North Carolina: governor vetoes bill to shift trial court races back to partisan contests; override vote set

A plan to switch North Carolina’s trial court races back to partisan contests was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper. In his veto message for HB 100 Cooper indicated

North Carolina wants its judges to be fair and impartial, and partisan politics has no place on the judges’ bench. We need less politics in the courtroom, not more.

Judges make tough decisions on child abuse, divorce, property disputes, drunk driving, domestic violence and other issues that should be free from politics. This bill reverses that progress.

We should let people elect judges based on their experience and ability to do the job, not which party they pick.

I am also concerned that judges who have chosen to register as unaffiliated voters so as to avoid partisan politics now have a difficult path to getting on the ballot.

A vote to override the veto in the House is set for March 22. The original vote in the House was 65-51 with 1 not voting and 3 absent; proponents would need 3/5ths of those present and voting (60 votes) to override in the House. In the Senate the vote was 32-15 with 3 absent; they would 30 to override.

Delaware: Constitutional amendment would give governor & senate more time to consider judicial nominees, allow for prospective appointment

A constitutional amendment to give Delaware’s governor and senate more time to consider judicial nominations has been filed for the second leg in its adoption process.

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. Under the state’s constitution, the legislature must approve it a second time after an election (2017/2018 session) and it does NOT have to go to voters for approval.

 

Illinois: Bill expands 2012 Judicial Privacy Law to cover retired judges as well

In 2012 the Illinois legislature enacted HB 5877, the Judicial Privacy Act, to prevent the release of personal information related to judges and their immediate families, allowing “judicial officers…to administer justice fairly without fear of personal reprisal from individuals affected by the decisions they make in the course of carrying out their public function.”

The law defined the “judicial officers” covered to include federal and state judges. Retired judges of these courts were not covered. SB 1647 of 2017, as approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 8, would expand this coverage to include the “actively employed and retired” judicial officers of these courts.

SB 1647 has been placed on the Senate’s 2nd Reading Calendar.

Texas: judicial salary plan calls for 3-part formula; computation includes other states, US Court of Appeals, in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been introduced in the House and Senate.

HB 3971 / SB 1938 provide two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a Texas Supreme Court justice (other than Chief Justice) would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

Florida: bills grant liability exemption for clerks of court that release confidential information if filer fails to make it clear info is confidential

What happens when a document is filed with the court that contains confidential information, but the filer does not indicate it? And then the clerk of court releases that information?

Under Florida HB 441 / SB 202 the clerk would not be liable for the release.

Specifically, the bills as amended provide

The clerk of the court is not liable for the release of information that is required by the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration to be identified by the filer as confidential if the filer fails to make the required identification of the confidential information to the clerk of the court.

The bills, as originally filed, included the word “inadvertent” (“The clerk of the court is not liable for the inadvertent release…”)

HB 441 as amended is now pending in the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee having been initially approved 15-0 by that group. SB 202 has cleared the Senate Judiciary and Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committees and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Texas: bill to end straight-ticket voting, including for judicial races, clears first committee; former judge noted impact of STV on judiciary

A Texas bill that would end straight-ticket voting (STV) for all  races, including judicial ones, cleared the House Elections Committee earlier this week.

The move to end straight-ticket voting comes after the state’s chief justice call to end the practice for judicial races in his state of the judiciary address and backing by the Speaker of the House.

During testimony at least one judge noted the impact straight-ticket voting has on the judiciary.

Another notable witness was Erin Lunceford, a Harris County judge, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015, who said she was swept out of office with partisan tides in the 2016 general election.

Lunceford, who ran as a Republican, in a county that voted majority Democrat, said she lost to her Democrat opponent, who has never even tried a case before.

She said without taking into account those who voted straight-ticket, she would have won the election by a 10-point margin.

HB 25 cleared the Elections Committee on a 5-2 party-line vote. The bill’s Senate counterpart SB 2175 has yet to be taken up. A bill to end straight-ticket voting for judicial races only (SB 1989) also has not been taken up.

Connecticut: bill to increase penalties for threatening judges, magistrates, and referees approved in committee 22-17

A bill to increase penalties for threatening judges and judicial officials cleared the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary last week on a 22-17 vote. A similar measure cleared the same committee last year 40-1.

HB 5742 of 2017 amends the state’s existing statute against threats which provides, generally, threatening in the first degree is a class D felony and threatening in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

Under HB 5742 this would be elevated each one level to a class C felony or class D felony, respectively where the threat is made against “a family support magistrate, a family support referee, judge trial referee or a judge of any court, either elected or appointed, and the threat is related to the magistrate’s, referee’s or judge’s official duties.”

HB 5742 appears to be similar if not identical to HB 5495 of 2016 as amended/committee substituted. That version was approved by the Joint Committee on Judiciary 40-1.