IA: Impeachment looming for justices due to same sex marriage decision?

Last month, three of Iowa’s seven justices were unseated in their retention elections, in large part due to the court’s unanimous ruling that the state’s constitution required the legalization of same-sex marriage. Opponents of the three warned and urged the remaining four justices to resign from the bench. At least 3 members of the Iowa House, however, have no inclination to wait and see if the four will in fact step down and have prepared articles of impeachment. (h/t Des Moines Register).

The state’s constitution provides justices and others  “shall be liable to impeachment for any misdemeanor or malfeasance in office” with a simple majority required for impeachment. Conviction in the Senate, however, would require a two-thirds vote.

Iowa is but the latest of states to threaten the impeachment of judges or justices based solely on their decisions. Details can be found in this post as well as a Gavel to Gavel Focus piece from 2007 (located here).

WY: Expanded use of district court commissioners in lieu of judges

With budget shortfalls anticipated well into the next two years, many states are considering making more use of quasi-judicial officials.

Since the adoption of its original constitution in 1889, Wyoming’s district court commissioners have been limited in the services they may perform: they may take depositions and perform other tasks assigned by law, but they cannot perform “chamber business” unless either a) the district judge is out of the county or b) it is improper for the the district judge to act in a given case. However, in Summer 2010 in testimony before the state’ legislature’s Joint Interim Judiciary Committee, then-Chief Justice Barton Voigt “observed that the commissioners are acting even when a district court judge is present in violation of the constitution and statute and he believes that that a constitutional change is needed.”

HJR 1 of 2011 would remove those prohibitions (and delete the word “chamber” from “chamber business”). If adopted, a district court commissioner could perform duties assigned by a district court judge, even if the judge is not absent from the jurisdiction of the court or recused/disqualified, subject to any restrictions the legislature may impose by law upon the authority of district court commissioners. The bill is currently pending in the House but is not yet assigned to a committee.

FL: Mandatory e-filing in criminal cases

Earlier in 2010, Gavel to Gavel looked at efforts by state legislatures to mandate more electronic filing of court documents. Much of the focus was on civil cases, however Florida’s Senate is considering a plan to press for criminal case e-filing. SB 170 of 2011 would require prosecutors and public defenders to e-file documents with the clerk of court and report back on March 1, 2012 on the implementation of the program to the legislature.

Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin blog

KY: Public financing for judicial elections?

Perhaps in anticipation of an expected 2012 Supreme Court election in the state, or as a reaction to judicial elections in other states, the Kentucky legislature will be considering a bill (HB 21) this year to create a public financing system for all judges in the state, paid for in part by a $25 annual assessment on all members of the Kentucky Bar Association. If adopted, Kentucky’s public financing system for judicial races might be the most expansive in the nation. Similar programs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Mexico are limited to appellate courts only. A fourth program (West Virginia) adopted in 2010 is limited to only the state’s 2012 Supreme Court race.

AL: Lobbying to include efforts to obtain judicial branch contracts

Current law in Alabama, indeed in most places, defines lobbying to include efforts to promote or oppose legislation or regulatory action. In all such cases the focus is either on the legislature OR the executive branch OR an administrative agency. Alabama’s Legislature, however, is on the verge of expanding the definition of lobbying to include “promoting or attempting to influence the award of a contract or grant by the executive, legislative, or judicial branch“. According to the latest information from The Birmingham News, the Alabama Senate’s Ethics Committee passed that language as part of HB 11 (Special Session) on Monday.  Due to the addition of an amendment in the Senate, the bill would have to be readopted by the House before submission to the Governor, which could happen as early as next week.

OK: Efforts to impeach/remove trial judge already starting

Readers may recall earlier this year I noted a case involving legislative efforts to remove OK trial judge Thomas Bartheld.

Media reports of legislators planning his ouster made the news in June 2009 after Judge Bartheld sentenced a man who had pled no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Judge Bartheld, however, noted that “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant all agreed to this [plea bargain].”

HR 1001 of 2011 asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office.