Maryland: Last year Senate President vowed to end Circuit Court elections; bill to do just that up for hearing next week

Last year after a House plan to end elections for Maryland Circuit Court judges was killed in committee, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller vowed “We’re going to pass it next year.” The Senate has now released its 2016 plan as SB 179. It is set for a hearing next Thursday (February 4).

Currently the Maryland Constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 3) requires the election of Circuit Judges to 15 year terms. The general elections are nonpartisan, however candidates for Circuit Court appear on partisan primary ballots (such as these races in 2014).

The Senate plan calls for

  • The Governor to appoint anyone meeting the minimum criteria (over 30, admitted to practice of law, state resident 5 years, circuit resident for 6 months)
  • Senate confirmation
  • Serve for term of 10 years (down from the present 15 years) or until age 70 (if the judge hits the mandatory retirement age midterm)
  • Reappointment by Governor after 10 year term
  • Reconfirmation by Senate

The House version rejected last year would have kept 15 year terms and replaced reappointment/reconfirmation with yes/no retention elections.

SB 179 contemplates, but does not require, creation of a judicial nominating commission or similar body to make recommendations to the governor. If such a commission is created SB 179 calls for the group to “reflect the demographic diversity of the state or the judicial circuit.”

 

 

Maryland hearing on usage and authorization for court facility dogs: bills in 6 other states pending/enacted recently

Over the last several years courts have grappled with when, and how, to allow the use of court facility dogs to assist witnesses and victims in giving testimony. A hearing set for today in Maryland’s Senate will examine the subject, while 6 other states have in the 2015/2016 legislative cycle either debated or in the case of Arkansas enacted statutes regarding facility dog usage.

Arizona: criminal cases, victim under 18, jury instruction required

HB 2375 of 2016 provides a court shall afford a victim who is under eighteen years of age the opportunity to have a facility dog accompany the victim while testifying in court. The court would be obligated to inform the jury “the facility dog is a trained animal, is not a pet owned by the victim witness and that the presence of the facility dog may not be interpreted as reflecting on the truthfulness of the testimony that is offered.”

HB 2375 cleared the House Judiciary Committee on January 20 and the House Rules Committee on January 25.

Arkansas: criminal cases, witness under 18, “appropriate jury instructions” required

HB 1855 of 2015 provided, subject to the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, Arkansas Rules of Evidence, or other rule of the Supreme Court, if requested by either party in a criminal trial or hearing and if a certified facility dog is available within the jurisdiction of the judicial district in which the criminal case is being adjudicated, a child witness of the party shall be afforded the opportunity to have a certified facility dog accompany him or her while testifying in court. “In a criminal trial involving a jury in which the certified facility dog is utilized, the court shall present appropriate jury instructions that are designed to prevent prejudice for or against any party.”

HB 1855 was enacted as Act 957 of the 2015 session.

Connecticut: criminal cases, violent crime victim, nothing on jury instructions

HB 5364 of 2015 provided that that in any criminal prosecution involving an alleged violent crime and testimony from a victim of such crime, such victim shall be permitted to be accompanied by a therapy dog while testifying in the criminal prosecution, provided such dog is not visible to the jury.

HB 5364 was filed in 2015 but never advanced out of committee.

Hawaii: any “judicial proceeding”, “vulnerable witness”, jury instructions “to the extent necessary”

HB 1668 of 2016 and the identical SB 2112 provide a court may permit the use of a facility dog involving the testimony of a vulnerable witness if the court determines that there is a compelling necessity for the use of a facility dog to facilitate the testimony of the vulnerable witness. “To the extent necessary, the court may impose restrictions, or instructions to the jury, regarding the presence of the facility dog during the proceedings.”

Both bills are pending in their respective Judiciary Committees.

Maryland: criminal proceedings, child witness, nothing on jury instructions

SB 55 of 2016 provides a court may allow a facility dog or therapy dog to accompany a child witness. There is no mention of jury instructions.

SB 55 is pending before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and it set for a hearing today (January 26).

