House considers “informing” Chief Justice Georgia is not a “democracy”

Most states allow their chief justices to offer State of the Judiciary addresses to the legislature or legislative and executive branch leaders.  (A collection of the 2010 State of the Judiciary speeches and archive of past ones is available here.)

Georgia did so via a formal resolution (HR 1682) inviting Chief Justice Carol Hunstein to “address a joint session” on March 16. The Chief Justice did so and in her address noted, “The separation of powers is the very bedrock of our nation’s democracy” and, citing Judge Learned Hand, that “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”

The reference to “democracy” did not sit well with several members of the House, at least 6 of whom introduced a resolution (HR 1770) on March 26 to “inform Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein that the State of Georgia is a republic and not a democracy.”

However, in his January State of the State address, Governor Sonny Perdue made three separate references to the U.S. and/or Georgia as being a “democracy”.

No word on any similar resolution having been introduced for his references.

Legislation on control of the court’s docket/calendar

Who controls a court’s docket/calendar? This is somewhat of an open question in many states, particularly as it relates to trials in criminal matters. In this legislative cycle, three states have explored granted judges more power over the matter.

Maryland’s HB 208 establishes that the date for trial of a criminal matter in the circuit court shall be set by the county administrative judge and not the prosecution. It was overwhelmingly approved by the House (134-2) in February. The Senate version (SB 398) however has had less luck. Having been approved by the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee in early March, it was amended on the floor, delayed, and ultimately sent back to committee in mid-March.

Coincidentally, the South Carolina Senate debated a nearly identical bill (SB 4450) at the same time. That bill provides that it is exclusively the power of magistrates in Magistrates Court and municipal judges in Municipal Courts to set the dockets for their courts and to set the order in which cases may be tried. The Senate Committee on Judiciary approved the bill as amended on March 24.

A similar calendar/docket control bill was introduced in North Carolina in 2009 (HB 1396). It was never taken up by its assigned committee.

Mandatory judicial retirement and Justice John Paul Stevens

The speculation over the (possible) resignation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has drawn attention to his age. At nearly 90, Justice Stevens has the option of resigning or not, however most of his state supreme court counterparts have no choice but to resign when they reach their 70s.

This NCSC Backgrounder looks at current state restrictions and legislation being tracked by Gavel to Gavel that would change or eliminate such state provisions.

States continue to press for federal legislation to intercept income tax refunds to pay for court fees and fines

Readers of Gavel to Gavel the e-publication (and if you aren’t, why not subscribe now?) may recall several weeks ago I discussed resolutions in 3 states that asked Congress to intercept tax refunds and similar items in order to collect court fees and fines. Two other states have now introduced similar legislation in last week.

Mississippi’s SCR 671 “urge[s] the United States Congress to support legislation to add conforming language to federal statutes that will enable the states to intercept federal tax refunds for payment of obligations under legally enforceable court orders.”

Delaware’s HJR 9 notes “Delaware has an intercept system for state tax refunds and state lottery recipients that has collected more than one million dollars ($1,000,000) in outstanding court-ordered restitution, fines, fees and costs, over the past ten years” and encourages Congress pass the federal intercept legislation currently pending.

PA: Problem solving courts clear House

Pennsylvania’s courts, like those in many other states, have included the use of problem solving courts or problem solving dockets in the past. However, SB 383 could set Pennsylvania apart in terms of the number and types of such courts available.  The bill allows each court to create any type of problem solving court, including but not limited to drug courts, mental health courts, and DUI courts. The Supreme Court is also permitted to appoint a statewide problem solving courts coordinator and an advisory committee to assist the coordinator. The bill was approved by a unanimous House on March 23 and returns to the Senate for its concurrence in a House amendment that lays out specific provisions with respect to drug courts along with a special surcharge to help pay for drug courts only.

OK: State courts may not reference U.S. treaties or conventions?

Late last week, Oklahoma’s House voted to amend the state constitution to ban court references to sharia law and international law. HJR 1056 would enact the “Save Our State Amendment” and would include the following as a new paragraph of the state’s Judiciary Article (Article VII):

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, and the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto in making judicial decisions.  The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.  Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression. (emphasis added)

The bill, as originally introduced, read:

The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.  Specifically, the courts shall not consider Sharia Law, international law, the constitutions, laws, rules, regulations, and decisions of courts or tribunals of other nations, or conventions or treaties, whether or not the United States is a party. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

The original language was approved by the House Rules Committee but amended on the floor. The bill, as amended, passed on a 91-2 vote.

FL: Retired judges/justices recall to service program

We have this submission from Cristina Alonso, an attorney with Carlton Fields and co-chair of the NCSC Young Lawyers committee.

Florida is considering bringing judges out of retirement to help the courts. HB 13 and SB 130 permit the chief judge of a judicial circuit, subject to approval by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to establish a program for retired justices or judges to preside over civil cases & trials or to hear motions upon written request of one or more parties. The bills further provide for compensation of such justices or judges to be paid by the parties by deposit into the Operating Trust Fund of the state courts system.

A similar bill  (HB 369 of 2009) was passed by the House 114-0 last year, but was not taken up in the Senate.

This year’s House version was approved by the chamber’s Civil Justice and Courts Policy Committee on February 16. The Senate version was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 9.