Ohio: Senate approves compensation commission for judges & others; allows judicial salaries to be diminished only in cases of fiscal emergency

The Ohio Senate yesterday approved a plan (SJR 1) to create a Public Office Compensation Commission with the power to reduce judicial salaries mid-term in cases of fiscal emergency, a departure from a 2014 proposal which would have allowed them to be diminished for any reason.

First, some background.

The idea of a Compensation Commission first gained traction last fall with SJR 9 of 2014. Passed unanimously by the Senate in December 2014 and discussed here, the plan repealed the guarantee that judges’ salaries “shall not be diminished during their term of office” allowing for the Commission to reduce salaries as they deemed needed. This was in stark contrast with Arkansas’ constitutional amendment creating a Commission-system approved by voters the month prior that reiterated that judicial salaries could not be reduced during terms of office.

Under SJR 1 of 2015 the new Ohio Commission would be made up of 9 members

  • 2 appointed by Governor
  • 2 appointed by Senate President
  • 2 appointed by House Speaker
  • 1 appointed by Senate minority leader
  • 1 appointed by House minority leader
  • 1 appointed by Chief Justice

The commission would be allowed to recommend without specific justifications increases or decreases of 3% or an amount equal to the latest changes in the Consumer Price Index. Increases or decreases greater than 3% or the CPI would require specific justifications.

Like the 2014 bill, the 2015 bill does repeal the specific provision in the state’s constitution prohibiting decreases in judicial salaries mid-term and replaces it with the Commission system.

The judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals, courts of common pleas, and divisions thereof, and of all courts of record established by law, shall, at stated times, receive, for their services such compensation as may be provided by law, which shall not be diminished during their term of office for in Article II, Section 20a of this constitution.

However, unlike the 2014 bill, a 2015 committee amendment provided judicial salaries some degree of protection. Such salaries could only be reduced if two conditions are met

  1. The General Assembly passes a bill by a three-fifths vote of the members elected to each house that declares a state of fiscal emergency requiring an in-term decrease in compensation and decreases the compensation amount for every elected public office by the same percentage.
  2. The Governor signs the bill (i.e. no veto overrides)

This is similar to provisions in Alaska, Michigan, and other states which do allow for mid-term reduction of judicial salaries, but only where such reductions impact all officials. The constitution of Ohio’s neighbor Pennsylvania provides “Justices, judges and justices of the peace shall be compensated by the Commonwealth as provided by law. Their compensation shall not be diminished during their terms of office, unless by law applying generally to all salaried officers of the Commonwealth.” (Pa. Const. Art. V, § 16)

SJR 1 has been assigned to the House Rules and Reference Committee.

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

Ohio Legislative Year in Review: restructured Court of Claims

Law

HB 261 Abolishes the office of the Court of Claims commissioner. Transfers the functions with regards to awards of reparations from the Court of Claims commissioners or a single judge of the Court of Claims to the Court. Authorizes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint magistrates (rather than referees) in civil actions in the Court of Claims and authorizes a magistrate to disclose or refer to certain records or reports otherwise exempt from public disclosure in reparations hearings. Changes the basis of the per diem compensation of a retired judge who serves on the Court of Claims from the annual compensation of a court of appeals judge to the annual compensation of a court of common pleas judge. Eliminates the requirements and procedure for filing an affidavit of disqualification for a judge of municipal or county court and instead includes the disqualification of a judge of a municipal or county court or a judge of the Court of Claims within the requirements and procedure for filing an affidavit of disqualification for a judge of the court of common pleas, a probate judge, or a judge of the court of appeals.

Ohio: Public Officer Compensation Commission passes Senate 34-0; would repeal guarantee legislature cannot reduce judges’ salaries while in office

In the last 48 hours the Ohio Senate has introduced and approved on a 34-0 vote a constitutional amendment (SJR 9) to create a Public Office Compensation Commission “to review the current compensation of each elected public official in the state” including judges. Interestingly, SJR 9 eliminates the guarantee that judicial salaries may NOT be cut by the General Assembly. Art. IV, Sec. 6(B) which now reads

The judges of the Supreme Court, courts of appeals, courts of common pleas, and divisions thereof, and of all courts of record established by law, shall, at stated times, receive, for their services such compensation as may be provided by law, which shall not be diminished during their term of office.

Would instead read

The judges of the Supreme Court, courts of appeals, courts of common pleas, and divisions thereof, and of all courts of record established by law, shall, at stated times, receive, for their services such compensation as provided for in [the Public Officer Compensation Commission system].

The Commission is explicitly authorized to recommend, and the General Assembly to enact, cuts to such salaries.

The elimination of the constitutional guarantee that judicial salaries cannot be cut by the legislature as part of a public officer compensation system is almost identical to what occurred in 2013 in Arkansas. As introduced and initially approved (see here and here and here) Arkansas’ HJR 1009 of 2013 eliminated that state’s constitutional guarantee that judicial salaries could not be diminished (Amendment 80, Sec. 16 (E) “Such salaries and expenses may be increased, but not diminished, during the term for which such Justices or Judges are selected or elected.”)

The final version of the Arkansas proposal that went on the ballot, however, did ensure the protection; that state’s new Independent Citizens Commission may increase, but not diminish, the salaries of judges in the state as discussed here.

Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 4

This fourth in a series of posts looks at legislative efforts to change the civil jurisdiction thresholds in state limited and general jurisdiction courts in the last decade. For a listing of all current civil jurisdiction thresholds, click here.

New Mexico to South Carolina below the fold.
Continue reading Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 4

Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 5

This fifth 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.

New Mexico to South Carolina below the fold.

Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 5

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: are there the votes in the FL Senate this year? And what about a MO veto?

The 2014 efforts to ban state court use of international or foreign laws in general, and sharia law in particular, are effectively over save for two states. Since I last updated this in early March the only movement has been in Florida and Missouri, setting the stage for a possible repeat of 2013.

Florida: The Florida House and Senate bills are presently on the floors of their respective chambers and could be voted on any day. However, when this occurred last year the House was able to pass its version on April 18, 2013. The Senate on the other hand did not have the votes to pass either its version or the House bill and wound up tabling (i.e. killing) a combined House/Senate bill in May 2013.

Missouri: Just like in 2013, the 2014 effort came out of the Senate General Laws committee. However, last year’s version was vetoed by the state’s governor citing among other things the possibility that the language was so broad it would void or at least jeopardize foreign adoptions. The 2013 veto was overridden by the Senate but failed to be overridden by the House by a single vote (108 out of 109 needed).

List of bills below the fold
Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: are there the votes in the FL Senate this year? And what about a MO veto?