Non-state week: Puerto Rico – Legislature mandates e-filing and technology changes, creates new judicial retirement plan. Should retired judges be allowed to practice law? Should bar be involved in judicial evaluation?

In the last two years Puerto Rico’s legislature has been active with respect to the commonwealth’s judiciary. Of particular note are two Senate bills (PS 801  and PS 802) enacted in December 2013 that mandate e-filing in civil and criminal cases, respectively, as soon as possible. Also related to court technolgy is House bill PC 1860 currently on the governor’s desk, that directs the judiciary, police, and several executive branch departments and agencies to establish a uniform technological system that allows effective sharing of information between agencies so that the best performance is achieved via the Criminal Justice Information System (Sistema de Información de Justicia Criminal (SIJC)).

Also making its way into law is a new judicial retirement system. PC 1595 establishes a defined contribution and defined benefit hybrid program for future judges of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. That bill was signed into law 12/24/13.

Also active were two bills contending with the issue of retired judges that would effectively ban the former jurists from practicing law. PC 1270 as introduced would have prohibited a retired Chief Justice or President Judge of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico from representing any person before a court, administrative or quasi-judicial agency. It also prohibits such a person from providing courts/agencies legal services. As amended the bill would have allowed a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to restart their law practice, but prohibited them from appearing in court, administrative proceedings, alternative dispute forums, or generally representing people or corporations in any proceeding. Further, the amended bill provided that the person’s judicial pension is forfeited where such representations take place. It was approved by the full House 10/10/13 and is pending in the Senate Judicial, Security, and Veterans Committee. A similar bill (PC 1311) identical to the original PC 1270 remains in the House Labor and Public Service Retirement Systems Committee.

Finally, the House approved a plan to restore the Bar Association of Puerto Rico’s power to evaluate nominations of judges to fill seats on courts and to re-evaluate those seeking reappointment or promotion to a higher court. PC 1356  was approved by the full House 10/21/13 and remains pending in the Judiciary, Security, and Veterans Committee.

Additional bills currently pending below the fold.

Continue reading Non-state week: Puerto Rico – Legislature mandates e-filing and technology changes, creates new judicial retirement plan. Should retired judges be allowed to practice law? Should bar be involved in judicial evaluation?

Non-state week 2014: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

In 2011 Gavel to Gavel began a semi-regular practice of focusing a week on these specific non-states and that practice continues for a week starting today.

Puerto Rico: Legislature moves for specialized divisions/courts; Senate investigation over possible misuse of court staff

The 2011/2012 regular and special sessions of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico have focused on the creation of specialized courts/dockets within the Commonwealth’s courts. Among the proposals:

PC 910 Creates special labor-relations courts (“Salas de Asuntos Laborales”) as divisions of the main trial court (El Tribunal de Primera Instancia). Grants Office of Court Administration power to create regulations for operation of new divisions. Approved by full House with Senate amendments 6/29/12. To Governor for approval.

PC 3693 Requires Office of Ombudsman for Woman offer training to judges at least twice a year on the issue of domestic violence. Approved by full House  6/25/12.

PC 3988 Establishes special courts for claims of damages for negligence on the hospital medical malpractice. Directs Judicial Branch create special chambers for up to 6 months as divisions of the main trial court to handle such cases. Requires judges assigned have specialized training regarding hospital medical malpractice. Grants Office of Court Administration power to create regulations for new chambers. Approved by full House  6/22/12. Approved by Senate Health Committee 6/25/12.

PS 2362 Creates Veterans Courts Pilot Program. Approved by Senate Public Safety and Judicial Affairs & Labor, Veterans Affairs and Human Resources Committees 6/25/12.

PS 2522 Directs Supreme Court create special chambers as divisions of the main trial court to handle murder trials. Provides the chambers are to be presided over by current or former judges specialized in criminal cases appointed by the Supreme Court. Grants Office of Court Administration power to create regulations for new chambers. Requires Office of Court Administration report on special chambers and practices within 12 months of implementation. Signed into law by Governor 6/24/12.

 

In addition in late 2011 there were accusations that the Commonwealth’s Chief Justice had misused government vehicles and escorts (contemporary news accounts can be found here, here, and here). Resulting in an ongoing Senate investigation.

RC 1963 Directs House Finance and Judiciary Committees investigate accusations of misuse of public funds by Chief Justice. Reports due to legislature by December 31, 2012. In House Internal Affairs Committee.

RS 2509 Directs Senate Public Security and Judicial Affairs Committee investigate recent allegations of irregularities in use of public funds and property administered by the Judicial Branch and the criteria use  by judicial officers with respect to their administrative powers. Requires report be completed within 60 days. Approved by full Senate 12/14/11. House approval not required.

