California and Minnesota bills address issue of court disaster/emergency planning

Two bills filed last week address the need for courts to make plans for disasters and other emergencies.

California SB 1208 as filed amends the state’s existing Judicial Emergency statute (Government Code 68115). Among other things, SB 1208

  1. Expands instances where the Chief Justice, as Chair of Judicial Council, may exercise emergency powers due to disaster/emergency. Currently that power is limited to “war, insurrection, pestilence, or other public calamity” but would be changed to “war, an act of terrorism, public unrest or calamity, epidemic, natural disaster, or other substantial risk to the health and welfare of court personnel or the public.” The Chief Justice could also act where the President or the Governor declared a state of emergency.
  2. Allows civil cases to be move to another county; currently the power is limited to an adjacent county. However, a transfer “shall not be made” (currently “may be made”) except with the consent of all parties to the case or upon a finding by the court that extreme or undue hardship would result unless the case is transferred for trial.
  3. Provides certain civil time limits related to trials are to be extended only to fewest days necessary, however the Chief Justice may make extensions of time on the request of the presiding judge from granting further extensions if circumstances warrant relief.

Minnesota HF 2809 as filed is broader than the California bill and addresses emergency operations and continuity of government for all three branches. As filed, HF 2809 requires the Supreme Court adopt and maintain an emergency operations and continuity of government plan to ensure the secure, continued operation of the judicial branch in the event of a disaster, emergency, or “declared emergency” (defined as “a national security or peacetime emergency declared by the governor under section 12.31.”)

At minimum, the plan must include

  1. identification of at least three suitable locations within the state at which the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and central administrative functions of the judicial branch could operate in the event of a disaster or declared emergency that make its regular location unsafe or inaccessible, with one location designated as a primary alternate location and two designated as backup alternate locations if the primary location is unsafe or inaccessible;
  2. plans to provide timely and secure communications regarding a disaster, emergency, or declared emergency to all affected personnel, including alternate methods of communication if a primary method is unavailable;
  3. plans to securely transport affected justices, judges, designated personnel, and necessary equipment and records to an alternate location and begin judicial operations at that location in a timely manner;
  4. plans to ensure reasonable public notice of the judicial branch’s operations and access to its proceedings and records in-person or by electronic, broadcast, or other means as the rules of the court require and the circumstances of the emergency allow;
  5. plans to ensure the rights and protections guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions to criminal defendants, petitioners, and civil litigants are preserved;
  6. procedures for the orderly return of judicial branch operations to their regular location, as soon as circumstances allow; and
  7. policy decisions that address any other procedures or protocols recommended for inclusion by the state director of emergency management.

California: bill would no longer allow candidates for judicial office to put “disingenuous and histrionic” words next to their names on the ballot

California law (Elec Code § 13107) allows for those seeking judicial office to designate their current principal professions, vocations, or occupation with up to a 3 word description plus the word or phrase “appointed incumbent” or “incumbent” if the person is a currently serving as a judge.

The result has been in several recent judicial races candidates currently serving as Deputy District Attorneys using the 3-word description of their current position not as Deputy District Attorney but as “Child Molestation Prosecutor”, “Hardcore Gang Prosecutor”, or “Sexual Predator Prosecutor”  or other similar phrases (see page 12 here for the 2016 Los Angeles County ballot). This hyperbole isn’t limited to prosecutors, with other attorneys adding words like “virtuous” or “eminent” or “leading” to their descriptions.

The author of the bill called these descriptors “disingenuous and histrionic.”

SB 235 as approved by the Senate earlier this year 34-1 and up for a vote possibly as early as this week would limit the 3 word descriptors.

  1. Prosecutors and others who are in government jobs would be limited to using their actual job title as defined by statute or local charter (e.g. Deputy District Attorney) + the geographic location OR “Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law.”
  2. Private practice attorneys would be limited to “Attorney,” “Attorney at Law,” “Lawyer,” or “Counselor at Law.”
  3. For both types of lawyers, “Attorney” and “Lawyer” could be used in combination with other words, but only words describing the profession or vocation: “Family Lawyer” would appear to be OK but “Eminent Family Lawyer” apparently wouldn’t.

