Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Midwestern States

Indiana HB 1205 AMENDMENT TO BILL: Establishes the Indiana public retirement system to administer and manage the Judges’ Retirement Fund and nine other retirement funds. Creates an 11-member board of trustees for the system. Provides that each retirement fund continues as a separate fund managed by the board. Amendment approved by Senate 2/23/10. House rejected amendment.

Indiana SB 298 Establishes the Indiana public retirement system to administer and manage the Judges’ Retirement Fund and nine other retirement funds. Creates an 11-member board of trustees for the system. Provides that each retirement fund continues as a separate fund managed by the board. Approved by full Senate 2/2/10.

Indiana SB 397 Establishes the Indiana public retirement system to administer and manage the Judges’ Retirement Fund and nine other retirement funds. Creates an 11-member board of trustees for the system. Provides that each retirement fund continues as a separate fund managed by the board. Approved by Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor 1/28/10.

Indiana SB 98 Eliminates references to the Treasurer of State’s duties concerning the Judges’ Retirement System and other named retirement funds. Approved by full Senate 1/19/10.

Michigan HB 4073 Creates an irrevocable trust for each of the State’s five retirement systems, including the judges retirement act of 1992,  pursuant to Section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 USC 115. Approved by full House 3/4/09. Approved by Senate Appropriations Committee 12/19/09.

Michigan HB 4078 Amends the Judges Retirement Act to specify that, as of July 1, 2009, the Department of Management and Budget would be responsible for authorizing and administering the group retiree health insurance plan (hospitalization and medical coverage) and dental and vision plan.  (Currently this is a function of the Civil Service Commission, which has recently become an autonomous entity within DMB since the abolition of the Department of Civil Service in 2007.)  Approved by full House 3/4/090. In Senate Appropriations Committee.

Michigan SB 132 Amends law related to the health insurance premium payments under the Judges Retirement Act:  For participants with four years of service, the State is required to pay 50% of the cost of health insurance coverage by eliminating health care coverage for retired judges and elected officials specified in the bill who are elected after November 1, 2010. Specifies this elimination would not have an impact on currently elected or appointed officials, but would be prospective by affecting those elected or appointed after November 1, 2010. Approved by full Senate 2/24/10.

Nebraska LB 403 Prohibits participation in the Judges Retirement System unless the employees is a U.S. citizen of qualified alien lawfully present in the U.S. Signed into law by Governor 4/8/09.

Nebraska LB 414 Provides that from  July 1, 2009, until July 1, 2014, a judge shall contribute an additional one percent of his or her monthly compensation to the judges retirement fund. Increases fund fee from $5 to $6 during same period. Signed into law by Governor 5/19/09.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Northeastern States

Maine HB 650 & SB 184 Implements the recommendation of the Judicial Compensation Commission that members of Maine’s judiciary with retirement contributions earned in the Legislative Retirement Program be allowed to fully transfer these contributions to the Judicial Retirement Program. Requires any member who transfers retirement contributions from the State Employee and Teacher Retirement Program or the Legislative Retirement Program to pay the costs to have the contributions transferred to the Judicial Retirement Program. Signed into law by Governor 6/4/09.

Maine HB 1120 Brings various public employees retirement systems, including the Judicial Retirement Program, into IRS compliance. Specifies Judicial Retirement Program as a governmental qualified defined benefit plan pursuant to Sections 401(a) and 414(d) of the Internal Revenue Code and such other provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and United States Treasury regulations and other guidance as are applicable. Details vesting, use of forfeitures, benefits, etc. in a manner to comply with the Internal Revenue Code. Signed into law by Governor 2/23/10.

New Hampshire SB 1512 Allows judges who resign from office to elect to receive a deferred retirement benefit under the judicial retirement plan. Approved by full House 3/3/10.

New Hampshire SB 357 Authorizes the judicial retirement plan to deduct a health insurance premium contribution from allowances. Approved by full Senate 2/17/10.

New Jersey SB 2 Provides that  new members of the Judicial Retirement System (JRS) will not have a non-forfeitable right to receive benefits upon the attainment of five years of service credit. Signed into law by Governor 3/22/10.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions Week

Most states have retirement systems or accounts within existing systems specifically for judges. All states and localities (for some limited jurisdiction judges) have been forced to reexamine their retirement and pensions systems for public employees in general, and those for judges in particular, in order to address the recent economic collapse. This week, we will be looking at state-level legislation acted upon (i.e. more than simply introduced) in 2009/2010 that addresses these issues, starting with the Northeastern states.

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.