OK: Efforts to impeach/remove trial judge already starting

Readers may recall earlier this year I noted a case involving legislative efforts to remove OK trial judge Thomas Bartheld.

Media reports of legislators planning his ouster made the news in June 2009 after Judge Bartheld sentenced a man who had pled no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Judge Bartheld, however, noted that “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant all agreed to this [plea bargain].”

HR 1001 of 2011 asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions: Southern States

Georgia HB 202 Authorizes the boards of all public retirement systems operating under Title 47 of O.C.G.A to adopt any rules which are required to meet the necessary federal compliance standards. It requires all systems to comply with mandatory distribution requirements that are included in the Internal Revenue Code. Clarifies provisions relating to rollovers from public retirement systems to other qualified plans, and revises language relating to maximum benefits payable to ensure the language is consistent with the Internal Revenue Code.

Georgia HB 210 Amends provisions relating to membership in the Georgia Judicial Retirement System. Clarifies that certain attorney‘s employed by the office of Legislative Counsel or the Department of Law on June 30, 2005, shall retain all rights and obligations as exist on that day. Those in this group shall be subject to all provisions of this chapter applicable to solicitors-general of the state courts, and Employer contributions shall be paid by respective employers under such Code sections.

Georgia HB 452 Provides that members of the Georgia Judicial Retirement System who become members on or after July 1, 2009, not be entitled to receive any postretirement benefit adjustments.

Georgia SB 109 Provides for each of the following Councils to pay their respective employer contributions for retirement: Superior Court Judges, State Court Judges, Juvenile Court Judges and the Prosecuting Attorneys. Requires  that each of these Councils be authorized, and directed to pay from funds appropriated or otherwise available in additional amount equal to the 5% contribution of the member plus an additional 20% so that the state contribution is in accordance with the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia

Georgia SB 177 Provides that appellate court judges who become members of the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia, and persons who become members of the Georgia Judicial Retirement System on or after July 1, 2009, not be entitled to Survivors benefits.

Kentucky HB 182 Permits the Judicial Form Retirement System board of trustees to promulgate administrative regulations to conform with federal statutes and regulations and to meet the qualification requirements under 26 U.S.C. Section 401(a).

Kentucky HB 289 Judicial Retirement Plan to honor qualified domestic relations orders if the orders meet the requirements established by the retirement systems or plan and by these sections

North Carolina HB 1507 & SB 703 Permits assets of Consolidated Judicial Retirement System and systems to may be invested in securities traded on a public securities exchange or market organized and regulated pursuant to the laws of the jurisdiction of such exchange or market (previously limited to “preferred or common stock”) . Signed into law by governor 6/11/09.

North Carolina HB 649 & SB 691 Specifies Treasurer’s responsibilities and duties regarding Consolidated Judicial Retirement System and other retirement systems. Signed into law by Governor 7/10/09.

Oklahoma HB 1110 (2009) Requires Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System deliver two reports of the fiscal activities of  the State Judicial Retirement Fund for the fiscal year to the Legislative Service Bureau. House and Senate conference committee unable to come to agreement 5/27/09.

Oklahoma HB 2357 (2010) Requires Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System deliver two reports of the fiscal activities of  the State Judicial Retirement Fund for the fiscal year to the Legislative Service Bureau. Approved by full House 2/10/10. Approved with Senate amendment by full Senate 3/29/10. To House to concur with amendment.

Oklahoma SB 1059 Makes various modifications to employer contribution rates for Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges. Requires certain funds be transferred to the Judicial Retirement Fund.  Approved by full Senate 3/9/09. Died in House.

Oklahoma SB 212 Specifies that the funded ratio for the State Judicial Retirement Fund should be at or near 90%  (previously 100%) or be receiving sufficient contributions to amortize any unfunded liability of the fund according to the adopted amortization schedule.  Modifies the Board of Trustees ability to raise employer contribution rates. Signed into law by Governor 5/26/09.

Virginia HB 1189 & SB 232 Changes member contributions for those under the Judicial Retirement System or other specified plans. Institutes a new service weight schedule based on the judge’s age at the time he or she is appointed or elected to an original term commencing July 1, 2010 Changes the requirements for unreduced early retirement benefits from 50 years of age and 30 years of creditable service, to the “Rule of 90” (combination of age and service equals 90). Approved by House and Senate 3/11/10. To Governor for approval.

OK: State courts may not reference U.S. treaties or conventions?

Late last week, Oklahoma’s House voted to amend the state constitution to ban court references to sharia law and international law. HJR 1056 would enact the “Save Our State Amendment” and would include the following as a new paragraph of the state’s Judiciary Article (Article VII):

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, and the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto in making judicial decisions.  The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.  Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression. (emphasis added)

The bill, as originally introduced, read:

The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures.  Specifically, the courts shall not consider Sharia Law, international law, the constitutions, laws, rules, regulations, and decisions of courts or tribunals of other nations, or conventions or treaties, whether or not the United States is a party. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

The original language was approved by the House Rules Committee but amended on the floor. The bill, as amended, passed on a 91-2 vote.

Legislation to ban the use of Karma, Sharia, and Canon Law by Courts

Efforts to strip courts of jurisdiction over case types, such as taxation and school funding, are nothing new. See, for example, Kansas’ SCR 1613 which would prohibit the judicial branch from directing the legislative branch make any appropriation of money or to redirect the expenditure of funds.

2010 however is perhaps the first time a state legislature has tried to stop the use of karma by the courts (although it is not clear any courts are presently using it). Arizona’s HB 2379 and SB 1026 prohibits courts from implementing, referring or incorporating or using “a tenet of any body of religious sectarian law” and specifically includes sharia law, canon law, halacha, and karma. Decisions that make use of a body of religious sectarian law or foreign law are declared void and such usages declared to be grounds for impeachment. Moreover, the bills are not just targetting Arizona’s state courts; the same legislation declares these provisions apply to Federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction and requires any court that construes the statutes must do so in a way to confine the power of Congress and the federal judiciary.

A similar bill in Oklahoma, HJR 1056, would amend that state’s constitution to prohibit the courts from “look[ing] to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider Sharia Law…” That  bill was approved by the House Rules Committee on February 4.

Judicial Removal Week: Judge Thomas Bartheld (OK)

Efforts to remove Judge Thomas Bartheld, an Oklahoma state District Court Judge, started even before the 2010 session began. Media reports of legislators planning his ouster made the news in June 2009 after Judge Bartheld sentenced a man who had pled no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl to 20 years in prison, 19 of which are suspended. The case made national headlines, with Bill O’Reilly mentioning the judge by name on his show seven times. Judge Bartheld, however, noted that “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant all agreed to this [plea bargain].”

HR 1065, filed in August 2009 for the 2010 session, asks the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary to assume jurisdiction and institute proceedings for the removal of Judge Bartheld from office. Additionally, the same legislator has introduced HJR 1079 granting the state legislature the authority to review, amend, and otherwise change criminal sentences handed down by judges and HJR 1072 allowing the state legislature to impeach District Court Judges like Bartheld. Oklahoma’s current constitutional provision only allows for the impeachment of “the Governor and other elective state officers, including the Justices of the Supreme Court… [and]…Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals.”

A poll conducted in January 2010 by the Tulsa World, however, finds most Oklahomans are unsure of these actions. While 57% find Oklahoma judges are “too lenient” in criminal cases, the state divided 45/46% on whether it should be easier for the state legislature to remove judges.