Delaware and North Carolina legislatures address whether state supreme courts can sit outside of the capital

While a variety of state courts of last resort meet from time to time outside of their normal chambers in the state’s capital, there remains statutes, and in some cases constitutional provisions, that effectively tie the high courts to a particular city or place. As I pointed out in this item after Hurricane Katrina, it was and is somewhat of an open question in a variety of states whether the courts can move. This year legislatures in Delaware and North Carolina passed legislation to address this issue.

In Delaware, an 1852 statute specifies the “The Supreme Court shall be held at Dover“. However, the Supreme Court has been hearing oral arguments in locations other than Dover since at least the 1980s.

HB 113 of 2015 provides specifically that the Supreme Court may meet outside of Dover “when the Court determines that the education of the Bar or law students, or the public interest would be advanced by having a special session of the Court in another location.” The bill was approved unanimously in the House June 18 and unanimously in the Senate June 30. It is set to be transmitted to the governor.

North Carolina’s Supreme Court may be having a “Back to the Future” moment with legislation this year allowing it to return to sit in Morganton for the first time in 150 years. A 1997 law (HB 954) already allowed the Supreme Court to sit twice annually in Old Chowan County Courthouse in the Town of Edenton, the colonial capital of North Carolina. HB 283 and SB 161 both allow the Supreme Court “by rule [to] hold sessions not more than twice annually in the City of Morganton; unless a more suitable site is identified by the court, the court shall meet in the Old Burke County Courthouse, the location of summer sessions of the Supreme Court from 1847?1862.” This article written in 1919 on the 100th anniversary of the court details some of the sittings. The Senate version of the bill was signed into law by that state’s governor on June 19.

Delaware: 11 out of 21 senators cosponsor constitutional amendment to require “geographic balance” on state Supreme & Chancery courts

Judges of the Delaware Supreme and Chancery Courts are currently allowed to reside from any of the three counties that make up the state (Kent, New Castle, Sussex). That may change under a constitutional amendment introduced and co-sponsored by all 9 Senate Republicans and 2 Democrats (Bushweller & Ennis).

SB 46 would amend state’s constitution to provide that at least 1 justice or chancellor reside in each of the state’s 3 counties.

Seventh, so as to ensure traditional geographic balance within the judiciary, the Supreme Court and the Chancery Court shall at all times each include within their membership at least one member resident of each of the three counties at the time of their appointment and at least 2 years immediately prior thereto.

Delaware’s Supreme Court has 5 justices, and the state’s Chancery court has 5 chancellors, so each county would get at least 1 justice and chancellor and could get as many as 3. Florida’s constitution has a similar provision for that state’s supreme court based on appellate districts rather than counties.

The supreme court shall consist of seven justices. Of the seven justices, each appellate district shall have at least one justice elected or appointed from the district to the supreme court who is a resident of the district at the time of the original appointment or election.

SB 46 has been assigned to the Senate Executive Committee.

Delaware Legislative Year in Review: expanding list of those entities that may certify questions to state’s Supreme Court

Law

HB 392 Designates court security positions in the Court of Common Pleas and uniformed services supervisor positions in the Justice of the Peace Court as exempt from the State of Delaware Merit Rules, thereby placing them under the Judicial Branch Personnel Rules, consistent with similar positions in the Superior Court. Allows any incumbent to elect to be governed by the Judicial Branch Personnel Rules or remain in the Merit System.

Adopted Constitutional Amendment (must be re-adopted in 2015/2016)

HB 232 Adds “the highest appellate court of any foreign country, or any foreign governmental agency regulating the public issuance or trading of securities” to the list of entities that may certify questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Adopted

SCR 35 Extends deadline for Blue Ribbon Task Force to review the feasibility of opening Family Court proceedings to the public from February 15, 2014 to April 15, 2014.

Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 1

Most states have at least 2 levels of trial court, with a civil jurisdiction amount dividing them. For example a $1,000 civil case may be filed in the limited jurisdiction court, but a $100,000 case may only be permitted in the general jurisdiction court. Changes to this threshold can change the way courts are managed or function as caseloads and revenues rise/fall as a result. This series examines the existing thresholds and the legislative efforts to change them over the last decade. For a listing of all current civil jurisdiction thresholds, click here.

Alabama to Georgia below the fold.
Continue reading Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 1

Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 1

Most state constitutions grant their court of last resort, typically called the “supreme court”, or their judicial council some degree of rulemaking authority. My colleagues here at the National Center have a listing of all such provisions here. In the last several years, however, legislatures have made efforts to amend or alter those provisions. This series will examine all such efforts and how they have fared.

