Georgia: Senate approves bill that would require municipal judges serve for set terms, allow local governments to remove from office only for cause; latest effort to change Municipal Courts

Georgia’s Senate last week approved its version of a House bill that would give Municipal Court judges set terms in office of at least 1 year and prohibit local governments from removing them from office unless they committed what amounted to an impeachable offense.

Under HB 691 as amended municipal court judges would no longer “serve at the pleasure of the governing authority.” Instead they would be required to be given set terms of at least one year in office or until appointment of a successor. Moreover, these judges could only be removed for cause by 2/3rds of the governing authority. The causes for removal include:

  1. Willful misconduct in office;
  2. Willful and persistent failure to perform duties;
  3. Habitual intemperance;
  4. Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute; or
  5. Disability seriously interfering with the performance of duties, which is, or is likely to become, of a permanent character

These provisions are taken verbatim from the state’s constitution (Art. VI, Sec. VII, Para. VII) in describing the reasons why the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may remove a judge from office. Additionally the municipalities could provide for additional conduct that would warrant removal in their various charters.

Any such removal procedure would have to be done in an open public hearing or hearings and the judge could ask for a review by the local Superior Court. Additionally municipal court judges would remain subject to discipline and removal by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

HB 691 is just the latest effort to change the qualifications and terms for Georgia Municipal Court judges. A 2011 law (SB 30) requires the judges of these courts be attorneys while allowing sitting non-attorney judges as of the time of enactment to remain in office.

HB 691 now goes to the House which approved its own version earlier this year.

Plans to add 2 justices to the Arizona and Georgia supreme courts pass committee hurdles; critics call them court packing plans

Plans to expand the Arizona (from 5 to 7 members) and the Georgia (7 to 9) supreme courts cleared committee hurdles yesterday and appear on their way to final passage. Proponents argue the expansions are needed for growing states. Critics in both Arizona and Georgia view the proposals as efforts at packing the courts.

Arizona HB 2537 which was already approved by the House last month cleared the Senate Government Committee on a 4-3 vote yesterday. It now goes to the Senate Rules Committee before going on to the full Senate.

Georgia’s Senate Judiciary Committee approved HB 927 which expands the supreme court and restructures the appellate jurisdiction and procedures both for that court and the state’s Court of Appeals. That bill will now move on for a Senate floor vote.

Both bills call for the new vacancies to be filled by the state’s sitting governors. Arizona uses a merit/commission system; Georgia’s bill calls for the governor alone to make the selections.

The efforts by legislators in Arizona and Georgia appears to be part of a larger national trend to alter the number of justices on courts of last resort as detailed here.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: GA House approves modified bill; Mississippi bill to ban sharia in divorce cases dies

The latest iterations of efforts to ban state courts from using foreign or international law in general, and sharia law in particular, appear to be stalling in most states. Since last month’s update there have been three pieces of activity, within only 1 bill moving.

Georgia: The House yesterday passed a heavily amended version of HB 171. As introduced, the bill provided

Any tribunal ruling shall be void and unenforceable if the tribunal bases its ruling in whole or in part on any foreign law that would deny the parties the rights and privileges granted under the United States Constitution or the Georgia Constitution.

As amended the bill adds to an existing list of items (O.C.G.A. 9-10-31.1) to be considered by a court when considering the issue of venue and the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss an action or to transfer venue under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the court shall give consideration to the following factors

whether the forum outside of this state provides for impartial tribunals and procedures that are consonant to the requirements of due process of law as required by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Georgia.

The bill was approved 165-0.

In Mississippi, which already enacted a foreign law ban in 2015, legislators attempted to enhance the existing law. SB 2400 would have allowed courts to award attorney’s fees to any party opposing recognition or enforcement of foreign law. SB 2595 specifically targeted the use of sharia law in divorce and child custody cases. Both bills died in committee.

Finally, a bill was introduced in Missouri (HB 2507) that dealt with the subject as well.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: GA House approves modified bill; Mississippi bill to ban sharia in divorce cases dies

Plans to expand Arizona Supreme Court from 5 to 7 and Georgia Supreme Court from 7 to 9 advance

Plans to expand the Arizona and Georgia Supreme Courts have recently advanced.