California: Assembly Judiciary Committee wants a working group to look at how to get more information out to voters about judicial elections, posting judicial decisions online

An effort to improve voter education when it comes to judicial elections in California has cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

AB 1463 as amended creates a working group, chosen by the Judicial Council, to consider what information would be useful to voters in a judicial election and how to make this information accessible to voters. The working group may consider whether it is appropriate or feasible to post judicial decisions on an Internet Web site maintained by a government entity.

AB 1463 now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.


State legislatures debating use of dogs in courtrooms to calm, assist witnesses; bills out of committee in several states, enacted in Idaho

I mentioned in 2016 that there’s been an increasing number of bills introduced to address the use of animals in court proceedings to calm and assist witnesses. The 2017 session has continued this trend. The bills often contend with two issues: who can have access to such animals (children only? others?) and in what kinds of cases can such an animal be used (criminal? any?)

Alabama HB 393 and SB 273 would permit at the judge’s discretion registered therapy dogs into courtrooms to assist any victim or witness “to reduce unnecessary emotional distress experience by a victim or witness and allow full and factual testimony.” The District Attorney would have to provide instructions on court protocol to the handler. The bills also deal with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury and authorizes judges to use discretionary court funds to offset the costs for a registered handler for the therapy dog.

SB 273 was approved 7-0 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday. HB 393 is in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security but has not yet come up for a hearing.

California AB 411 as amended focuses on 1) child witnesses in cases involving a serious or violation felony and 2) victims entitled under existing law to support persons. These individuals under the bill would be able to have access to a therapy or facility dog and defines these terms, subject to approval by a judge. The bill also deals with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury.

AB 411 as amended was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on March 15 and is currently on the Assembly floor (3rd Reading Calendar).

Connecticut HB 6999 as filed would have authorized the use of therapy dogs for those under the age of 18 in criminal cases.

During testimony on the bill by the Connecticut Judicial Branch, it was noted that the state’s supreme court had recently ruled that judges already have the inherent authority to allow for a therapy dog for any witness, in any court proceeding, and that therefore the bill as filed might have the effect of limiting the court’s ability to make such accommodations.

HB 6999 as amended, instead provides the Judicial Branch shall maintain on its website a section providing information regarding the availability of an accommodation, granted at the court’s discretion, for the presence of a dog to provide comfort and support for a child under the age of eighteen during such child’s testimony in the criminal prosecution of an offense involving the alleged assault, abuse or sexual abuse of such child. it also directs that trial judges be trained on this issue.

HB 6999 as amended was approved by the Joint Committee on Children on March 2 and remains pending.

Florida HB 151 amends an existing law that allows the court to use service or therapy animals in proceedings involving a sexual offense to assist a child victim or witness or a sexual offense victim or witness.

As amended, HB 151

  1. Expands the list of proceedings in which support animals may be used to include any proceeding involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
  2. Expands the categories of allowable animals to include a “facility dog”;
  3. Allows a court to set any conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a person who has an intellectual disability, including the use of a therapy animal or facility dog;
  4. Removes the requirement for evaluation and registration of an animal pursuant to national standards, and replaces it with a requirement that an animal be trained, evaluated, and certified according to industry standards; and
  5. Provides definitions for the terms “facility dog” and “therapy animal.”

HB 151 was approved by the full Senate yesterday and is on its way to the governor. The Senate’s similar bill (SB 416) addressed the same issues and was approved on committee, but was ultimately shelved in favor of HB 151.

Idaho SB 1089 as enacted provides when a child is summoned as a witness in any hearing in a noncriminal matter that involves the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child, including any preliminary hearing, notwithstanding any other statutory provision, a facility dog shall be allowed to remain in the courtroom at the witness stand with the child during the child’s testimony. The bill also defines what a “facility dog” is. SB 1089 was signed into law by the governor in March, with an effective date of July 1, 2017.

Maryland SB 77 amends a 2016 law (SB 1106) that created a pilot program for the use of both facility and therapy dogs with respect to child witnesses in criminal cases and limited the program to two counties (Anne Arundel and Harford). SB 77 would delete the word “criminal”, allowing for the use of such dogs in any case.