Alabama to Georgia below the fold.

Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 1

Delaware constitutional amendment would expand who could certify questions to state’s supreme court; would be third expansion in last 10 years

The Delaware legislature appears ready to expand yet again the state supreme court’s ability to hear certified questions of law. If adopted in the 2014 session and again in the 2015/2016 cycle, HB 232 would allow “the highest appellate court of any foreign country, or any foreign governmental agency regulating the public issuance or trading of securities” to certify questions of law to the Delaware high court. The amendment would not have to go before voters.

If adopted this would be the fourth expansion of certified questions of law to the Delaware Supreme Court and the third such expansion in the last decade. The power was conferred on the court via a 1982 constitutional amendment (63 Del. Laws, c. 325) which allowed the Supreme Court to hear certified questions of law from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. It remained as such until changes in 2007 and 2013 opened the certification process to other federal courts as well as state courts of last resort.

  • 1982– “the United States District Court for the District of Delaware”
  • 2007 (76 Del. Laws, c. 37)-“the Supreme Court of the United States, a Court of Appeals of the United States, a United States District Court, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or the highest appellate court of any other state”
  • 2013 (79 Del. Laws, c. 97)- “the Supreme Court of the United States, a Court of Appeals of the United States, a United States District Court, a United States Bankruptcy Court, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or the highest appellate court of any other state”
  • 2016 (?)- “the Supreme Court of the United States, a Court of Appeals of the United States, a United States District Court, a United States Bankruptcy Court, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, or the highest appellate court of any other state, the highest appellate court of any foreign country, or any foreign governmental agency regulating the public issuance or trading of securities

Several state legislatures have empowered chief justices, supreme courts to handle natural disasters in recent years

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks states began the process of dealing with the potential for courts to be shut down for days at a time. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita extended that potential closure to weeks. As a result in the last decade state legislatures have considered and enacted various bills to empower chief justices and supreme courts to make emergency declarations, allowing for the moving of courts and the tolling/suspension of some deadlines. (See this report I wrote in 2010 on all such statutes at the time).

In light of today’s “arctic vortex” shutting down most of the middle part of the country, below is a review of laws recently enacted on the subject, including North Dakota whose new 2013 law may be put to use for the first time today.

Connecticut HB 5539 (2010) Provides Chief Justice may take any action necessary in the event of a (as defined by statute) major disaster, emergency, civil preparedness emergency, disaster emergency, or a public health emergency, to ensure the continued efficient operation of the Supreme, Appellate and Superior Courts, the prompt disposition of cases and the proper administration of judicial business. Such necessary action may include: (1) Establishing alternative locations to conduct judicial business in the event that one or more court locations cannot be used, (2) suspending any judicial business that is deemed not essential by the Chief Justice, and (3) taking any other appropriate action necessary to ensure that essential judicial business is effectively handled by the courts.

Delaware SB 25 (2009) Provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency due to natural or manmade causes that destroys or severely damages one or more court facilities or severely impacts the ability to staff the courts. Grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities. Provides the order declaring a judicial emergency shall be limited to an initial duration of 30 days, but may be modified or extended for additional 30 day periods. Provides Chief Justice may also 1) Order that a court may operate in a county other than the county in which it is normally located. 2) Extend statutes of limitations and time periods prescribed by statute as well as those time limitations prescribed by court rule or administrative directive which the Chief Justice already has the authority to extend pursuant to his authority under Art. IV, Section 13 of the Delaware Constitution 3) Declare that specific proceedings not normally conducted by audiovisual device may be conducted in this manner. When such usage is not otherwise authorized by statute or court rule, an explanation of the compelling state interest in such usage shall be included in the order and 4) Take such other actions as the Chief Justice reasonably believes necessary for the continued operation of the courts during a judicial emergency. Provides that the host county shall be a proper venue for proceedings. Establishes provisions of this law shall preempt and supersede but not repeal any conflicting provisions of any other provision of law.

Georgia HB 1294 (2008) Allows Chief Justice to extend judicial emergencies beyond normal limitations if a public health emergency exists. Emergency declaration may remain in place for as long as the public health emergency exists.

Georgia HB 339 (2011) Revises the courts to which a challenge of a quarantine or vaccination order may be brought and manner of appealing orders concerning such challenges. Removes chief judge of the court of appeals’ power to declare judicial emergencies. Provides extensions of judicial emergencies by chief justice may only last as long as governor has declared state of emergency.

