Louisiana legislator wants to expand Supreme Court from 7 to 9 members by dividing 2 existing judicial districts; would require 2/3rds vote of the legislature

Following expansion by 2 seats to the Arizona and Georgia Supreme Courts in the last 2 years, a member of the Louisiana House is moving to expand by law that state’s top court by 2 seats, but needs a supermajority to do it.

As I noted when this came up in Georgia, Louisiana is generally a “specific number” state: the state’s constitution specifies that the court is to be made up of 7 justices, or more specifically a “chief justice and six associate justices.” Moreover, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court are elected by district.

However, the legislature is free, by 2/3rds vote, to alter the districts and the number of justices

The state shall be divided into at least six supreme court districts, and at least one judge shall be elected from each. The districts and the number of judges assigned to each on the effective date of this constitution are retained, subject to change by law enacted by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature.

Into this comes HB 406 of 2017. It would amend the existing statute (R.S. 13:101) to provide for 9 supreme court districts, dividing District 4 in a District 4-A and District 4-B and dividing District 5 into a 5-A and 5-B, with 5-B made entirely of East Baton Rouge Parish and 5-A of the rest of the existing District 5.

The bill has been prefiled in the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs.

Tennessee: bills create Court Fee and Tax Advisory Council, calls for court fees and taxes to go only towards court/court clerk operations

Bills (HB 880 / SB 1084) filed in the Tennessee legislature earlier this month seek to address the issue of court fees and taxes, their amounts, and use.

The bills as introduced begin with explanatory clauses including declaring it “the policy of this state that court fees and taxes shall be imposed only for the expenses related to the operation of the courts and the operations of the court clerks” and expressing concern that court fees and taxes are becoming “a burden.”

If enacted, the bills require the creation of a Court Fee and Tax Advisory Council. The council would be responsible for

  1. annually compiling all the various court taxes and fees and recommending whether to continue them
  2. reviewing pending state legislation to create new court taxes and fees or amend existing ones

The Council would be made up of three groups: judges, lawyers, and clerks.

  • 3 judges, one from each of the state’s general jurisdiction courts (Chancery, Circuit, Criminal), chosen by the Supreme Court
  • 1 General Sessions Court judge, picked by the General Sessions Courts Judges’ Conference
  • 1 Juvenile Court judge, picked by the Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
  • 2 attorneys, one picked by House Speaker and other by Senate Speaker
  • 2 court clerks (1 civil + 1 criminal) picked by the State Court Clerks’ Conference

In addition, the Administrative Director of the Courts would serve ex officio.

The Tennessee council appears similar to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Council’s review of new or increased court fees/costs (SB 253 of 2003 now codified as LSA-R.S.62). The Louisiana Judicial Council created a Court Cost/Fee Committee as a result.

Notably that 2003 law required the Louisiana Judicial Council to weigh in on increases or new fees/costs for all trial courts (“district court, family court, juvenile court, city court, parish court, municipal court, mayor’s court, justice of the peace court, and traffic court.”) A 2011 amendment (HB 522) removed the Council’s power to review fee/cost changes in mayor’s and justice of the peace courts. That same 2011 amendment, however, required the council to review and recommend whether the fee or cost was “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system.”

NC: So how many other states/courts elect their appellate judges in a partisan manner? It’s complicated.

Amid the debate on SB 4 today and the decision to switch North Carolina’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from nonpartisan to partisan races, there’s been a good amount of discussion of how many other states and appellate courts have partisan elections. Numbers have ranged widely. The reason for this is fairly straight forward in that for many states it is not a straight forward answer.

There are 8 states with 9 courts in which at one point or another justices of the supreme court/court of last resort show up with a party label somehow. It was 9 states with 10 courts until 2015 when West Virginia ended partisan races for their Supreme Court of Appeals.

