New North Carolina law expands carrying of guns directly into courtrooms; roundup of guns-in-courts legislation in 2015

I noted back in March the litany of bills that would allow for expanded carrying of firearms into courthouses, and in some cases directly into courtrooms. Since then there’s been a great deal of activity.

In late July North Carolina’s governor signed into law a bill (HB 562) that would allow for prosecutors to carry guns not just into courthouses but directly into courtrooms. Moreover, the no-guns-courthouses policy (specifically that “portion of the building used for court purposes while the building is being used for court purposes.”) already in place no longer applies to administrative law judges or employees of the Department of Public Safety.

At the same time North Carolina was debating expanding guns-in-courthouses, Oregon was moving to restrict. SB 385, as introduced, originally added justice courts and municipal courts to the definition of “court facility” in which firearms and other weapons are prohibited except in specified circumstances. As enacted SB 385 still expands the restriction, allowing municipal court and justice of the peace court judges to ban weapons but only to those portions of the “local court facility” used by the court during the hours in which the court operates. Moreover, in buildings where there are multiple types of court (circuit, municipal, justice of the peace, etc.) the presiding judge of Circuit Court can enforce a ban that cannot be contradicted by an order of the lower court’s judges.

A review of 2015 legislation regarding guns in courts is below the fold.

Continue reading New North Carolina law expands carrying of guns directly into courtrooms; roundup of guns-in-courts legislation in 2015

8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan

With the expecting signing this week of a bill to transition West Virginia judicial races from partisan to nonpartisan, the number of states with partisan judicial races for their courts of last resort (usually called supreme court) will decrease down to 8. A look at those 8 and the efforts to move to nonpartisan races is below. Please note that in some cases alternative proposals, such as a move to merit/commission selection, have also been introduced and drawn much of the legislative focus and interest. This looks exclusively at the proposals to keep judicial elections but make them nonpartisan.

Continue reading 8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan

Illinois: Senate bill lets judges bring guns into courthouses, but not into their courtrooms

Most states have fairly large and broad statutory prohibitions on the carrying of firearms into either courthouses in general or courtrooms in particular (click here for a list). Illinois’ current prohibition is on the broader side.

430 ILCS 66/65(a)(4) A [concealed carry] licensee under this Act shall not knowingly carry a firearm on or into…Any building designated for matters before a circuit court, appellate court, or the Supreme Court, or any building or portion of a building under the control of the Supreme Court.

SB 1637 as introduced, however, would change the equation in the state, allowing judges and prosecutors who have a concealed carry firearm license to in fact carry into the courthouse but not a courtroom. The judge or prosecutor seeking to enter into the courtroom would be required to put the weapon into a locker provided by the sheriff or, if the building was controlled by the judiciary, the presiding judge.

SB 1637 has been placed in the Senate Assignments Committee pending placement in a subject matter committee.

 

Illinois: effort to drug/alcohol test judges reintroduced

Last year 5 states introduced legislation to drug and/or alcohol test judges serving on the bench. Illinois’ version has already been reintroduced for the 2015/2016 cycle.

Under HB 2426 a person may not serve as a judge, or return to service as a judge after testing positive, until they first provide a “clean” drug and alcohol test (“a blood alcohol concentration of less than .02”). For judges currently serving, that means a drug/alcohol test once a year. For those judges who tested positive, it means a mandatory substance abuse program plus drug/alcohol testing 9 times a year for 3 years after returning to service.

HB 2426 has been filed with the House Clerk but not yet assigned to a committee.

Illinois: Governor calls for “merit-based judicial reform”; constitutional amendment to end retention elections filed

Earlier this week Illinois’ Republican Governor Bruce Rauner in his State of the State address called for a “move toward merit-based judicial reform as supported by the American Bar Association.” (h/t Gavel Grab)

A bill that would move in such a direction has already been filed (HJR 20) and appears to be identical to HJR 10 of 2013 discussed here a version of which has been introduced every session in one form of fashion for two decades. It would keep the current practice of electing judges to their initial term (“Supreme, Appellate and Circuit Judges shall be nominated at primary elections or by petition”) but end automatic yes/no retention elections for additional terms.

Instead, subsequent terms could be obtained from an 11 Judicial Retention Commission in each Circuit or Appellate District

  • 2 non-lawyers appointed by governor
  • 2 non-lawyers appointed by highest ranking state official not of the governor’s party (e.g. attorney general, secretary of state, etc.)
  • 2 non-lawyers chosen by county board chair  (or chairs if there is more than 1 county in circuit/district; also includes method if they are of same party)
  • 4 lawyers chosen by attorneys in Circuit/District
  • 1 lawyer member chosen by the Supreme Court, subject to mandatory racial diversity requirement: if there are no African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanic-Americans among the other 10 members, the Supreme Court must select a lawyer from the non-represented racial group

Judges wanting to be retained in office would be required prior to the end of their term to submit to a review by the Circuit/District commission. The judge would need a three-fifths vote of the commission to remain in office. If the commission does not reach the three-fifths, the judge would be free to run for a retention election but would need to get a 60% yes vote (as is the current practice) to remain in office.

Illinois Legislative Year in Review: Statutory Court Fee Task Force

Law

SB 274 Provides that beginning July 1, 2014 the aggregate appropriations available for salaries for judges from all State funds for each State fiscal year shall be no less than the total aggregate appropriations made available for salaries for judges for the immediately preceding fiscal year.

SB 3022 Extends until 2016 deadline for report from Statutory Court Fee Task Force.

Illinois becomes sixth U.S. legislature in 2014 to consider bill for drug testing judges; this version includes testing for alcohol as well

Last week Illinois became the sixth U.S. legislature (five states + 1 territory) to consider a bill to mandate drug testing judges. Under HB 6313 of 2014 a person may not serve as a judge, or return to service as a judge after testing positive, until they first provide a “clean” drug and alcohol test (“a blood alcohol concentration of less than .02”). For judges currently serving, that means a drug/alcohol test once a year. For those judges who tested positive, it means a mandatory substance abuse program plus drug/alcohol testing 9 times a year for 3 years after returning to service.

The other states/territories considering similar bills this year were Tennessee (discussed here), Mississippi (discussed here), Pennsylvania and Missouri (discussed here jointly) and the Northern Mariana Islands where the bill was passed but vetoed.

HB 6313 has been sent to the House Rules Committee.