New York: criminal proceedings, “vulnerable witness”, lengthy jury instruction

AB 389 of 2015 and the identical SB 231 provide that a court shall permit the use of a facility dog when, in a criminal proceeding involving the testimony of a vulnerable witness, the court determines by a preponderance of the evidence that it is likely that such witness will be unable to effectively communicate if required to testify without the presence of such facility dog and that the presence of such facility dog will facilitate such testimony. Both bills include a lengthy jury instruction statement

A jury instruction shall be given both before and after the appearance of the facility dog with the witness and at the conclusion of the trial. Such instruction shall include that the dog is a highly trained professional who is properly referred to as a “courthouse facility dog.” Included in this shall be the emphasis that the dog is not a pet, is not owned by the witness and is equally available to both the prosecution and defense under certain circumstances. Such instruction shall include that the presence of the facility dog is in no way to be interpreted as reflecting on the truthfulness of the testimony offered. Such instruction shall also include that the presence of the dog is a reasonable accommodation to the witness in allowing them to fulfill the obligation of testifying in a court of law.

Neither bill advanced out of committee in the 2015 session and were carried over into the 2016 session.

Tennessee: any civil or criminal proceeding, witness fitting criteria, nothing on jury instructions

HB 1987 of 2016 and the identical SB 1618 provide a court may allow the use of a courthouse facility dog for any civil or criminal proceeding for a witness. The court, in deciding on whether to permit the usage, may consider

  1. The age of the witness
  2. The nature of the witness’s relationship to the events giving rise to the proceeding
  3. Whether the witness suffers from any disability
  4. The rights of the parties to the proceeding
  5. Any other factors that the court deems relevant in facilitating the effective communication of information by the witness and protecting the rights of the parties to the proceeding.

HB 1987 has been filed but not yet assigned to a committee. SB 1618 is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Maryland Legislative Year in Review: clerk of court may reject false liens

Law

HB 54 Creates surcharges on various court filings for Circuit Court Real Property Records Improvement Fund.

SB 77 Prohibits filing false liens on judges and others. Permits clerk to reject filings. (note House version HB 312  was vetoed as duplicative of SB 77)

SB 103 Allows specified members of the Judges’ Retirement System (JRS) who are subject to mandatory retirement before vesting to receive a prorated retirement allowance based on their years of service.

2015 efforts to changing civil jurisdiction thresholds: Nevada and Washington enact

Last year around this time I noted a trend towards increasing civil jurisdiction thresholds for some limited jurisdiction courts.

Most states have at least 2 levels of trial court, with a civil jurisdiction amount dividing them. For example a $1,000 civil case may be filed in the limited jurisdiction court, but a $100,000 case may only be permitted in the general jurisdiction court. Changes to this threshold can change the way courts are managed or function as caseloads and revenues rise/fall as a result.

This year saw 5 efforts to raise these limits, including 2 states where changes were enacted.

Maryland: District Courts have exclusive original civil jurisdiction in specified civil cases up to $30,000 (Md. COURTS AND JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS Code Ann. § 4-401). The threshold was $25,000 but was increased in 2007 (HB 1109). No other efforts to increase the threshold were made in the past decade until 2015. HB 461 would have increased the jurisdiction of the District Court to $50,000 while HB 719 would have raised the jurisdiction to $50,000 but only for first-party motor vehicle insurance benefits for uninsured motorist coverage. Both bills were withdrawn by their respective authors.

Nevada: Nevada’s Justice Courts had jurisdiction in civil cases up to $10,000 since a 2003 law (AB 100) increased the threshold from $7,500 (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4.370(1)(a)). Since then there have been no efforts to change the provisions until 2015. AB 66 as enacted now increases that threshold from $10,000 to $15,000 effective January 1, 2017.

South Carolina: Magistrate Court is effectively the state’s small claims court, with a concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Court up to only $7,500 (S.C. Code Ann. § 22-3-10). Nearly a dozen efforts had been made in the past decade and 2015 was no exception. SB 53 would have increased the jurisdiction to $10,000 and required mediation for cases below $5,000. SB 325 would have simply provided an increase from $7,500 to $10,000. Neither bill advanced out of committee.