SB 77 was approved by the House on April 4 and is in back in the Senate pending transmission to the Governor.

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


Modifies existing law that authorizes the court, in addition to any other penalty in an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony case, to impose a civil assessment of up to $300 against any defendant who fails, after notice and without good cause, to appear in court for any proceeding authorized by law, or who fails to pay all or any portion of a fine ordered by the court or to pay an installment of bail.

  • Provides that the assessment shall not become effective until at least 60 days after the court mails a warning notice to the defendant.
  • Requires court to vacate a civil assessment if the underlying charge is dismissed, refund any payments made by a defendant towards that assessment, and terminate any collection action.
  • Requires the court to vacate a civil assessment imposed pursuant to those provisions, if the defendant certifies that he or she had good cause to not appear or not pay a fine, or is unable to pay the assessment.
  • Requires court to allow a defendant to file a motion to vacate a civil assessment at any time.
  • Requires court to include a form to petition the court to vacate a civil assessment with any notice of or request to pay the civil assessment.

Approved as amended by Assembly Public Safety Committee 3/21/17.


  • Requires require the court, in any case involving an infraction, filed with the court, to determine whether the defendant is indigent for purposes of determining what portion of the statutory amount of any associated fine, fee, assessment, or other financial penalties the person can afford to pay.
  • Provides that the defendant can demonstrate that he or she is indigent by providing specified information, including attesting to his or her indigent status under penalty of perjury.
  • Requires the court to reduce the base fine and associated fees by 80% if the court establishes that the defendant is indigent, and to provide alternatives to immediate payment of the sentence, including a payment plan option.
  • Requires the court to determine the amount a defendant can afford to pay per month by using a payment calculator developed by the Judicial Council.
  • Requires for persons not found to be indigent that the monthly payment not exceed 5% of the defendant’s family monthly income, as provided.
  • Requires for defendants found to be indigent monthly payments be $0 until the defendant’s financial circumstances change, and would require the remaining amount owed to be discharged after 48 months in the interest of justice.
  • Deletes initiating suspensions or holds for driver’s licenses from the list of activities a court or court’s comprehensive collection program may engage in. Requires the program to provide a payment plan option based on the debtor’s ability to pay and requires the program to notify the defendant of his or her right to an indigency determination for Vehicle Code infractions.
  • Provides court to issue a notice to the defendant that he or she must appear in court within 60 days, as specified, if the person has failed to appear, and authorizes the court to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles only when the defendant does not appear within those 60 days.
  • Repeals provisions authorizing the court to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a failure to pay a fine or bail.
  • Repeals certain provisions prohibiting the Department of Motor Vehicles from issuing or renewing a person’s driver’s license upon receipt of a notice of a defendant’s failure to pay, with respect to designated violations.

In Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

California: bill would allow judges to fine jurors $1500 for violating court orders

A plan to allow judges to fine jurors up to $1500 has been introduced in the California Assembly (AB 2101).

Current law (Code of Civil Procedure 177.5) already allows judges to impose sanctions up to $1500 on a witness, a party, and /or a party’s attorney “for any violation of a lawful court order by a person, done without good cause or substantial justification.” AB 2101 inserts the word “juror” into the list.

AB 2101 has been filed in the Assembly but not yet assigned to a committee.

Legislation on Veterans Courts: authorizing such courts vs. requiring their creation

Over the last several years courts and legislatures have shown an interest in creating “veterans courts”, specialized dockets or processes to handle criminal cases involving veterans and servicemembers. Last year both Tennessee (SB 711 / HB 854) and Utah (SB 214) enacted bills that authorized the creation of such courts in their respective states while Washington (SB 5107) passed a law encouraging their creation. In 2016, several bills are actively looking into this area.

Arizona: “shall establish”

In 2014 the legislature took an existing statute that authorized homeless courts and expanded it to include authorization for “veterans court and mental health court” divisions (HB 2457). This year there is a proposal to mandate the creation of such programs. HB 2554 of 2016 would provide such veterans courts must be established and that certain cases involving DUIs must be sent to such programs.

