to hear the State of the Judiciary Address from Chief Justice Michael L. Bender.

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:

[John] Adams’ point rings true today — to have a government that secures liberty and freedom, all branches of the government must be obedient to the law. Our government is not founded upon the good wishes and desires of individuals because, as Adams noted, individuals cannot be counted on to “prefer the public good before their own.”

As Chief Justice, I stand before you as representative of the seven justices, as well as the judiciary as a whole. I was elected to serve as chief by my peers and began a little less than six weeks ago, so the job is a little new to me.

Although adequate resources for court and probation functions are critical, I have not come here today to present budgetary needs. Instead, I will share some accomplishments, describe meeting the challenges posed by a struggling economy, and explain my goals for strengthening the judiciary.

Our greatest strength is our people—judges, magistrates, administrators, probation officers and clerks.

I would be remiss in not emphasizing that the resources provided by the General Assembly over the years have fully supported our mission. No matter how capable our judges, they cannot be effective unless adequate resources are provided. But there is no question that the economic downturn of the last few years has impacted all branches of government. Despite diminished resources and increasing demands, we have strengthened the operation of the courts by increasing efficiency.

As you know, we are in the process of building a statewide e-filing system for all cases, which will increase our efficiency and yield additional revenue. With your support, Colorado continues to lead the nation in court technology applications, as evidenced by the development and implementation of our public access system last year.

We continue to ensure quality and integrity within our court system. For example, we have been pioneers in the establishment of jury reform and the establishment of over 60 community problem solving courts across the state—these include veterans trauma, adult and juvenile drug, family dependence and neglect, DUI, adult and juvenile mental health, and truancy courts.

Access to the courts is also affected by the rapidly rising numbers of parties in marital dissolutions who cannot afford legal representation. These unrepresented parties, especially those with children, need legal advice and counseling.

Employee morale is critical. I don’t need to tell you how devastating job cuts and hiring freezes can be. The cuts we’ve made branch wide have fostered feelings that the work done in the local courts is not fully appreciated.

We, as judges, need to expand our efforts to educate the public about what we do and what the rule of law means to the Judiciary. The educational outreach program “Our Courts,” initiated by Court of Appeals Judge Russell Carparelli and Federal District Court Judge Marcia Krieger and supported by the Colorado Bar association and the Colorado Judicial Institute, needs our full support.

Before I close I want to talk a little about our new building. Thank you again General Assembly for your bipartisan support in championing this project. The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which is being built without any general fund impact, will be finished in the spring of 2013. This center will house our appellate courts, the State Court Administrator’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and other state legally related entities.

MO judges may get salary boost after all

Missouri’s compensation system for most elected officials is fairly straightforward: the Missouri Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials makes a recommendation which goes into effect unless overridden by two-thirds of the legislature by a set date. In 2009 it was in fact overridden (HCR 5) and things looked less than promising when the Senate Rules committee appeared last week to reject the increases in light of the economy. However, in a twist, the Senate Rules committee on a 4-3 vote rejected advancing a resolution of disapproval (SCR 3). Moreover, the Commission’s policy to set state judicial salaries as a fixed percentage of federal salaries appears to have gained legislative support.

However, according to the Associated Press, money for the raises would have to be included in the state budget. The leader of the state Senate’s Republican majority says he hopes lawmakers won’t fund them.

Plan to shrink Montana Supreme Court: designed to force the court into tort reform and out of redistricting lawsuits?

The effort to shrink the Montana Supreme Court from 7 members to 5, first discussed here, was heard in the Montana House Judiciary Committee today (audio and video here).

According to a fiscal note prepared on HB 245 the reduction would mean “a caseload increase of approximately 40% per justice. The time to disposition of Supreme Court cases would increase dramatically and cases may not be resolved timely.”

The author of HB 245, Rep. Derek Skees, told the House Judiciary Committee his intent in introducing the bill was to shrink government and save money. As for the caseload increase, Skees implied that while other Montana residents were having to do “more with less”, the Supreme Court had not and that the justices could “easily” handle the workload and achieve the guarantee of “speedy justice” in the state constitution. Skees also made clear his desire to obtain tort reform through the reduction of the size of the Supreme Court.

All of us want tort reform, well maybe not all of us.  I surely want it and a lot of folks I talk to want it. So how do we get tort reform? I would suggest that if we took the Supreme Court from 7 down to 5, they have a higher workload, guess who becomes our ally in tort reform? The Supreme Court.

Skees concluded his testimony with his desire to reduce the entire Supreme Court’s budget by 40%.

Rick Breckenridge of the Lake County Republican Party spoke in favor of the bill, noting to Republican members of the committee that:

We have redistricting and we need a tightened down Supreme Court in order to achieve that. So take control of the reins of the Supreme Court, show them who is in charge, and remember that with redistricting, how we (Republicans) have been treated by the Supreme Court in the past.

Opponents included the State Bar President Joe Sullivan who noted the massive slowdown that would result in the adjudication of both civil and criminal cases and impacting the economy. The State Bar opposes the bill “because it denies the citizens of Montana timely and swift access to their justice system.” Additionally, the chief prosecutor in the state Attorney-General’s office spoke out against the bill noting that, with lack of an intermediate appellate court, Montana’s 7 member Supreme Court was helpful for speedy deliberation of cases.

