Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions 2011: Northeastern States

Maine HB 425 Establishes an option for new employees hired on or after July 1, 2012 to become members of the Judicial Retirement Program. Provides current members may make a onetime, irrevocable election to remain as members.

Massachusetts HB 2431 Provides survivors of judges who die “in the performance of his/her duties” are to receive maximum retirement benefits as if judge were fully vested, etc. Defines “in the performance of his/her duties” as including judicial assignments in any courthouse or other venue, such as hospitals or jails, used to conduct judicial business; to Emergency Judicial Response System assignments; to approved voluntary or assigned education programs or other assignment within the scope of his/her employment as a judge or justice.

Massachusetts HB 2965 Modifies retirement earnings and benefits of certain senior justices.

Massachusetts HB 2978 Provides for judges who reach mandatory retirement age shall receive automatic inflation adjustments to annual pensions.

New Hampshire HB 299 Allows the annual contribution for unfunded accrued liability of the judicial retirement plan to be calculated over a 30-year period or the maximum period allowed, whichever is less.

New Hampshire HB 492 Establishes a deferred retirement option in the judicial retirement plan. Modifies benefits related to service of certain judges of probate retiring because of permanent disability.

New Jersey AB 3796 & SB 2705 Increases employee contribution rates in Judicial Retirement System (JRS) to 8.5% of salary (up from 3%). Provides additional 5.5% not being used to reduce the statutorily required employer normal contribution. Provides increases to be implemented in a manner to conform to State Constitution prohibition against the reduction in the compensation of a judge during the judge’s term of appointment.

New Jersey SB 2696 Restructures Judicial Retirement System (JRS) and other Retirement Systems. Changes contribution rate to JRS and authorizes JRS board to make future changes.

Rhode Island HB 5840 Eliminates the cost-of-living retirement adjustments for all judges, teachers, and state employees and their surviving spouses or domestic partners who are hired on or after the effective date of act.

MA bills: Failure to fly U.S. & commonwealth flags in courtroom due process violation

Welcome Volokh readers!

Many states have requirements that U.S. and state flags be used in courthouses and/or courtrooms. Several Massachusetts bills, however, would in effect void any proceeding that did not include such flags.

Chapter 220, Section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides “The flag of the United States and the flag of the commonwealth shall be displayed in every court of justice of the commonwealth while court is in session. The flags shall be of suitable dimensions.”

The matter has actually been litigated involving a case where a courtroom’s flag was borrowed by another court and was returned to the courtroom before the morning session was over. On appeal, the party sought a mistrial, which was denied. (Zabin v. Picciotto, 2008 Mass. App. LEXIS 1135).

HB 1325 and SB 643 of 2011 would both declare “Failure to adhere to the provisions of this section [i.e. display the flags] shall constitute a violation of due process.” The bills are identical to ones filed in the 2009/2010 session (HB 1475 and SB 1562).

The 2011 bills are currently pending in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Update: Fixed a typo or two…

2011 on track to have most efforts to remove judges from office in recent memory

It is barely March, and already there have been more bills seeking the removal of judges in 2011 than in any year in recent memory. As I noted in a special December 2010 edition of Gavel to Gavel, while threats to impeach state court judges have increased, it has only been in the last several years that actual bills have been drafted and submitted.
All told, 10 judges (9 state, 1 federal) are the target of impeachment or removal efforts in the state legislatures this year. This is in addition to the threats to impeach Iowa’s supreme court justices made earlier in the year that have not materialized as articles of impeachment.

State Bill Form of removal Target Reason for removal request
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland Unknown
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Francis X. Spina Unknown
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith A. Cowin Unknown
Massachusetts HB 2172 Bill of address Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert J. Cordy Unknown
New Hampshire HR 7 Impeachment Marital Master Phillip Cross Decisions in custody/divorce cases
New Hampshire HR 7 Impeachment “any justice of the New Hampshire superior court” Decisions in custody/divorce cases
New Jersey SR 105 Impeachment Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto Refusal to vote in some cases
Oklahoma HR 1001 Request for removal by judicial disciplinary commission District Judge Thomas Bartheld Failure to reject negotiated plea bargain in child sex abuse case
Oklahoma HR 1005 Impeachment request to Congress U.S. District Court Judge Vickie Miles-LaGrange “Abuse of authority” for issuing an injunction against state’s sharia law ban
Oklahoma HR 1006 Request for removal by judicial disciplinary commission District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure 36 felony counts, including four counts of perjury and 32 counts of fraudulent claim

MA: Effort to remove by bill of address 4 justices of Supreme Judicial Court introduced

Last week a Massachusetts Representative introduced, at the request of a constituent, HB 2172 a “bill of address” for the removal of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland and justices Francis X. Spina, Judith A. Cowin, and Robert J. Cordy.

There is no specific reasoning for the effort to remove these four justices in particular. The last such effort in Massachusetts occurred in 2004 and 2005 where bills of address were introduced against the justices that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage (Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003)). However, justices Cordy and Spina had dissents in those cases, while (then associate justice) Ireland and Cowin voted in favor.

Under the Massachusetts constitution, removal by bill of address requires only a majority of both the House and Senate, followed by the approval of the Governor and Governor’s Council. Where impeachment would require accusations of “misconduct and mal-administration”, bills of address do not require such findings.

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