Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 2

This second installment looks at efforts to change state constitutional grants of rulemaking authority to courts of last resort, typically called the “supreme court”, or judicial councils.

My colleagues here at the National Center have a listing of all such provisions here.

Hawaii to Maryland below the fold.
Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 2

Maine Legislative Year in Review: salary increases; false liens on judges & court staff

Law

HB 167 Makes it easier for judges, clerks, and other public officials who have false liens/encumbrances on their property to remove them. Provides civil penalty for filing of false liens/encumbrances.

HB 1147 Authorizes a 1% salary increase effective September 1, 2013 and a 1% salary increase effective July 1, 2014 for certain employees in the Judicial Department.

First, Maryland, then Connecticut, now Maine considered getting rid of partisan elections for probate courts

Most states use multiple selection methods for their courts, with some judges appointed, others elected, etc. Three states in particular (Connecticut, Maryland, and now Maine) want to end partisan elections for one particular type of court: probate.

First, some background.

Most states do not have separate courts to handle probate matters, instead such matters are handled as a division of another court (Probate Court vs. Superior Court, Probate Division). New Hampshire, for example, consolidated its Probate Court into the newly created Circuit Court, Probate Division only a few years ago. About 15 states do, however, still retain courts whose primary or sole purpose is probate matters

  • Alabama Probate
  • Colorado Denver Probate (Probate matters in other parts of state handled in District Court)
  • Connecticut Probate
  • Georgia Probate
  • Indiana Probate (Remains only in St. Joseph’s County; probate matters in other parts of state handled in Superior or Circuit Court)
  • Maine Probate
  • Maryland Orphan’s (Montgomery and Harford counties, probate matters handled in Circuit Court)
  • Massachusetts Family & Probate
  • Michigan Probate
  • New Mexico Probate
  • New York Surrogates’
  • Rhode Island Probate
  • South Carolina Probate
  • Tennessee Probate (Shelby County only)
  • Vermont Probate

In addition to their unique jurisdiction, what sets these courts apart is that they often have a judicial selection system that is not in keeping with most of the other judges in the state. For example, the judges of Georgia’s higher courts (Supreme, Court of Appeals, Superior, State) are non-partisan races; Probate Court races are partisan.

This year’s particular interest in changing the method of judicial selection started January 23 in Maryland where Orphan’s Court judges are elected on a partisan basis. SB 327 was filed January 23 to require nonpartisan elections instead. An identical House bill (HB 515) was filed a week later on January 30.

The next state to consider the issue was Connecticut, where Probate Court judges also run in partisan elections. HJR 17 is a constitutional amendment that would shift the Probate Court judges into the state’s existing merit selection system, which is used for the state’s other courts (Supreme, Appellate, Superior).

The third state to consider such a move was Maine. HB 369, filed February 19, would end partisan elections for Probate Judges, Registers of Probate and Registers of Deeds. Instead, the offices would be subject to gubernatorial appointment with senate confirmation in the same way all other state judges are currently appointed.

Maine bill would require courts put all public records online

Most states have some provision for putting at least some court documents online, however a bill before the Maine House may be the most expansive form proposed in the nation.

HB 110 amends the state’s information practices law to provide “A public entity shall make all public records in the public entity’s possession available for viewing on a publicly accessible site on the Internet”.

Public entity is already defined in law as including the judiciary (“the Judicial Department”).

Public records under existing law include “any written, printed or graphic matter or any mechanical or electronic data compilation from which information can be obtained, directly or after translation into a form susceptible of visual or aural comprehension, that is in the possession or custody of an agency or public official of this State or any of its political subdivisions, or is in the possession or custody of an association, the membership of which is composed exclusively of one or more of any of these entities, and has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business or contains information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business…” subject to specified exceptions.

The bill is currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

 

Maine Legislative Year in Review: veterans courts, courthouse construction

New laws affecting the courts enacted by the Maine legislature in 2012 include the following:

HB 1250 Authorizes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to establish veterans treatment courts. Authorizes the State Court Administrator to seek federal funding for these courts.

SB 566 ORIGINAL: Authorizes the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to issue securities for the costs associated with construction of court facilities. AS AMENDED: Same, but allows any remaining funds from authorized securities issued for paying the costs associated with the construction to be used for planning for additional court facilities.

SB 622 Implements recommendations of the Commission To Study Priorities and Timing of Judicial Proceedings in State Courts, including docketing/calendaring priority for various matters.

Judicial Compensation Commissions meeting in Louisiana, Maine

Louisiana’s Judicial Compensation Commission, which is statutorily housed within the legislature, meets October 30 to continue its ongoing study of judicial salaries.

Meanwhile Maine’s 3-member Judicial Compensation Commission (2 members selected by the legislature’s leadership plus 1 member selected by the governor) which is staffed by the Legislative Council was to meet October 22. That meeting has apparently been postponed to November 13.

Maine’s Governor vetoes bill that would allow court facilities bonds to be issued without voter approval; legislature to consider veto override today

Maine’s legislature has been roiled recently with the question of whether or not bonds issued from construction of government facilities should have to go to the voters. One bill in particular (HP 603, also called LD 807) as introduced would have required that all bonds previously issued by the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority without voter approval go to the voters. It was amended with an exception: bonds for court facilities would not require voter approval.

Governor Paul LePage has now vetoed the bill as amended. In his veto message,  the Governor cited a desire for consistency between the branches in how bonds/debts are approved (or not) by voters.

The legislature is back in session today (5/31) to consider this and other vetoes.