New York: There are five types of limited jurisdiction courts with civil jurisdiction, each with its own threshold:

  • $25,000 for NYC Civil Court and County Courts (NY CLS NYC Civil Ct Act § 201 & NY CLS Jud § 190(1))
  • $15,000 for City and District Courts (NY CLS UCCA § 202 & NY CLS UDCA § 201)
  • $3,000 for Town and Village Courts (NY CLSUJCA § 201(a))

AB 1935 would have raised the jurisdiction of the Town and Village Courts to $5,000. As all prior efforts introduced in the last decade, it never advanced out of committee.

Washington: The state’s District Courts had civil jurisdiction in cases up to $75,000 (Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 3.66.020). The threshold had previously been $50,000, but that was increased in 2008 (HB 2557). A prior effort to increase to $75,000 had previously died in committee without a hearing (SB 5322 of 2005). This year saw two efforts in increase the limit, with one reaching enactment.

  • SB 5125 raises the limit from $75,000 to $100,000. It met with unanimous approval in House and Senate committees and on the floors of each chamber and was signed into law by the governor with an effective date of July 24, 2015.
  • HB 1248 would have raised the limit from $75,000 to $100,000 but also adjusted the threshold for mandatory arbitration from $15,000 to $75,000 in the Senate amended version. The bill was approved 78-19 in the House and was approved as amended by the Senate Law & Justice Committee but died on the Senate floor.

States Expand Protections Against False Liens for Public Officials

During this legislative session, seven states passed measures that expand protections against the filing of false liens—a legal claim to property for unpaid debt—for public officials, and one other state is still considering such a measure. Over the past 20 years, an increasing number of individuals have taken to filing false liens against public officials, a form of harassment that the FBI has dubbed “paper terrorism.” The states have responded by allowing clerks and filing offices to reject such claims, as recommended by the National Association of Secretaries of State, and by increasing civil and criminal penalties.

In addition to the seven states that passed measures this year, there are a number of other states with existing protections. In 2012, this blog covered the efforts of six states (here and here) to pass such measures, three of which were ultimately successful. Similarly, there were eight states in 2013, and five states in 2014, that successfully passed such legislation. The following is a review of efforts in the states to protect judges and other public officials from false liens during the 2015 legislative session.

Passed
Indiana HB 1371 amends existing law prohibiting the filing of false liens to include those who do not currently hold office but have in the preceding four years and provides that liens will be voided if a suit has not commenced within 30 days.

Maryland SB 77 provides that if the filing office believes a claim to be false, they must notify the subject of the filing, state their reasons for believing it is false, and terminate it in 45 days unless the claimant files an affidavit under the penalties of perjury that provides for the claim’s validity. If the filing office still believes the claim to be false after receiving the affidavit, the office may terminate the claim in 45 days unless the claimant petitions for a judicial determination of its validity. (Note: The Governor vetoed HB 312 as duplicative).

Nevada SB 197 amends existing law to prohibit and classify as a category B felony the filing of a false lien or other encumbrance “against the real or personal property of a public officer, candidate for public office, public employee, or participant in an official proceeding, or a member of [their] immediate family” based on the performance of or failure to perform the duties relating to their office or employment. The subject of the fraudulent claim is permitted to bring civil suit against the claimant under this statute.

New Jersey AB 2481 authorizes the filing office to reject a claim it reasonably believes to be materially false or fraudulent because it is (1) filed against a current or former officer or employee of any federal, state, county, local, or other government unit; (2) relates to their performance or failure to perform the duties relating to their office or employment; and (3) “for which the filer does not hold a properly executed security agreement or judgment from a court of competent jurisdiction.” The statute allows the filing office to reject claims filed by incarcerated individuals. The official or employee against whom the claim is filed is also authorized to bring civil suit, and the court is authorized to grant awards up to $2000 or damages incurred and enjoin the defendant from filing any future liens, encumbrances, or court actions without the approval of the court. (Note: The existing statute already included the provision that the filing of a false lien against a public official or employee is a second degree crime).

North Carolina SB 83 amends existing law concerning the filing of false liens or encumbrances against the real or personal property of a public officer, public employee, or their immediate family. The measure authorizes the register of deeds or clerk of court to refuse to file a claim that they reasonably suspect to be fraudulent. The measure also provides an appeals process for denied filings.