The presiding judge of the superior court in each county shall establish a veterans court to adjudicate cases filed in the superior court, and, if a veterans court is not established pursuant to section 22.601, to adjudicate cases filed in a justice court or a municipal court in the county….the presiding judge of the superior court shall establish the eligibility criteria for referral to the veterans court.  The criteria must include a mandatory referral requirement for any case that is filed against a veteran and that alleges only a violation of section 28.1383, subsection A, paragraph 1, 2 or 4.

HB 2554 is in the House Judiciary Committee

California: “shall develop”

As previously noted, three times the California legislature passed bills to require or force the state’s judiciary to create veterans courts and three times (by two different governors) the bills were vetoed, with notations that many courts already had such programs and that the decision to create new ones should be decided by the courts themselves. That hasn’t stopped a fourth round of legislation.

AB 863 would require every Superior Court individually, or together with a neighboring county, create veterans courts (“each superior court shall develop and implement a veterans court”).  The bill spells out who would be eligible and how the veterans court would operate.

AB 1672 would specifically require the creation of such courts in counties adjacent to San Luis Obispo that do not already have such programs as a regional, rather than a county, based veterans court program.

Both bills are pending in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Iowa: “is established”

HB 68 and the identical SSB 3085 simply declare “A veterans treatment court is established in each judicial district…” The House version was carried over from 2015. The Senate version had a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee yesterday (2/10).

Nebraska: requires pilot program

LB 915 establishes “the intent of the Legislature that the Supreme Court establish a three-year pilot project to create a veterans’ treatment court program for any county in which a city of the metropolitan class is located.” Media reports indicate Douglas County would be the pilot county. A hearing on the bill February 5 was held before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

LB 919, scheduled for that same hearing, would take the state’s existing statutes (24-1301 and 24-1302) authorizing “drug court programs and problem solving court programs” and amend the language to include “drug, veteran’s, mental health, driving under the influence, reentry, and other problem solving court programs”.

New Jersey: requires statewide or local pilot programs

AB 776 requires the creation of a pilot veterans court program in three specific counties (Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland). The bill is pending in the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

AB 2944 and the identical SB 1189 require the creation of a pilot veterans court program in two judicial districts (called in New Jersey vicinages) one of which must be Burlington County (Vicinage 3). The Assembly version has not been assigned to a committee; the Senate version is that chamber’s Judiciary Committee.

SB 307 creates a three-year statewide Veterans Treatment Court Pilot Program. The bill is in the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

New York: required vs. authorized; transfer to other courts in judicial district

AB 2421 as amended and the identical SB 3914 as amended provide for an alternate treatment program for veterans accused of certain felonies. AB 2421 was approved by the Assembly Codes committee on June 15, 2015. It was sent back to the Codes committee at the start of the 2016 session. SB 3914 remains in the Senate Codes committee.

SB 3141 authorizes the state’s Chief Administrator of the Courts to create a veterans court in any criminal court in the state. The plan allows for criminal charges in lower courts within a county or in another county within a judicial district to be transferred to the veterans court. The plan was approved by the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee on May 4, 2015. It was sent back to that committee at the start of the 2016 session.

SB 5677 authorizes the transfer of a criminal action to another criminal court in the same county or an adjoining county that has been designated a veterans treatment court by the chief administrator of the courts. The bill was passed by the full Senate on June 15, 2015 and the Assembly failed to take it up in the 2015 session. It was sent back to the Senate Codes committee at the start of the 2016 session.

SB 6595 also addresses the ability to transfer criminal cases from one court to another court that has a “problem solving court” defined as including a drug court, domestic violence court, youth court, mental health court, and veterans court. The bill is pending in the Senate Codes committee.

Pennsylvania: “shall establish…using available funds”

HB 887 provides the president judge of each common pleas court “shall establish…a veterans and service member court.” It also allows for two or more common pleas courts to operate such a court jointly. The legislation also accounts for the existence of veterans courts already created by court rule, allowing them to continue as they already are. It has been pending in the House Judiciary Committee since February 2015.