  1. Alabama: partisan primaries and partisan general elections.
  2. Illinois: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 60% “yes to retain” vote.
  3. Louisiana: The state uses a “blanket primary” in which all candidates appear with party labels on the primary ballot. The two top votegetters compete in the general election. Thus in the general election, you could have two Republicans vying against each other for the seat, as occurred most recently in 2016 when Republican James “Jimmy” Genovese defeated fellow Republican Marilyn Castle for the 3rd Supreme Court District (Louisiana elects their justices by district, not statewide).
  4. Michigan: candidates for Supreme Court are nominated by political parties but the actual ballot in November is nonpartisan (i.e. no party labels).
  5. New Mexico: very complicated. When a vacancy occurs on the New Mexico Supreme Court, it is initially filled via merit selection (nominating commission sends list of names to governor, governor picks). The newly appointed justice must then run in a partisan primary and partisan general election but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 57% “yes to retain” vote.
  6. Ohio: Partisan primaries, but nonpartisan general elections.
  7. Pennsylvania: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election (50% “yes to retain” to remain in office).
  8. Texas: Everything is bigger in Texas, including their appellate courts. Texas has two “courts of last resort”: the Supreme Court for civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Both courts use partisan primaries and partisan general elections.

Louisiana Legislative Year in Review: requesting supreme court put judicial disclosures online

Law

HB 27 Alters deferred retirement benefits from the Clerks of Court Retirement and Relief Fund for members first hired on or after January 1, 2011.

HB 350 Provides that law prohibiting those above the age of 70 from running for office of justice of the peace does not apply to those serving as a justice of the peace on or before August 2006.

Adopted

HR 127 Requests the Louisiana Supreme Court to make financial disclosure reports available for viewing on the internet.

Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Since April’s update on the subject of mandatory judicial retirement age changes there’s been several developments.

Alabama

While the state does not have a retirement age per se, it does prohibit judges from seeking election or being appointed to fill a vacancy if they are above the age of 70. Efforts to raise this to 72 were approved in the House and appeared to have Senate backing before time ran out in the session. Critics argued the constitutional amendment was specifically designed to allow 68 year old Chief Justice Roy Moore to seek one more term in office.

Louisiana

Despite voters in 2014 rejecting a constitutional amendment repealing the mandatory retirement age for most judges in the state, at least some judges will be able to avoid being forced out at 70. Under HB 350 as signed into law, justices of the peace in office as of August 15, 2006 can continue to run for re-election over the age of 70.

Massachusetts

A plan to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges in that state from 70 to 76 was rejected in committee in late April.

North Carolina

Several efforts to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges met with approval in the House but were not taken up by the Senate prior to adjournment. Those bills could come back up in the 2016 session.

Oregon

Voters will get to decide in 2016 whether or not to repeal the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age. Under SJR 4 as approved by the legislature in late June the constitutional provision allowing the legislature to set a retirement age would be stricken.

Virginia

Virginia appellate judges as of today (July 1), will see their mandatory judicial retirement age increase from 70 to 73 under a bill signed into law this spring. However, only those trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73; all other trial judges remain at the mandatory retirement age of 70. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had asked the legislature to amend the bill (HB 1984) to apply the increase to all judges, and the state’s Senate was willing to do so, however the House insisted on the split treatment.

Continue reading Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Louisiana (bill) and Montana (law) mandate judges disclose financial information; LA bill appears to duplicate existing court rule but requires disclosures be put online

The issue of how and when judges should file financial disclosure statement for the public has come up in the 2015 session in both Montana and Louisiana with both states taking somewhat different approaches.

Montana’s governor has now signed into law SB 89, expanding the state’s disclosure law that already included all other state or local elected officers to specifically include supreme court justices and district court judges; judges of the justice courts, city courts, municipal courts, and water courts would not be affected. The bill was approved without a single no vote in any committee or in the full House or Senate.

Louisiana’s HB 294 takes a different tack. Rather than expanding existing disclosure laws (such as those that apply to state officials) it creates a new code section by duplicating existing disclosure laws and an existing rule of court (La. Sup. Ct. R. XXXIX). It differs from the court rule, however, in terms of access; HB 294 requires the disclosures be posted online while the Supreme Court rule does not appear to provide for this. Both HB 294 and the Supreme Court rule do provide judges that have failed to file, or have partially filed, their disclosures are to be listed on a website.

HB 294 is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

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