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

Michigan, Oregon, and Nevada legislatures look at 3 different approaches to judicial salaries: tie to CPI, tie to state employees, binding commission

Three states are actively debating the way in which to pay for, and increase, judicial salaries in their respective states. Each takes a somewhat different approach in this arena.

Michigan: Tie increases to state employees’ increases

SB 56, approved March 26 on a 33-3 vote, would link judicial salaries to those of state employees. Currently, judges of the Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, Probate Court, and District Court make a certain percentage of the salary of a Supreme Court justice. Court of Appeals = 92%; Circuit = 85%; Probate = 85%; District = 84%

SB 56 keeps the practice of using a percent of the Supreme Court and adds to it an amount based on percentage pay increases, excluding lump-sum payments, paid to civil service nonexclusively represented employees (NEREs) classified as executives and administrators on or after January 1, 2016. According to an analysis done by the Michigan Legislature that increase would be anywhere from 0-3% but has in the past averaged 2%.

Oregon: Tie to CPI

SB 446, set for a hearing tomorrow (April 8) is filed at the request of the state’s Chief Justice and the Oregon Circuit Court Judges Association. The plan calls for a review every before July 1 every year by the Chief Justice of the Portland-Salem, OR-WA Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for All Items. If there was an increase in the previous calendar year, the Chief Justice would adjust the salaries for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit courts accordingly effective July 1 starting July 1, 2016. The CPI data as of February 2015 can be found here and indicates increases from 2010-2014 of 1.3-2.9% with an average of 2.3%

Nevada: Create binding joint compensation commission

Last year Arkansas adopted a binding salary commission to set salaries for state officials including judges that could not be overridden by the state’s legislature. Nevada is set to debate today (April 7) the creation of a very similar commission for that state in the form of AJR 10. The constitutional amendment would set up a Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Certain Elected Officers that would take over from the (advisory) Commission to Review the Compensation of Constitutional Officers, Legislators, Supreme Court Justices, Judges of the Court of Appeals, District Judges and Elected County Officers.

The new Citizens’ Commission, using language almost identical to the Arkansas bill from last year, would be made up of

  • Two members chosen by the Assembly Speaker
  • Two members chosen by the Senate Majority Leader
  • Two members chosen by the Governor
  • One member chosen by the Chief Justice

Notable here is the breakdown with legislative leaders picking a 4/7 majority of the new Citizens’ Commission The current advisory Commission to Review gives only 2/9 to the legislative leaders, another 2/9 to the legislative minority party leaders, 2/9 to the Chief Justice, and 3/9 to the Governor.

The new Citizens’ Commission would be prohibited from diminishing the salaries of judges and others while in office and be limited in increasing salaries more than 15% per report (except for the first report where the 15% ceiling would be waived). In Arkansas, the increases for judges were about 11% in that state’s first report.

Finally, and critically, there would be no legislative override of the Citizens’ Commission by the legislature.

The Legislature shall provide by law for setting apart from each year’s revenues a sufficient amount of money to pay such salaries [set by the Citizens’ Commission].

Aside from Arkansas, no other state has a comparable provision. 7 states allow for legislative override although some set the threshold as 2/3rds (Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma) while an 8th (Washington) allows for a voter referendum to override.

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

Bills in Minnesota would end use of incumbent designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection; a look at states that use such designations

Four Six states provide for the general designation of a judge as an incumbent on the election ballot: Arkansas, California, Michigan, and Minnesota. At the same time Texas is considering joining in on this practice, two bills filed in the last several weeks in Minnesota would end the practice in that state.

1/30/2017 update: 6 states, Georgia and Oregon included.

First, some background.

While all four six states mentioned use some sort of incumbent designation, they do so in four different manners. This is how it appears in Arkansas under A.C.A. § 7-7-305 (sample ballot from here). Note that in Arkansas you may use the word “Judge” even if running for a higher court (i.e. a Circuit Judge running for Supreme Court Justice). For example when she ran for the Supreme Court in 2014, Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne was identified on the ballot as “Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne.”

Untitled

And this from California under Election Code § 13107 (sample ballot from here)

UntitledIn Michigan several statutes depending on court type allow for the word “Incumbent Position” balloting, among them MCLS § 168.409b (Court of Appeals), § 168.424a (Circuit), § 168.426d (Municipal Courts of Record), § 168.433 (Probate), and § 168.467b (District). (UPDATE: A reader also points to this constitutional provision that “There shall be printed upon the ballot under the name of each incumbent justice or judge who is a candidate for nomination or election to the same office the designation of that office.”) The result is that a judge runs with their current office below their name, as for example from this sample ballot.

Ballot_2008_back[1]

Update 1/30/2017

Georgia law (21-2-285.1) provides that “The incumbency of a candidate seeking election for the public office he or she then holds shall be indicated on the ballot.” An example from this sample ballot.

Minnesota Statutes 204B.36(5) provides that “If a chief justice, associate justice, or judge is a candidate to succeed again, the word “incumbent” shall be printed after that judge’s name as a candidate.” An example from this sample ballot.

election2014_RamseySampleBallot_p2[1]

Update 1/30/2017

Oregon law (ORS 254.125) provides that “The word “incumbent” shall follow the name of each candidate for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Oregon Tax Court or circuit court who is designated the incumbent by the Secretary of State under ORS 254.085. ” An example from this sample ballot.

 

As for Minnesota, HB 676 and SB 1091 of 2015 would repeal this provision.

In the last two decades there have been dozens of attempts to remove the provision, none successful and most never advancing out of committee. Often the proposal was attached to some other provision, such as an effort to move to merit/commission selection or as part of a larger package of changes to the election laws. One interesting iteration that appeared only in 2011 provided that if the incumbent designation was repealed, the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age would be increased (discussed here).

Details below the fold.

Continue reading Bills in Minnesota would end use of incumbent designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection; a look at states that use such designations

Arizona: new plan to stack supreme court introduced and clears committee in hours; over a dozen efforts to change supreme court composition in last decade

A plan to expand the Arizona Supreme Court from 5 to 7 members was added at the last minute to a bill in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. HB 2076 as introduced had nothing to do with the state’s supreme court. An amendment to that bill however deleted the bill’s contents and replaced it with an expansion of the Supreme Court from 5 to 7 members. It was approved on a 4-2 party-line vote.

This isn’t the first time an effort with little to no notice has been made to expand the Arizona Supreme Court. In 2013 it was the Senate Judiciary Committee that tried to advance such a proposal that was ultimately rejected when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court herself appeared in the committee and explained the Supreme Court was handling its case disposition time handily. The main sponsor countered that “I just thought that I might give the opportunity for two additional attorneys to sit on the supreme court.”

This marks over a dozen instances in the last several years of members of the legislature seeking to increase, or in some cases reduce, the size of their state supreme court/court of last resort. Details below the fold.

Continue reading Arizona: new plan to stack supreme court introduced and clears committee in hours; over a dozen efforts to change supreme court composition in last decade

Michigan Legislative Year in Review

Law

HB 5785 Authorizes a court to impose on a guilty defendant any cost “reasonably related” to the court’s actual costs. Defines “reasonably related” to include salaries and benefits for relevant court personnel, goods and services necessary for the operation of the court, and necessary expenses for the operation and maintenance of court buildings and facilities. Requires courts that imposed those costs to report annually to the State Court Administrative Office, which would have to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature.