Illinois: House committee approves bill to require posting in public areas of courthouses how to file disciplinary complaints against trial judges

A bill in the Illinois House discussed here that would have required trial judges make an announcement on a daily basis in their court about the existence of the state’s judicial disciplinary body has been heavily amended.

HB 3054 as filed contained 3 elements

  1. All Circuit Judges must announce that a person can file a complaint against him or her with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board prior to calling the first case of the day.
  2. The Clerk of the Circuit Court must make a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint form with instructions available.
  3. The Clerk must also post within each courtroom a notice that a person may file a complaint against the judge and that instructions for filing a complaint may be obtained from the clerk.

HB 3054 as amended removes Item 1 entirely and heavily modifies Items 2 and 3. The new bill provides

  1. Circuit Court Clerks are to post in the common areas of the courthouse a notice a person may file a complaint against the judge that includes contact information for the Judicial Inquiry Board.
  2. The Judicial Inquiry Board shall develop a uniform statewide notice and provide the format of the notice to each clerk.

The posting requirement is similar to a 2008 Tennessee bill (HB 3906 / SB 4053) although that version would have placed the notice just outside the courtroom. The Tennessee plan was introduced but never taken up in either chamber.

This amended bill was approved by the House Judiciary – Civil Committee on a 11-0 vote and is currently pending on the House floor.

Delaware: Senate approves 17-0 constitutional amendment to give governor & senate more time to consider judicial nominees, allow for prospective appointment

A constitutional amendment discussed here to give Delaware’s governor and senate more time to consider judicial nominations cleared the Senate last week. With House approval, the constitutional amendment would go into effect (Delaware doesn’t require voter approval of constitutional amendments).

Currently, the constitution provides the governor makes nominations and the Senate confirms for the state’s top courts (all but Alderman’s). Since 1977 every governor has used an advisory Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor and senate, however, are on a timetable:

  • The governor must submit a name to the Senate within 60 days after the occurrence of a vacancy.
  • The Senate, if in session, takes up the name. If not in session, the Governor must within 60 days convene the Senate to take up the nomination.
  • If an incumbent judge remains in office, they can holdover up to 60 days after the expiration of their term.

SB 25 of 2017 would effectively extend these deadlines and allow for prospective appointments if a vacancy is set to occur; the current constitution is silent on the matter.

  • The governor could submit a name to the Senate “from 30 days before to 90 days after” the vacancy happens.
  • The Senate could also be called back into session “from 30 days before to 90 days after” the vacancy happens.
  • Incumbent judges could holdover in office up to 90 days.

The constitutional amendment (then called SB 275 of 2016) was approved unanimously by both chambers last year.

Arizona: Statewide Court Security Fund bill stricken, appears dead for session

A plan to create an Arizona Statewide Court Security Fund discussed here appears to have killed for this legislative session.

Under SB 1161 as approved by the Senate the Fund would have been administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts and used for “assistance, training and grants to courts to meet minimum standards of courthouse security that are adopted by the supreme court.

Funding would come from an apparently 2% increase on all court fees.

SB 1161 was subject to a “strike everything” amendment in the House that removed all existing language, the “new” SB 1161 instead focuses on water improvement districts.

Louisiana legislator wants to expand Supreme Court from 7 to 9 members by dividing 2 existing judicial districts; would require 2/3rds vote of the legislature

Following expansion by 2 seats to the Arizona and Georgia Supreme Courts in the last 2 years, a member of the Louisiana House is moving to expand by law that state’s top court by 2 seats, but needs a supermajority to do it.

As I noted when this came up in Georgia, Louisiana is generally a “specific number” state: the state’s constitution specifies that the court is to be made up of 7 justices, or more specifically a “chief justice and six associate justices.” Moreover, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court are elected by district.

However, the legislature is free, by 2/3rds vote, to alter the districts and the number of justices

The state shall be divided into at least six supreme court districts, and at least one judge shall be elected from each. The districts and the number of judges assigned to each on the effective date of this constitution are retained, subject to change by law enacted by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature.

Into this comes HB 406 of 2017. It would amend the existing statute (R.S. 13:101) to provide for 9 supreme court districts, dividing District 4 in a District 4-A and District 4-B and dividing District 5 into a 5-A and 5-B, with 5-B made entirely of East Baton Rouge Parish and 5-A of the rest of the existing District 5.

The bill has been prefiled in the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs.

Florida: bill approved in committee warns of civil fines and removal from office of judges by the Governor who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses

A bill that would allow the state’s Governor to remove judges who try and stop courthouse carry has been approved in a Florida Senate Committee.

SB 616 generally keeps the state’s current prohibition on courthouse carry, but makes three key changes.

First, it provides when a gun license holder approaches security or management personnel upon arrival at a courthouse, the license holder may temporarily surrender their weapon or firearm to the security or management personnel, who shall store the weapon or firearm in a locker, safe, or other secure location and return the weapon or firearm to the licensee when he or she is exiting the courthouse.

As the legislative analysis for the bill notes, not all courthouses have such security checkpoints (footnote 16).

Second, the bill defines “courthouse”

the term “courthouse” means a building in which trials and hearings are conducted on a regular basis. If a building is used primarily for purposes other than the conduct of hearings and trials and housing judicial chambers, the term includes only that portion of the building that is primarily used for hearings and trials and judicial chambers.

Finally, the bill warns that any judge who issues an administrative order or rule to alter this definition faces fines and removal from office by the Governor.

A local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is in conflict with the definition of the term “courthouse” in this subsection or the rights set forth under subparagraph (12)(a)4 is preempted to the Legislature under s. 790.33. The person, justice, judge, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that enacts or causes to be enforced a local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is preempted is subject to the penalties set forth in s. 790.33, including, but not limited to, civil fines and removal from office by the Governor.

SB 616 was approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on March 23 and advanced by the House Rules Committee on March 28.

Special Edition: Pennsylvania fee/fine/cost legislation in the 2017 session

HB 236 Provides court may, at sentencing, assign an amount not greater than 25% of the defendant’s gross salary, wages or other earnings to be used for the payment of court costs, restitution or fines. Approved by full House 3/20/17.

HB 510

  • Provides a judge shall (currently may) conduct hearing to determine whether defendant who defaults in paying fines, court costs, or restitution is financially able to pay.
  • Provides judge shall (currently may) provide for installment payment plans or community service if defendant unable to financially pay “without causing manifest hardship.”
  • Provides community service is to be credited as $20 per hour against unpaid balance of the fine or costs.
  • Defines “manifest hardship” to mean
    • The defendant is involuntarily unemployed.
    • The defendant’s household income is less than 200% of the Federal poverty level.
    • The defendant is receiving any kind of public assistance.
    • The defendant presents evidence to the judge during the hearing that would cause a reasonable person to believe paying the full amount of the penalty would cause manifest hardship to the defendant or their dependents.
  • Provides maximum monthly payments under installment plans
    • $100 for defendant whose household income is less than or equal to 100% of federal poverty level.
    • $150 if more than 100% but less than 150% of federal poverty level.
    • $200 if more than 150% but less than 200% of federal poverty level.

In House Judiciary Committee.

HB 615 For Vehicle Code violations, provides upon proof defendant is without financial means to pay fine or cost, court may order community service in lieu of payment up to 50% of the original fine or costs. In House Transportation Committee.

Texas: Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 clears Senate committee 7-0

A bill that would implement portions of the Texas Judicial Council review of security in the state has cleared the Senate. SB 42, originally discussed here, was passed by the Senate State Affairs committee today. The bill, as committee substituted, 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.