SB 517 provides the president judge of each common pleas court “shall establish…a veterans and service member court.” It does not appear to provide for joint operation of a court between two counties. The legislation also accounts for the existence of veterans courts already created by court rule, allowing them to continue as they already are. It has been pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee since February 2015.

Rhode Island: “[District Court] chief judge…shall create”; can’t be used to dismiss charges

HB 5850 and the identical SB 945 creates a 13th judge on the state’s District Court. It provides the chief judge of the District Court “shall create a veterans’ treatment calendar.” Moreover, it specifies that “Under no circumstances shall the defendant(s) be permitted to use this section  as  a  basis  for  a  dismissal  of  an  action,  as  this  section  is  enacted  for  the benefit  and  convenience of the  district court.” Both had committee hearings in 2015 and both were held over for the 2016 session.

Virginia: problem-solving courts in general vs. specific to veterans

HB 96 and the apparently identical SB 26 allow for the establishment of problem-solving courts in general, including veterans courts.

Problem-solving courts are specialized criminal court dockets within the existing structure of Virginia’s court system that enable the judiciary to manage its workload more efficiently. Under the leadership and regular interaction of presiding judges, and through voluntary offender participation, problem-solving courts shall address underlying offender needs and conditions that contribute to criminal behavior. Such needs and conditions shall include, but not be limited to, veteran’s status, mental illness, and societal reentry.

SB 317 copies much of the language from HB 976 and SB 26 but is limited to veterans courts only.

All three bills have been held over until the 2017 session by their respective committees.

West Virginia: “shall establish program” problem-solving courts in general

SB 48 provides the Supreme Court of Appeals shall establish a mental health, veterans and service members court program in the areas of the state with the highest need. Two such courts shall be established by July 1, 2016 with an additional two courts every year for a total of 10 programs by 2020.

California Legislative Year in Review: False liens on judges & court staff


AB 1267 Prohibits a person from filing or recording a lawsuit, lien, or other encumbrance against any person or entity, knowing that it is false, with the intent to harass the person or entity or, in the case of a public officer or employee, to influence or hinder the person in discharging his or her official duties. Authorizes a court to issue a civil penalty not to exceed $5,000 for violating the prohibition, and allows any person or entity subject to a lien or other encumbrance filed or recorded in violation of the prohibition to petition the superior court for an order directing the claimant to show cause why the lien or other encumbrance should not be stricken and other relief should not be granted.

States Expand Protections Against False Liens for Public Officials

During this legislative session, seven states passed measures that expand protections against the filing of false liens—a legal claim to property for unpaid debt—for public officials, and one other state is still considering such a measure. Over the past 20 years, an increasing number of individuals have taken to filing false liens against public officials, a form of harassment that the FBI has dubbed “paper terrorism.” The states have responded by allowing clerks and filing offices to reject such claims, as recommended by the National Association of Secretaries of State, and by increasing civil and criminal penalties.

In addition to the seven states that passed measures this year, there are a number of other states with existing protections. In 2012, this blog covered the efforts of six states (here and here) to pass such measures, three of which were ultimately successful. Similarly, there were eight states in 2013, and five states in 2014, that successfully passed such legislation. The following is a review of efforts in the states to protect judges and other public officials from false liens during the 2015 legislative session.

Indiana HB 1371 amends existing law prohibiting the filing of false liens to include those who do not currently hold office but have in the preceding four years and provides that liens will be voided if a suit has not commenced within 30 days.

Maryland SB 77 provides that if the filing office believes a claim to be false, they must notify the subject of the filing, state their reasons for believing it is false, and terminate it in 45 days unless the claimant files an affidavit under the penalties of perjury that provides for the claim’s validity. If the filing office still believes the claim to be false after receiving the affidavit, the office may terminate the claim in 45 days unless the claimant petitions for a judicial determination of its validity. (Note: The Governor vetoed HB 312 as duplicative).

Nevada SB 197 amends existing law to prohibit and classify as a category B felony the filing of a false lien or other encumbrance “against the real or personal property of a public officer, candidate for public office, public employee, or participant in an official proceeding, or a member of [their] immediate family” based on the performance of or failure to perform the duties relating to their office or employment. The subject of the fraudulent claim is permitted to bring civil suit against the claimant under this statute.

