None of the bills tracked by Gavel to Gavel in Wisconsin in 2012 were enacted.
Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’
Yesterday I looked at efforts to get rid of or modify existing merit selection systems in the 30 states that have them for initial and/or interim judicial vacancies. Today, I’ll be looking at the efforts to get them into places/states that do not already have them created by constitutional provision or statute. Several states use “merit selection” entirely as the result of governors’ creating nomination panels; because these don’t involve the legislature I will not focus on them. All information as to which states have what is from the American Judicature Society’s 2011 report “Judicial Merit Selection: Current Status” located here.
Minnesota HB 1666 / SB 1465 – These constitutional amendments would establish a merit selection system with retention elections for judges. Terms of office would be extended from six to eight years. Additionally, a judicial performance commission would be formed, which must issue in the judge’s retention election year a retention evaluation of “well-qualified,” “qualified,” or “unqualified”. There was a hearing on the House bill in May 2011 and they were carried over into the 2012 session.
This is the 5th year in a row such a bill has been considered: prior iterations made it out of committee but never advanced beyond their chambers of origin. The closet was SF 3129 of 2008 which would have taken the existing merit selection system in place to temporarily fill interim vacancies in District Court and applied it to the appellate courts. It passed 55-12 in the Senate but failed to move in the House.
North Carolina HB 325 and SB 458 – There were several hearings in 2011 on the prospect of creating some sort of merit selection system in North Carolina, but instead of using retention elections providing that the person chosen and the person not selected by the governor would face off in an election after. For a review of the hearings, check out the coverage from Gavel Grab. In terms of actual legislation the two bills were introduced in 2011 and carried over into 2012.
Pennsylvania HB 1815 / SB 843 – These constitutional amendments and their corresponding statutory changes (HB 1816 / SB 842) would create a merit selection system with Senate confirmation for the state’s 3 appellate courts. The constitutional amendments also broadly describe the composition of the merit selection commission. A hearing was conducted in November 2011 and other in March 2012.
Wisconsin SJR 42 – Submitted in September 2011 for the 2012 session, the constitutional amendment, like the Minnesota example, gave no specificity as to membership of the commission that would submit names to fill appellate court vacancies to the governor. There were no hearings on the bill and it died when the legislature adjourned.
Quick parliamentary tactic in Wisconsin Assembly effectively kills effort to change selection method for Chief JusticeMarch 13th, 2012
I’ve noted over the last several weeks the effort in Wisconsin to amend the state’s constitution and end the practice whereby the most senior justice of the state’s supreme court is Chief Justice. AJR 49 and SJR 36 would instead provide that the justices of the court, after each new election, would select a Chief Justice.
For the most part the effort has broken down on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. When AJR 49 was brought to the floor on March 6, however, 20 Democrats introduced a floor amendment that would have gutted the existing proposal and replaced with mandatory judicial recusal.
A justice of the supreme court, court of appeals judge, and circuit court judge shall disqualify himself or herself from any civil or criminal action or proceeding when any of the following situations occurs:
(1) When a reasonable person would question whether the justice or judge can act in an impartial manner.
(2) When a justice or judge has received, as a candidate for judicial office and within the past 4 years, campaign financial support from a party to the action or proceeding in an amount of $ 1,000 or more, including campaign contributions, independent contributions made on behalf of the justice or judge, and independent contributions made against the justice’s or judge’s opponent. A justice or judge who is required to disqualify himself or herself under this subsection may disclose on the record the basis of the justice’s or judge’s disqualification and may ask the parties and their lawyers to consider, out of the presence of the justice or judge, whether to waive disqualification. If, following disclosure under this subsection, the party who is opposed to the party that provided campaign financial support to the justice or judge determines that the justice or judge should not be required to disqualify himself or herself and if the parties and the lawyers of the parties all agree, the parties may waive disqualification of the justice or judge and the justice or judge, if willing, may participate in the action or proceeding. The agreement or waiver shall be incorporated into the record of the action or proceeding.
In the span of about 30 seconds the amendment was offered up and approved on a unanimous consent request before Assembly leaders realized what had happened. It was then advanced to engrossment (i.e. past the point where a simple majority could amendment it; another unanimous consent would have been required). The bill was ultimately tabled and effectively killed in the Assembly. The Senate version remains alive but as Wisconsin Public Radio notes, with a week left, it is hard to see how the amendment would gain passage.