On February 18, the Georgia House approved HB 927 which would expand that state’s court of last resort from 7 to 9 members on July 1, 2016. The proposal would allow the state’s governor to name the two new justices for interim appointment, subject to a nonpartisan election in 2018.

On February 24 the Arizona House approved HB 2537 which would expand that state’s court of last resort from 5 to 7 members, with an effective date sometime this summer. The new justices would be subject to the state’s merit/commission based selection process.

Both bills now head for their respective senates.

 

Georgia House advances bill for legislative takeover of judicial disciplinary commission; South Carolina Senate votes on takeover today

The list of legislatures looking to take over state judicial disciplinary commissions is growing.

Georgia

A plan discussed here to move the state’s independent judicial disciplinary commission (Judicial Qualifications Commission) under the legislature has cleared the House. Both a constitutional amendment (HR 1113) and enabling legislation (HB 808) that would vacate the existing JQC and create a new one. In addition the House this week approved creation of a panel to investigate and subpoena the JQC and its members. (h/t Gavel Grab)

South Carolina

An ethics reform package (HB 3184, originally discussed here) approved by the House and set for a Senate vote today would recreate the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct in statute and diminish the state supreme court’s power to name the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s members.

The current 26 member Commission on Judicial Conduct is created by Rule 502, South Carolina Appellate Court Rules and chosen entirely by the Supreme Court. The new 24 member Commission would have only 1/3 chosen by that court.

  • 8 chosen by the Supreme Court, including 6 judges
  • 4 chosen by the Senate (2 attorneys, 2 non-attorneys)
  • 4 chosen by the House (2 attorneys, 2 non-attorneys)
  • 8 chosen by the Governor, (4 attorneys, 2 non-attorneys)

Georgia: constitutional amendment would provide legislative takeover of state judicial disciplinary commission, subjects proceedings to open meetings requirements

A plan to move the state’s independent judicial disciplinary commission (Judicial Qualifications Commission) under the legislature has cleared its first legislative hurdle. Both a constitutional amendment (HR 1113) and enabling legislation (HB 808) that would vacate the existing JQC and create a new one cleared the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.

Presently the JQC is made up of

  • 2 judges from courts of record chosen by the Supreme Court
  • 3 bar members elected by the bar’s board of governors
  • 2 non-attorneys chosen by the Governor

The constitutional amendment provides only that the General Assembly would have the power to create and provide for the composition of the new JQC. Under the enabling legislation as introduced the new JQC would be made up of all attorneys and judges. As amended, the JQC would be made up of attorneys and non-attorneys.

  • 2 judges from courts of record chosen by the Supreme Court
  • 1 state bar member chosen by the Governor
  • 1 state bar member chosen by the House Speaker
  • 1 state bar member chosen by the Senate President
  • 2 non state bar members chosen by the Governor

Moreover, the bill would require all future JQC meetings be subject to the state’s open meeting requirements (O.C.G.A. 50-14-3). Proponents accuse the existing JQC of operating “more like a star chamber than a judicial commission in handling the cases coming before them.”

The state’s supreme court would still retain review authority over the JQC (“[P]rocedures and advisory opinions issued by the Judicial Qualifications Commission shall be subject to review by the Supreme Court.”)

Georgia governor wants to expand supreme court; legislatures in 3 states (AZ, GA, WA) now actively attempting to change membership in state’s court of last resort

An anticipated plan by Georgia’s governor to expand the state’s supreme court from 7 to 9 members discussed here and here has finally been filed. HB 927 would make a host of changes in addition to the expansion, including altering the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals to take over many of the cases currently heard directly by the Supreme Court. The expansion plan specifically provides the vacancies would be filled by the governor; an election in November 2018 would be held for the seats as well.

This is the third time in the last decade the legislature has attempted to increase the Georgia Supreme Court (discussed here).

Georgia now joins Arizona and Washington in the list of states attempting to change the composition of their respective courts of last resort.

  • In Arizona the effort to expand the state’s Supreme Court from 5 to 7 members (HB 2537) may go before the full House this week. An effort to place it on the House Consent Calendar was rejected yesterday.
  • In Washington, legislators are attempting to reduce the state’s Supreme Court from 9 to 5 members (HB 2784).