The chair of the committee noted a former justice of the Supreme Court resigned due to the already crushing burden on the court’s workload.

No vote was taken on the bill.

Kentucky joins Maryland in considering an end to its Judges’ Retirement system

I noted earlier this month that Maryland is considering closing the door to any future entrants for its Judges’ Retirement System. Kentucky, which has been in session since January 4, has moved swiftly to do the same. SB 2 of 2011 closes the state’s Judicial Retirement Plan to new members effective July 1, 2012. The bill allows those in the Judicial Retirement Plan with less than 5 years of service to transfer their membership and account balance to the newly-created Public Employees Retirement System, a 401(k)-style retirement plan (as opposed to the current defined benefit system, h/t Courier-Journal). All future judges would have no choice put to join the new System. The bill went from introduced to committee approved in the first three days of session (January 4-7) and is currently on the Senate floor.

Washington State of the Judiciary Address

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

Pursuant to HCR 4401 of 2011 Washington State Chief Justice Barbara Madsen was invited to give the State of the Judiciary before a Joint Session of the legislature Wednesday (coincidentally, at the exact same time as the Indiana State of the Judiciary address).

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:

State of the judiciary

One of the hallmarks of a democracy is a right of access to courts. It is really the fact that a country has a democracy that drives the need for courts. Democracies rely on the rule of law and the protection of individual liberties…The true meaning of the judicial branch can be seen every day as a thousand pictures making up a larger mosaic– with millions of life stories of our neighbors who use the courts.
On this level, I can report that the state of Washington’s judiciary remains strong—but stretched thin.

Ensuring quality justice

A central area of focus for the [Board for Judicial Administration] is maintaining fair and impartial courts throughout our state—staffed by well trained, professional judges.
In Washington State, we have a long history of nonpartisan election of judges. Yet, curiously, in some of our municipal courts—the so-called people’s courts—we give the city executive or legislative branches the exclusive right to decide who to appoint as a judge—and how long to keep them.
We will be asking the Legislature again this year to assure that judges from all levels of court are elected by, and accountable to, the people they serve. Fair and impartial courts—free from undue influence and control by the legislative and executive branches—are a fundamental part of our democracy.

Eliminating bias

Another major initiative of the judiciary—is working to eliminate bias in our courts…Our courts have spent enormous energy addressing bias and meaningful access to justice—but we recognize the need to reassess our progress. Shortly after becoming Chief Justice, I convened the Supreme Court Commissions, Boards and Task Forces Assessment Work Group to take a hard look at existing efforts and make recommendations for modernizing and strengthening the justice system’s ability to ensure fair treatment for all.

JIS

The core of what brings our hundreds of courts together every day is the Judicial Information System (JIS). Essentially, JIS equals justice—without JIS calendars the courts do not operate, money from traffic fines and fees are not collected and delivered to the state, and judges do not have access to criminal history information. Imagine for a moment serving as a judge and needing to make a critical bail decision without knowing the criminal history of the defendant standing before you. That is what the judiciary would face without the assistance of JIS.

Leadership in fiscal crisis

Historically this state has imposed a disproportionate responsibility for meeting essential law and justice responsibilities, including funding for courts—at the local level. In fact, Washington continues its unfortunate ranking of last in the nation—50th out of 50 states for its percentage of state funding for the courts, prosecution and criminal indigent defense…Injustices are occurring and public safety is being jeopardized as this continues.
With that in mind, the Board for Judicial Administration will seek legislation to extend the sunset provision on the filing fee surcharges added in 2009. The judicial system is a core function of government and, as such, should be funded with general fund revenues and not user fees.

Partnering in this crisis

For the past several months, all agencies of the judicial branch, in cooperation with the Governor’s Office, have reduced expenses and cut costs by more than $4.3 million, in addition to cuts in the previous two legislative sessions totaling more than $17.7 million between our state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, State Law Library, Office of Public Defense and Office of Civil Legal Aid.

Compassion in time of need

Finally, let me say that it is important to note that in times of economic turmoil and distress, we are working hard not to abandon our state’s most vulnerable residents—children in foster care, victims of domestic violence, senior citizens, the poor and others vulnerable to crime…I am tremendously proud of the work of the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD), which is working to improve the standards of public defense in trial, juvenile, and appellate courts….Similarly, the Office of Civil Legal Aid, is our state’s lifeline for civil equal justice. When there is nowhere else to turn, civil legal aid steps in…This need, given our current fiscal crisis has increased tremendously.

Closing

In closing, on behalf of the dedicated judges of Washington State, I would like to reinforce our commitment to the rule of law in our democracy. Your judges will steadfastly continue their efforts to ensure the promise of equal justice for all Washington citizens…In large part, the cornerstone of this commitment rests upon adequate and stable funding for the trial courts and we pledge to stay the course in achieving this long-term goal.

Issue 5:2 is out with a Focus on Threats/Intimidation of Judges and Court Staff

Issue 5:2 (January 7) is here.

Gavel to Gavel this week features:

-Focus: Threats/Intimidation of Judges and Court Staff
-Indiana considers expansion of concurrent jurisdiction its trial courts & ending non-attorney judges
-Kentucky joins Maryland in considering closing its Judicial Retirement Plan to new members
-A Virginia state senator proposes paying for judicial salary increases with a special $50 fee on most civil filing fees