In January I noted a Wisconsin state legislator announced her plans to introduced a bill of address to remove Justice Michael Gableman from office “because he presided over cases involving a law firm that had represented him without charging legal fees.” The resolution (AJR 115) has now been introduced and reiterates the claim of fee-free representation. It specifies the cases the justice presided over that form the basis for the bill of address.
My research indicates this is the first bill of address against anyone actually filed in the Wisconsin legislature in at least 20 years. Local news reports give the resolution, backed by 4 Democrats in a predominately Republican Assembly, any chance of passage.
Many states have enhanced penalties for assaults or other crimes committed against judges for performing their functions as officers of the third branch. Many states are however moving to increase the penalties for crimes committed against court staff in the course of their duties. This year one such bill is Wisconsin’s AB 424. The bill
- Makes battery or threat to a court employee a Class I felony (Wisconsin felonies range in severity from A down to I).
- Makes it a Class I felony to threaten to cause damage to a courthouse and if the threatened action could result in bodily harm to a judge or court employee.
The Wisconsin Assembly’s Judiciary and Ethics Committee heard testimony on the bill February 2, 2012, the video of which is below.
In early January I noted an expected vote in the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics on a plan to change the way the state’s chief justice was selected (currently, most senior justice serves). I also noted the near last-minute cancellation of that vote.
The latest agenda for that Assembly committee, however, indicates the vote is now back on for Thursday, February 2.
While much of the election focus for the 2012 will be on the Presidential races, numerous states will be electing members to the courts. At least three state legislatures are considering joining (and in the case of Wisconsin, rejoining) the list of states that allow for public financing of at least some of those judicial races.
I’ve mentioned Kentucky’s unique position: in 2014 the entire judiciary (save one or two judges) will be on the ballot. Over the last several years members of the state’s legislature have proposed public financing for the races, delivering speeches on the subject during the interim and trying to gather support. A 2012 version (HB 230) specifies the funding would come from state tax refund designations made on tax forms and by permitting (but not requiring) bar members contribute via their bar dues.
Wisconsin had a public financing system for its supreme court races but it was zeroed out in the latest budget. A new plan, one that would include most state-level elected officials, was introduced in Fall 2011. Under AB 317 and SB 213 taxpayers could designate $1 of their state income taxes to an Election Campaign Fund. Whatever funds are in the Fund would be all that was available for that particular election year(s).
Ohio’s HB 413 focuses on creation of a public financing program for supreme court races only in that state, but does include a trigger provision allowing for expansion to include races for court of appeals if the fund ever reaches $6 million. Funding would come from a designation of tax refunds on tax forms.
Wisconsin legislator seeks to remove supreme court justice by bill of address for failure to recuse in casesJanuary 11th, 2012
2011 was record setting for the number of attempts made to impeach or otherwise remove state judges and 2012 looks to be starting off on the same footing.
According to this morning’s Wisconsin Law Journal, a state lawmaker is circulating a petition seeking to remove Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman “because he presided over cases involving a law firm that had represented him without charging legal fees.”
A statement released by the representative on her Facebook page states that rather than impeachment (which would require a finding of “corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors”) the removal method will be a bill of address. The state’s constitution is silent as to what the criteria for such a removal, however the statement alleges Gableman violated state law, the Code of Judicial Conduct, and Supreme Court rules.
Any justice or judge may be removed from office by address of both houses of the legislature, if two-thirds of all the members elected to each house concur therein, but no removal shall be made by virtue of this section unless the justice or judge complained of is served with a copy of the charges, as the ground of address, and has had an opportunity of being heard. On the question of removal, the ayes and noes shall be entered on the journals.
This would be the second legislative attempt to remove a judge for failure to recuse in two years. Oklahoma’s HR 1024 of 2011 would have asked the state’s judicial disciplinary commission to remove District Judge Tom Lucas for his refusal to recuse from all criminal cases after a request he do so filed by the county District Attorney.
Wisconsin’s Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics is set to vote on Thursday on a constitutional amendment that would end the state’s practice of having the most senior justice of the state’s supreme court serve as Chief Justice.
Under AJR 49 and SJR 36 the court’s justices would chose among themselves after every election to determine who would serve as chief. At a December 15 hearing, the lead proponent of the bill admitted that he had not spoken with anyone on the court, court staff, or the state court administrator about whether or not they wanted the change and did not indicate if he intended on speaking to the justices or court staff prior to the vote (see video from 1:35:00-1:37:30).
Video of the hearing, if available, will be found here.