E-signed and e-delivered, but not e-sealed?

Signed, sealed and delivered is more than a Stevie Wonder song, it represents the attestation of an action or record of a court dating back centuries. Technology, however, has outpaced the days of wax and impressions. For that reason, several state legislatures have had to go back and change the laws of their states to allow their courts more latitude. Legislatures in Oklahoma (HB 2253 of 2004), Iowa (HB 579 of 2009), and Michigan (SB 720 of 2010)  all authorized all courts in their state to e-seal. Texas in 2007 (SB 229) gave its district court the authority to create a seal electronically, thus allowing the courts to transfer, store, and locate documents with greater efficiency.

This year, Nevada enters into the e-seal fray. SB 6 authorizes the electronic reproduction of the seal of a court (current law requires either impressing the seal on the document or impressing the seal on a substance attached to the document). The bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

Cross-posted at Court Technology Bulletin blog

Increasing civil monetary jurisdiction levels of courts

The push to raise the monetary limits of various courts is already in full swing this year, starting at a faster pace than normal. Already three states have bills pending to raise civil limits.

South Carolina SB 125 would increase magistrate court’s jurisdiction to $10,000 from $7,500. Virginia SB 774 would increase district court jurisdiction to $25,000 from $15,000. Finally, Wyoming SB 15 would redefine a small claim up to $7,500 from its currently $5,000.

As the legislatures of these three states are still out of session until January 11 or 12, no action has been taken on any of the bills.

VA: Another try at increasing the mandatory retirement age for judges

For the fifth year in a row, Virginia is considering increasing the retirement age for its judges above its current 70.

The effort began in 2007 with SB 997, a bill that would have increased the age from 70 to 75. Its author submitted the bill “because many judges aren’t ready to retire by age 70.” A proposed committee amendment to remove the limit altogether failed because as the Senator in opposition put it “I know some judges who are so committed to practice they’d never retire.” The full Senate passed it 38-0, but the House failed to take it up.

In 2008, at least three bills (HB 783, SB 19, SB 34) made their way through various committees. Much of the focus was on SB 19, although passed by both chambers it was so heavily amended in each version they could not be reconciled before adjournment. 2009 proved no better: despite a unanimous 2007 Senate two years prior, an increase to 75 (SB 856) was rejected by the 2009 Senate 18-22; the House version (HB 1818) never even made it out of committee.

2010 marked a breakthrough year: SB 206 (increase to 73) made it through the Senate and the House Courts of Justice Committee, but died when referred to House Appropriations.

HB 1497 is picking up where SB 206 left off, with 73 the apparent target age.

MT: City courts of record?

In Montana, 92% of the state’s DUI cases are filed in the state’s limited jurisdiction courts, according to the state’s Office of Court Administrator. As part of its examination of the state’s DUI laws, the legislature’s Law and Justice Interim Committee has recommended allowing one type of these courts, City Courts, to be courts of record. The proposal has been introduced as SB 41 of 2011 and would additionally grant city judges all the powers and duties of district judges in like cases. Because these would be courts of record, review in the state’s District Courts would be as an appeal and not a trial de novo. The bill is in the state Senate awaiting committee assignment.