Hawaii HB 1983 (2006) Provides during a period of civil defense emergency proclaimed by the governor, the chief justice shall be authorized to order the suspension, tolling, extension, or granting of relief from deadlines, time schedules, or filing requirements imposed by otherwise applicable statutes, rules, or court orders, in civil or criminal cases or administrative matters, in any judicial circuit affected by the governor’s proclamation. Provides chief justice shall determine the judicial circuits so affected.

New Hampshire SB 370 (2008) Grants the chief justice of the supreme court the power to enter orders to suspend, toll, or otherwise grant relief from time deadlines imposed by statutes and rules of procedure, for a 21-day period, in the event of a declared state of emergency. Permits the legislature to terminate such orders by concurrent resolution.

New York AB 6921 / SB 2849 (2009) Repeals most existing law related to judicial emergencies. Provides if a court location is unsafe or impractical for the holding of a trial court, then the Governor may by order appoint another place for the temporary holding of court after consulting with the Chief Judge or his or her designee if practicable. Provides for the Court of Appeals and for trial courts where the Governor has not acted, the relocation power would fall to the Chief Judge. Provides for intermediate appellate courts ( i.e. Appellate Division and Appellate Terms of Supreme Court), the relocation power would fall to the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division after consulting with the Chief Judge or his or her designee. Provides all temporary relocations must be to the most proximate place that the term of court safely and practicably can preside, and should be consistent with applicable State and local disaster preparedness plans. Provides for trial courts, temporary relocations must be after consultation with relevant local leaders (e.g., county executives or mayors) if practicable. Provides for relocation orders would expire within 30 days but could be renewed for successive periods of 30 days each in like fashion as an original order. Provides regardless where a court temporarily sits, the court would continue to preside on behalf of its original jurisdiction (i.e. judicial department, judicial district, county, city, etc.) and the same substantive and procedural laws (e.g. governing venue, jury selection, papers and appeals) would apply as if the court were not relocated. Provides if a court is relocated temporarily outside its original jurisdiction, then facility costs would not be borne by the receiving locality but instead would become State costs charged to the Office of Court Administration. Memorializes the Chief Judge’s emergency relocation powers as provided above. Recognizes the continuing obligation of the State Disaster Preparedness Commission and local disaster preparedness commissions to insure that the disaster preparedness plans for which they are responsible take appropriate account of the provisions of this measure. (See also AB 10616 / SB 6900 of 2008)

North Carolina HB 1269 (2009) Allows courts to be closed for “catastrophic conditions” and defines the term. Allows Chief Justice to extend certain deadlines for “catastrophic conditions” and to issue any emergency directives necessary to ensure the continuing operation of essential trial or appellate court functions for 30 days, subject to 30 day renewals.

North Dakota HB 1073 (2013) Grants supreme court power to declare judicial emergencies. Allows for supreme court to toll statutes/deadlines. Does not allow for tolling or extension of deadlines or requirements imposed by U.S. or North Dakota constitution.

Oregon HB 2322 (2007) Provides Chief Justice may designate locations in the state for the sitting of circuit courts in the event of an emergency and that such locations designated need not be in the circuit court’s judicial district.

Oregon SB 270 (2009) Grants Chief Justice power to establish procedures for closing courts in emergencies and to establish standards for determining when courts are closed for purposes of ORCP 10, ORS 174.120 and other rules and laws that refer to periods of time when courts are closed.

South Dakota HB 1093 (2007) Allows Chief Justice to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from deadlines, time schedules, or filing requirements imposed by otherwise applicable statutes, rules, or court orders, whether in civil cases, criminal cases, administrative matters or any other legal proceedings as determined necessary.

Tennessee SB 3660 / HB 3060 (2008) Specifies that if an appellate court declares a disaster pursuant to applicable court rules, then all statutes of limitation and repose will be extended by the same number of days that the applicable filing deadlines are extended with deadlines to be extended only in county in which disaster is declared.

Texas HB 1861 (2009) Authorizes the Supreme Court of Texas to modify or suspend procedures for the conduct of any court proceeding affected by a disaster during the pendency of a disaster declared by the governor and sets forth contingencies that provide for such action by another court or judge if a disaster prevents the supreme court from acting. Authorizes the local rules of administration that must be adopted by district and statutory county court judges in each county to provide for a coordinated response for the transaction of essential judicial functions in the event of a disaster. Includes as a purpose of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 clarifying and strengthening the role of the judicial branch of state government in prevention of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from disasters.

Virginia HB 883 / SB 127 (2010) Sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. Permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.