Judicial Removal Week: Judge Lucinda Sadler (NH)

Yesterday’s post on the effort to legislatively remove form office a New Hampshire marital master was only half the story. To recap, marital master Michael garner recommend a girl be removed at the father’s request from his ex-wife’s homeschooling practices for the girl and put into public school. It was Judge Lucinda Sadler that signed off on that recommendation. For her role in the homeschooling order, Judge Sadler is the target of HA 2 of 2010 seeking her removal via a bill of address to the Governor. Sadler is also cited for her role in signing off on the orders of another marital master in a many as 6 child support and custody cases in addition to the one previously noted.

Judicial Removal Week: Marital Master Michael Garner (NH)

Three separate efforts to remove New Hampshire judges and judicial officers via bills of address are currently pending in that state. A bill of address requires only a simple majority of both the House and Senate and need not specify any “bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration, in office” as in the case of an impeachment. “The governor with consent of the council may remove any commissioned officer for reasonable cause upon the address of both houses of the legislature,..

The first such effort (HA 1) is against marital master Michael Garner. Garner, according to the bill of address, “recommended to the presiding justice an order removing a child from an educational setting on the basis of religious prejudice.” The case surrounds a divorce case and a child, identified only as “Amanda,” who was being home schooled by her mother, while her father wanted the child placed in public school. According to media reports, Garner evaluated the home schooling situation. On July 13, 2009, he issued his recommendation, stating “The Court is extremely reluctant to impose on parents a decision about a child’s education” but ultimately deciding, based on the testimony of the parents and a Guardian Ad Litem, that it was in “Amanda’s best interests to attend public school.” The story made national headlines and was, as of November 2009, on appeal to that state’s Supreme Court.

Judicial Removal Week: Judge Thomas Bartheld (OK)

Efforts to remove Judge Thomas Bartheld, an Oklahoma state District Court Judge, started even before the 2010 session began. 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 1065, filed in August 2009 for the 2010 session, asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office. Additionally, the same legislator has introduced HJR 1079 granting the state legislature the authority to review, amend, and otherwise change criminal sentences handed down by judges and HJR 1072 allowing the state legislature to impeach District Court Judges like Bartheld. Oklahoma’s current constitutional provision only allows for the impeachment of “the Governor and other elective state officers, including the Justices of the Supreme Court… [and]…Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals.”

A poll conducted in January 2010 by the Tulsa World, however, finds most Oklahomans are unsure of these actions. While 57% find Oklahoma judges are “too lenient” in criminal cases, the state divided 45/46% on whether it should be easier for the state legislature to remove judges.

Judicial Removal Week: 2010

Over the last several years, a variety of efforts have been made to remove judges from the bench for their decisions. A Gavel to Gavel Focus piece from 2007 (located here) examined many of those efforts. Since 2007, few similar attempts were made, however 2009 and 2010 are proving a upsurge in impeachment or other removal attempts, with five such efforts.  This week, we’ll be examining the legislative activity surrounding them.

Florida’s Push-Pull Legislation

The budget crises in the United States are a, if not the, central focus for all state judiciaries in this legislative session. Over the years, there have been several suggested solutions to address the problem of how to fund the third branch. The Conference of Chief Justices, for example, passed a resolution in 1973, amid the mid-1970s recession, that  “This conference supports the financing of [the courts] by an automatic  constitutional appropriation of a percentage of the General Fund Budget of each state.” (73-A-2)

Into this comes Florida’s HB 735 and HB 737.

HB 737 creates a Fiscal Stability Trust Fund to be administered by the Supreme Court and into which would be placed an automatic, guaranteed 1 percent of the state’s General Revenue Fund. The bill also declares “the judicial branch of state government shall be held harmless in years of fiscal deficits in the state as a matter of public safety” and permits revenues in the Fiscal Stability Trust Fund to remain in the fund at the end of every fiscal year.

HB 737 requires passage of HB 735  “or similar legislation”. HB 735 requires a retroactive  elimination of judicial immunity in a variety of specified contexts dealing with court proceedings.  Additionally, it expands the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) and requires JQC investigation panels include at least 5 “common citizen electors” as a staff committee, none of whom may be “officers of the court” and who must prepare a separate report on the investigation that is to be made publicly available. Both the state courts system in general, and the JQC in particular, would be subject to an immediate audit by the state’s Auditor General and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability conduct full audit review of commission, a review to be repeated every two years.

Additionally, HB 735 requires the Supreme Court create a plan “promoting civics for residents of this state, together with education concerning the judicial branch in order to develop trust and confidence in the state’s judicial system.” It also creates unified family courts, teen courts, drug courts and mental health courts in each judicial circuit.

The Florida legislature is due to come into full session March 2.