Florida: bills protect information of judicial assistants & their families from public disclosure

Many states, concerned over the threats made to judges/judicial officers, provide protections for the personal information and prohibit public records laws from being used to obtain that information. Court employees, however, are not always covered by such statutes. Florida is considering extending such protections to “judicial assistants” in the state.

HB 635 / SB 746 as filed cites concerns that the information related to these current and former assistants can be used to target them for false liens and other acts of revenge. It would protect from public disclosure information related to them and their families in the same way that similar information regarding judges and their families are protected.

The bills have been filed but neither have been assigned to a committee.

Florida: Senate bill would make several changes to judiciary; court security, civil jurisdiction limits, Supreme Court justice remote chambers; bill may require 2/3rds majority

A bill approved last week by the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee and set for a full Senate vote soon effectively merges several bills into one with potential major ramifications for the courts.

SB 1396 as it presently reads includes

  • A new section of law regarding the role and responsibility of sheriffs to provide court security and the authority of chief judges in this area. The language appears to be similar if not identical to portions of HB 7089 discussed here.
  • Increases the civil jurisdiction for the state’s County Courts from $15,000 to $50,000 effective 2020.
  • Authorizes a Supreme Court justice who resides outside of Tallahassee to maintain his or her headquarters in a district court of appeal courthouse, a county courthouse, or other appropriate facility in the justice’s district and be reimbursed for travel and subsistence while in Tallahassee.
  • The addition of judges to certain Circuits

This last item may prove a sticking point. Under the state’s constitution the supreme court “certifies” the number of judges needed in each Circuit Court or County Court. If the legislature wants to alter the supreme court’s numbers up or down, it must have “a finding of two-thirds of the membership of both houses of the legislature.”

Florida: What is the Constitution Revision Commission looking at regarding the judiciary?

Although not technically a legislative entity, Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission is, like the legislature, allowed to submit constitutional amendments onto the ballot affecting the courts. While there were 103 CRC proposals, these have been narrowed to Proposals Under Active Consideration as of today. Those affecting the courts include

      • Proposal 6: Requires any state court or administrative law judge to interpret a state statute or rule de novo, independent of an agency’s interpretation, in any litigation proceedings between a private party and an administrative agency.
      • Proposal 39: Among other things, prohibits a justice or judge from personally representing another person for compensation before the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of state government, other than practicing law before a judicial tribunal, for a period of six years following vacation of office.
      • Proposal 41: Allows judges to serve until age 75. Currently judges must retire at 70, but can serve out their current term if they already served at least 1/2 of it when they hit 70.
      • Proposal 47: Provides a person must be a member of a U.S. state or territory for 10 years to be eligible for a trial court judgeship (Circuit or County Courts).
      • Proposal 55: Requires the legislature to provide funding sufficient to offset the Clerks costs in providing services in criminal and other court cases in which the parties do not pay fees and costs.

Gone are any proposals regarding changes to judicial selection.

 

Florida: Bill set for hearing tomorrow spells out relationship of courts, judges, and sheriffs regarding court security

A change in the way Florida’s court security is arranged may be in the offing. F.S. 30.15 spells out the “powers, duties, and obligations” of local sheriffs. Under HB 7089 as filed those may be changing.

HB 7089 is an omnibus public safety bill and includes over 80 pages of changes to various state laws, including F.S. 30.15, by adding a new section added regarding court security.

  1. Sheriffs would be explicitly required to “provide security for trial court facilities.” Current law provides they are to “Attend all sessions of the circuit court and county court held in their counties.”
  2. Sheriffs would be required to coordinate with the chief judge of the judicial circuit in which their county is located on all security matters for such facilities.
  3. Sheriffs would still retain operational control over the manner in which security is provided.
  4. Pursuant to F.S. 26.49 (which declares the sheriff of the county shall be the executive officer of the circuit court of the county), sheriffs and their deputies, employees, and contractors are officers of the court when providing security for trial court facilities.
  5. The chief judge of the judicial circuit shall have decisionmaking authority to ensure the protection of due process rights, including, but not limited to, the scheduling and conduct of trials and other judicial proceedings, as part of his or her responsibility for the administrative supervision of the trial courts pursuant to F.S. 43.26 (detailing the powers of chief judges).

HB 7089 is being heard in the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow.

Florida: Plan to take power to name some Judicial Nominating Commissions seats from governor and give to legislative leaders advances

A plan to give legislative leaders picks on the state’s judicial nominating commissions, at the expense of the governor, cleared its first legislative hurdle in late January.

Currently the commissions are made up of

  • 4 picks by the Governor from lists provided by the State Bar Board of Governors, all of whom must be engaged in the practice of law. The Governor is allowed to reject the lists.
  • 5 picks by the Governor, at least two of whom must be engaged in the practice of law.

Under HB 753 as approved in the House Judiciary Committee’s Civil Justice and Claims subcommittee, the 4 picks by the Governor from lists provided by the State Bar Board of Governors would transfer to the House Speaker (2) and President of the Senate (2). All 4 would have to be engaged in the practice of law but the list of names provided by the Bar would be advisory only.

HB 753 now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee.

 

 

 

Florida: 2017 bill passed by Senate to levy civil fines and remove from office judges who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses already prefiled for 2018

Earlier this year I mentioned Florida SB 616. Under the 2017 bill the firearm permit holders would have been allowed to carry guns into courthouses, or at least those portions not directly used by the courts (such as courtrooms and chambers). Judges who attempted to prohibit courthouse carry were threatened with civil fines and removal from office by the Governor. It was approved by the Senate but went nowhere in the House.

Now, SB 616 of 2017 has been refiled as SB 134 of 2018. It again threatens judges with civil fines and removal from office if they attempt to issue an administrative order stopping courthouse carry or altering the definition of “courthouse” to be broader than the limited-space definition provided in SB 134 (emphasis added).

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 134 has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Florida: Senate approves bill to levy civil fines and remove from office judges 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 by the Florida Senate.

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 19-15 with 5 not voting by the full Senate on April 28 and is now on the House Special Order calendar.

Florida: House considers cutting salaries of “poor performing” judges, transferring to “top performing” judges; 2011 effort for similar “judge bonuses” system rejected

The Florida legislature has reached a stalemate over the state’s budget. Among the issues being discussed, a House plan to reduce the pay of “poor performing” judges and transfer them to “top performing” judges.

Under the House plan (pages 62-86 here)

  • Judges ranked in the top 25 percent would receive a pay increase.
  • Judges ranked from 26 to 74 percent would maintain their base pay.
  • Judges ranked in the bottom 25 percent would have their pay cut. The savings would be transferred to the top performers.

Performance would be based on high clearance rates. Other possible measures include those from the CourTools set of measures (note: CourTools is a product on the National Center for State Courts; Gavel to Gavel is a NCSC product).

While the 2017 bill is coming from the House, a 2011 plan discussed here that made it through various Florida Senate committees would have provided for “bonuses”  judges who cleared cases/had a high clearance rate. That plan was ultimately rejected.

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.

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.