Texas: Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 enacted

A bill that would implement portions of the Texas Judicial Council review of security in the state has cleared the legislature and already been signed by the governor.

SB 42, originally discussed here, is named after Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek who was the victim of an attempted assassination in 2015.

SB 42 makes numerous changes to laws related to court security, including

Certified Court Security Officers Requirement

  • Prohibits a person from serving as a court security officer unless the person holds a court security certification issued by a training program approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
  • Requires TCOLE create model court security curriculum in consultation with the Office of Court Administration (OCA).
  • Grants person providing court security 1 year to obtain certification from date officer beings providing court security; currently serving officers have until September 1, 2019.
  • Requires the sheriff, constable, law enforcement agency, or other entity that provides security for a court to verify that each court security officer holds the required certification.

Court Security Committees (CSCs)

  • Requires the presiding judge, municipal judge, or local administrative judge (as applicable) of every court create a CSC and sets their composition.
  • Requires the CSCs establish the policies and procedures necessary to provide adequate security to the court(s).
  • Authorizes a CSC to recommend to county commissioners the uses of resources and expenditures of money for courthouse security, but prohibits a CSC from directing the assignment of those resources or the expenditure of those funds.

Training Fund

  • Creates a $5 fee on filings to go toward the existing Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund.
  • Requires that the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s court of last resort in criminal cases) grant legal funds to statewide professional associations and other entities that provide training to individuals responsible for providing court security.
  • Requires the legislature appropriate from the Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund money to the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide for, among certain programs, court security training programs for individuals responsible for providing court security.

Court Incident Reporting

  • Provides the sheriff or other law enforcement agency or entity that provides security for a court shall provide to the Office of Court Administration a written report regarding any court/courthouse security incident. A 2007 law currently places that responsibility on the local administrative judges.

Office of Court Administration,  Judicial Security Division

  • Requires OCA establish a judicial security division to provide guidance to state court personnel on improving security for each court.
  • Requires the Director of OCA to notify county registrars, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), and any other state agency OCA determines should be notified of the judges, judges’ spouses, and related family members whose personal information must be kept from public records, as provided under Government Code 552.117.

Public Release/Availability of Personal Information on Judges

  • Defines “state judge” for purposes of non-release of personal information about “state judges”.
  • Include a current or former federal judge or state judge or a spouse of a current or former federal judge or state judge or a current or former district attorney, criminal district attorney, or county attorney whose jurisdiction includes any criminal law or child protective services matter, as persons whose information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 (Availability of Public Information) if it is information that relates to certain personal information.
  • Allow judges to remove for themselves and their spouses their home addresses and other personal information from public records required to file for office, including information held by
    • the Texas Ethics Commission
    • local county registrars (related to voter registration)
    • local county clerks
    • tax appraisal records
    • driver’s licenses, and in lieu of personal address use courthouse address

Protection For Judges

  • Authorizes any commissioned peace officer, including a commissioned officer of the Department of Public Safety, to provide personal security to a state judge at any location, regardless of the location of the law enforcement agency or department that employs or commissions the peace officer.

Oklahoma: House adopts resolution directing Oklahoma Supreme Court to not “interfere” with state’s abortion laws

I previously mentioned Oklahoma HR 1004 that addresses abortion laws in the state and, in effect, directed the state’s judiciary to stay out of the subject. That resolution has now passed the House.

HR 1004 as adopted by voice vote starts by rejecting the U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with abortion, citing specifically Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It then calls on state public officials, including judges and justices specifically, to “exercise their authority as appropriate in their respective jurisdictions to stop the murder of innocent unborn children by abortion.”

The next paragraph, however, is specifically directed at state judges.

THAT Oklahoma judges and specifically justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court are directed not to interfere with this Legislature’ s right to clarify Oklahoma criminal law regarding abortion per Section 36 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution.

That particular section of the state’s constitution deals with the legislature’s power.

The authority of the Legislature shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation, and any specific grant of authority in this Constitution, upon any subject whatsoever, shall not work a restriction, limitation, or exclusion of such authority upon the same or any other subject or subjects whatsoever.

The resolution appears to target two decisions by the Oklahoma Supreme Court from late 2016:

  • In October 2016, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a 2015 law (SB 642 of 2015) that dealt with restrictions on abortions (parental consent for minors, tissue preservation, inspection of clinics, and legal liability of abortion providers). That decision was 9-0.
  • In December 2016 the court again ruled 9-0 that a law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges (SB 1848 of 2014) was also unconstitutional.

