Louisiana: bill provides Judicial Council would no longer report whether court costs/fees “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system”

A 2003 law that requires the state’s Judicial Council report whether new court costs of fees are “reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system” may be effectively repealed.

HB 493 as prefiled for the 2018 session would repeal a provision requiring the Judicial Council weigh in on the “reasonably related.”

No law to provide for a new court cost or fee or to increase an existing court cost or fee shall be enacted unless first submitted to the Judicial Council for review and recommendation to the legislature as to whether the court cost or fee is reasonably related to the operation of the courts or court system.

This follows on a 2011 amendment that had added the “reasonably related” language, but removed the power of the Judicial Council to review fees/costs in Mayor’s Courts or Justice of the Peace Courts (HB 522 of 2011)

HB 493 has been preliminarily filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

Louisiana: Constitutional amendment would eliminate mandatory retirement age for judges, but could result in elimination of all age requirements for all public offices and employment

A plan to eliminate Louisiana’s mandatory judicial retirement age and replace it with a certification system has been filed for the upcoming session. The language, however, might have broader ramifications.

HB 203 as filed would strike the language in the state constitutions that judges but forced to retire at the end of the term in which they reach 70. It would also allow the legislature to require judges over 70 to report to the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (the Judiciary Commission) to be reviewed.

HB 215 implements the provision for Judicial Commission review of judges over 70.

HB 203 goes a step further that simply ending mandatory judicial retirement for judges however. It adds a provision in Article X of the state constitution that “No person shall be denied the right to hold public office or public employment based solely on age.” That would appear to eliminate the minimum age requirements for legislators (18) and governors (25) and end mandatory retirement ages or minimum age requirements for any government employment.

HB 203 and HB 215 have been prefiled for the 2018 regular session.

Louisiana: bill would require judges to file annual financial statements, mandatory ethics training; separation of powers debate comes back after 2008 agreement

A bill prefiled in the Louisiana House would require elected and appointed judges in the state to follow the same financial disclosure statute as other officials.

SB 44 as filed would require judges file annual financial statements and attend mandatory ethics training.

Some background: the law in question was adopted in 2008. At the time of introduction, HB 1 of the First Extraordinary Session of 2008 included judges in the required annual financial statements and mandatory ethics training and placed enforcement in the hands of an executive branch agency.

As I wrote, this struck some as a possible separation of powers, including the state’s Chief Justice who wrote a letter asking the legislature to remove the provision related to judges, assuring that the Supreme Court would issue rules with the same effect.

Ultimately the solution was that the Senate adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court to impose financial disclosure on the judges similar to what had been adopted by law for the other officials (SR 6). The Supreme Court in fact did adopt a financial disclosure rule (Supreme Court Rule XXXIX) except for justices of the peace.

Despite the agreement reached in 2008, this isn’t the first time legislators have tried to statutorily impose disclosure on judges.

In 2010 SB 72 was filed to place judges under the provisions of the existing law. It was filed but failed to advance out of committee.

In 2015 several legislative efforts were made, starting again with putting judges under the existing statute (HB 294). It was heard in committee in May of that year. After the hearing the House considered HCR 195 and HR 127. Both requested the Louisiana Supreme Court make judicial financial disclosure reports available for viewing on the internet.  The HR was approved by the House, the HCR was never taken up.

 

 

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.