North Dakota HB 1307 amends existing law to classify the threatening of a public servant, including the filing of false liens, as a class A misdemeanor for a first offense, and a class C felony for second and subsequent offenses.

Pending
California AB 1267 expands existing protections against false liens to apply to lawsuits and other encumbrances against public officials with the intent to harass. It also provides that the subject of the fraudulent claim can request an order directing the claimant to appear in court to defend the claim. AB 1267 was passed by both the House and Senate, but is still awaiting the Governor’s approval.

Pennsylvania SB 212 classifies the filing of a false lien, in addition to any other unlawful action that attempts to influence, intimidate, or hinder a public official or law enforcement officer from performing their duties, as a misdemeanor of the second degree. This bill is still pending in committee.

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

Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan may fall apart over what judges get the increase; Oregon Senate unanimously approves repeal; dead in Maryland; small change moving in North Carolina; debated in Massachusetts

Since last month’s update on the subject of mandatory judicial retirement age changes there’s been several developments. The biggest stumbling block: which judges should get the increase in the age?

Maryland

The Senate approved 47-0 a plan (SB 847) to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 73 (original bill called for 75) on March 24. The Senate plan would have applied to all judges after adoption of the amendment. The House, however, had various ideas on how this would impact current judges. The House Judiciary Committee approved amendment 172916/1 which would have allowed any judge that

reaches the age of seventy years before the date that the judge is eligible to be elected, appointed, or reappointed

to stay on to 73 or the end of their current term with the consent of the governor. A later floor amendment (393229/1) added the word “re-elected”

reaches the age of seventy years before the date that the judge is eligible to be elected, re-elected, appointed, or reappointed

The changes occurred on April 9, just days before the legislature adjourned sine die. As a result, the effort failed this year.

Massachusetts

The judges of Massachusetts only fell under the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age in the 1970s (Amendment LVII adopted in 1972)

[U]pon attaining seventy years of age said judges shall be retired.

Starting in 2009 there have been efforts to increase this age to 76. The first two attempts (HB 1640 of 2009/2010 & HB 1826 of 2011/2012) were approved by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary but proceeded no further. HB 68 of 2013/2014 saw rejection by the committee. The bill is now back up as HB 1609 of 2015/2016 and was heard before the Joint Committee on April 15.

North Carolina

The House approved 116-0 on March 25 a bill that would provide a minimal extension to the state’s judicial retirement age. Currently judges must retire on the last day of the month in which they reach 72. Under HB 50 as approved they may serve last day of the year they reach 72.

A counter proposal (HB 205) to extend this to the last day of the year they reach 75. Was approved by the House Judiciary IV committee on March 18 but has remained in locked up in the House Pensions and Retirement committee.

Oregon

On April 15 the Oregon Senate approved 30-0 a plan to eliminate the state’s mandatory retirement age or, to be more precise, repeal the state constitutional provision allowing the legislature to set such an age. SJR 4 would eliminate language from the state constitution that

[A] judge of any court shall retire from judicial office at the end of the calendar year in which he attains the age of 75 years. The Legislative Assembly or the people may by law: Fix a lesser age for mandatory retirement not earlier than the end of the calendar year in which the judge attains the age of 70 years.

The constitutional amendment is now pending on the House Speaker’s desk awaiting committee assignment.

Virginia

After 9 years of trying, a plan to increase the retirement age for at least some judges in Virginia passed the House and Senate, but the decision to increase for some judges and not others may result in a veto by the governor.

At issue under HB 1984 and SB 1196 was what judges should get the increase from 70 to 73. The House/Senate compromise approved provided that

  • all appellate judges effective July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73
  • trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73
  • trial judges elected or appointed prior to July 1, 2015 would still have to retire at 70

The governor, however, issued a “recommendation” to eliminate the three-tired plan (Virginia governors can return a bill without a veto to the legislature “with recommendations for their amendment“). The Senate voted in favor of eliminating the three-tired plan 31-8. The House rejected it 27-63. Local media reports indicate the unamended bill will now go back to the Governor as early as today (Friday) for him to sign or veto.

Continue reading Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan may fall apart over what judges get the increase; Oregon Senate unanimously approves repeal; dead in Maryland; small change moving in North Carolina; debated in Massachusetts