New Jersey: latest in 15+ year effort to require state supreme court justices be subject to retention elections; legislative reaction & disagreement with high court’s rulings

News reports indicate that at least two members of the New Jersey Senate plan to introduced a constitutional amendment to require New Jersey supreme court justices face voters in yes/no retention elections. This plan is the latest in a 15-year pattern of similar efforts filed in the legislature after the state’s supreme court apparently in response to rulings issued by the supreme court regarding affordable housing requirements and education spending (the Abbott cases).

Under the current NJ constitution, Superior Court judges and Supreme Court justices are subject to a 3-step process:

  1. Initial nomination by the Governor and confirmation by the Senate.
  2. After 7-years of service, renomination by the Governor and reconfirmation by the Senate
  3. If renominated and reconfirmed, serve until mandatory retirement age (70).

The plan, as reported in local media, would be to replace renomination and reconfirmation with a yes/no retention vote after 4 years in office. (h/t Malia Reddick with IAALS)

This marks the latest in an over decade-long effort to change the way judges in New Jersey are picked, many focused on forcing justices and judges to run in elections. While dozens of constitutional amendments have been proposed, none appear to have gotten as far as the committee hearing stage.

Details below the fold.

Continue reading New Jersey: latest in 15+ year effort to require state supreme court justices be subject to retention elections; legislative reaction & disagreement with high court’s rulings

Texas: House and Senate approve plan to end straight ticket voting for judicial & other races, but lawsuits planned

When Texas’ chief justice in his State of the Judiciary address brought up the issue of ending straight ticket voting (STV) for judicial races I wondered what that legislation might look like. Would it end STV for judicial races only? Some judicial races?

The answer now appears to be all races, judicial included. HB 25, as amended and soon to be sent to the governor, ends STV for all elected offices.

News reports indicate that if enacted, the law would almost certainly face a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act, with opponents citing to a 2016 federal court ruling that stopped Michigan’s end to STV (Michigan judges run in nonpartisan general election contests and therefore were not under STV at any rate, as can be seen in this example from 2014).

 

Alaska: bill allows legislature to declare judicial decisions impeachable “malfeasance”, removes judicial review; similar to 2016 Kansas Senate effort

A plan to allow for the impeachment of Alaska’s judges for their decisions has been filed in that state’s House in a move almost identical to one put forth in the Kansas Senate last year.

The Alaska Constitution provides that “all civil officers” are subject to impeachment, but fails to specify the reasons for impeachment such as high crimes, misdemeanors, malfeasance, etc.

All civil officers of the State are subject to impeachment by the legislature. Impeachment shall originate in the senate and must be approved by a two-thirds vote of its members. The motion for impeachment shall list fully the basis for the proceeding. Trial on impeachment shall be conducted by the house of representatives.

Existing statutes define the reasons for impeachment of judges as “malfeasance or misfeasance in the performance of official duties.” (A.S. 22.05.120 for the Supreme Court; A.S. 22.07.075 for the Court of Appeals; A.S. 22.10.170 for the Superior Court).

HB 251 would amend the definition of “malfeasance” to include “exercising legislative power.” Moreover, HB 251 would prohibit any judicial review of the state legislature’s actions in this area (“the legislature’s judgment under this section is not subject to judicial review.”)

That language is similar to Kansas’ SB 439 of 2016 as amended, that provided Kansas judges, or more specifically those chosen via the state’s merit/commission system, would be subject to impeachment for “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative…branch of government.” That bill was approved 21-19 but never taken up in the House.

HB 251 has been filed in the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee.

Texas: House approves 133-2 constitutional amendment to alter qualifications for judicial office; efforts to extend terms and give legislature power to set additional qualifications stricken

Last week the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to change the qualifications for the state’s top courts.

Under HJR 10 of 2017 as amended and approved by the House:

Appellate Courts: HJR 10 requires

  • 10 years of service as a judge of a state court or county court created by the Legislature (previously “court of record”) or
  • 10 years as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 10 years.
  • During the 10-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

There was a requirement that the 10 years of service be “consecutive”, however that was amended out on the House floor.

Although addressing only the Supreme Court, other provisions in the state’s constitution provide that judges and chief/presiding judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals (Art. V, Sec. 4) and the Court of Appeals must have the “same qualifications” as their Supreme Court counterparts (Art. V, Sec. 6).

District Court:

  • 6 years (up from 4 years) of service as a judge of a court in the state or
  • 6 years (up from 4 years) as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 6 years (up from 4 years).
  • During the 6-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

New Legislative Power to Add Qualifications: The plan as approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provided the Legislature could by general law require additional qualifications to be eligible to serve as an appellate or District Court judge. Oklahoma has a similar provision in their constitution, discussed here. A floor amendment to HJR 10 removed that provision from the bill.

Increase in Terms: HJR 10 as introduced would also have extended the terms for the courts, with the appellate courts going from 6 years to 8 years and the District Courts from 4 years to 6 years. Those provisions were removed in committee.