New Jersey AB 2481 authorizes the filing office to reject a claim it reasonably believes to be materially false or fraudulent because it is (1) filed against a current or former officer or employee of any federal, state, county, local, or other government unit; (2) relates to their performance or failure to perform the duties relating to their office or employment; and (3) “for which the filer does not hold a properly executed security agreement or judgment from a court of competent jurisdiction.” The statute allows the filing office to reject claims filed by incarcerated individuals. The official or employee against whom the claim is filed is also authorized to bring civil suit, and the court is authorized to grant awards up to $2000 or damages incurred and enjoin the defendant from filing any future liens, encumbrances, or court actions without the approval of the court. (Note: The existing statute already included the provision that the filing of a false lien against a public official or employee is a second degree crime).

North Carolina SB 83 amends existing law concerning the filing of false liens or encumbrances against the real or personal property of a public officer, public employee, or their immediate family. The measure authorizes the register of deeds or clerk of court to refuse to file a claim that they reasonably suspect to be fraudulent. The measure also provides an appeals process for denied filings.

North Dakota HB 1307 amends existing law to classify the threatening of a public servant, including the filing of false liens, as a class A misdemeanor for a first offense, and a class C felony for second and subsequent offenses.

California AB 1267 expands existing protections against false liens to apply to lawsuits and other encumbrances against public officials with the intent to harass. It also provides that the subject of the fraudulent claim can request an order directing the claimant to appear in court to defend the claim. AB 1267 was passed by both the House and Senate, but is still awaiting the Governor’s approval.

Pennsylvania SB 212 classifies the filing of a false lien, in addition to any other unlawful action that attempts to influence, intimidate, or hinder a public official or law enforcement officer from performing their duties, as a misdemeanor of the second degree. This bill is still pending in committee.

Despite being vetoed 3 times, California legislature debates bill regarding creation of veterans courts

Veterans courts in the United States are generally created in two manners: either the legislature enacts legislation authorizing (or mandating) their creation, or the courts/judiciary exercise their power to control their own dockets to create these specialized divisions. Several of California’s Superior Courts have created veterans courts using their own inherent powers, however the California legislature has 3 times passed bills on the subject, and 3 times governors have vetoed the bills as unnecessary or infringing on the judiciary’s power to control its dockets. Nevertheless, a new round in this discussion has now begun.

AB 963 of 2015 would require every Superior Court individually, or together with a neighboring county, create veterans courts. The bill spells out who would be eligible and how the veterans court would operate.

This mandate that the Superior Courts must create these courts in every county is a marked difference with the three prior vetoed efforts that merely authorized the creation.

AB 1925 of 2010: authorized Superior Courts to implement preguilty plea programs, deferred entry of judgment programs, and/or postguilty plea veterans court programs. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill claiming it was unnecessary

[A]uthorizing legislation is not required for the superior courts to establish specialized courts with dedicated calendars. I would urge the Judicial Council to examine the need for veterans’ courts, however, and establish appropriate guidelines for the superior courts to follow.

AB 201 of 2011 repeated verbatim the previously vetoed AB 1925 of 2010. It too was vetoed, this time by Governor Jerry Brown.

While the provisions of this bill are well-intended, they create a clear expectation that our courts-already struggling with painful budget cuts–will establish a new program.

Given current budgetary constraints, the decision to adopt this kind of program-something already within the courts’ authority–is better left to the sound discretion of the judiciary.

AB 2611 of 2012 was again effectively a repeat of the prior legislation. It was vetoed again by Governor Jerry Brown for the same reasons.

I applaud the author’s interest in encouraging courts to focus on helping these offenders [who are veterans] rather than focusing solely on the punishment.

These matters, however, fall logically within the sound discretion of the courts. Veterans treatment courts operate today in 15 counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura. Nine more counties are considering whether to establish one. A bill is not necessary. I urge courts to continue to explore ways to meet the needs of veterans who have served their nation, including establishing a veterans treatment court.