RS 2539 Amends RS 2509 to include possible interference and misuse of such judicial officers with administrative powers in the adjudication of disputes pending before the Judicial Branch and to extend the term to present the report findings. Extends deadline to end of legislative session. Approved by full Senate 1/19/12. House approval not required.

RS 2654 Amends RS 2509 to extend deadline for reports to December 31, 2012. Approved by full Senate 3/29/12. House approval not required.

Non-state week 2012: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

In 2011 Gavel to Gavel began an annual practice of focusing a week on these specific non-states and that practice continues for a week starting today.

With increased interest in drug testing welfare recipients, several states consider drug testing judges

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states in 2011 entertained proposals for drug testing applicants for welfare and food stamps. Arizona, Florida, and Missouri enacted such proposals, and at least one Presidential candidate has entertained the idea.

The last time the issue came up in the mid to late 1990s, several attempts were made to impose the same conditions on not only the legislators enacting such laws, but on judges as well.

In 1997, the same year Louisiana mandated drug testing for certain adult recipients of public assistance (HB 2435), the state enacted a process for random drug testing of all “elected officials” (HB 646). The elected officials plan was struck down in 1998 by the Federal courts when Justice of the Peace Phillip O’Neill and other elected officials challenged the law. (O’Neill v. Louisiana., E.D. La. 1998, 61 F.Supp.2d 485, affirmed 197 F.3d 1169, cert. denied 120 S.Ct. 2740, 530 U.S. 1274, 147 L.Ed.2d 2005).

Undaunted, in 2006 an amendment to the Louisiana constitution (SB 274 of 2006) and bill (SB 361) were introduced that specifically targeted state judges for drug testing and that repeated almost verbatim the text of the law struck down by the federal courts, most particularly in the legislative declaration portion of the bills.

The legislature declares the interest of the state in ensuring that those who are elected to serve in public office as judges in any trial or appellate court within this state are persons who have a respect for the laws they are sworn to uphold and are persons of integrity, sound judgment, reliability, and seriousness of purpose. The legislature finds that judges are in a critical position to protect the citizens of the state of Louisiana from the numerous illegal activities associated with illegal drugs, and to ensure access to courts and other constitutional rights. The legislature finds that the use of illegal drugs by judges will put the citizens of the state of Louisiana in danger because judges who use illegal drugs cannot provide the state and its citizens with fair and impartial trials. The legislature finds that the use of illegal drugs which may impair the physical or mental ability of a judge to function effectively in all aspects of his duties cannot be condoned, and therefore the state has a compelling interest in establishing a requirement that all judges demonstrate that they do not use illegal drugs, without the necessity of showing any measure of individualized suspicion.

Interestingly, when Louisiana tried again in 2010 for a voluntary drug testing (and psychological evaluation) program for elected officials (HB 1352) it was focused only on statewide elected officials in the executive branch listed in Art. IV, Sec. 3 of the state constitution and legislators.

Several similar bills, either targeting judges in particular or sweeping them in as “elected officials”, have been introduced in state legislatures. Many seek to avoid the Fourth Amendment problems found by the O’Neill court by making the programs voluntary. Most recently South Carolina’s Senate in 2008 approved a voluntary plan for testing that state’s judges, however the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee and was apparently never reintroduced.

2011

Ohio HB 343 Mandatory drug testing for Supreme Court Justices, members of the General Assembly, the board of directors of JobsOhio, and recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program money. Carried over into 2012 session.

Oklahoma SB 538 Mandatory drug testing for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and all “state elected officials”. Those declining must submit to substance abuse program. Carried over into 2012 session.

Puerto Rico PC 3215 Requires all individuals nominated for a judicial office submit a hair sample for drug testing (previously discussed here). Carried over into 2012 session.

2009

Oregon HB 2635 Mandatory drug testing for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges and other elected officials specified by title. Died in committee.

2008

South Carolina SB 1070 Voluntary for any “popularly elected office or an office elected by the General Assembly”. (In South Carolina, judges are elected by the General Assembly). Approved by full Senate. Died in House.

2007

New Mexico SB 36 Voluntary drug testing for all “elected officials”. Died in committee.

Oregon HB 2306 Mandatory drug testing for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges and other elected officials specified by title. Died in committee.

2006

Missouri HB 1646 Mandatory drug testing for “all state elected officials”. Died in committee.

Louisiana SB 274 (Constitutional Amendment) Requires judiciary commission develop and implement a program of random drug testing for elected judges. Died in committee.

Louisiana SB 361 Requires judiciary commission develop and implement a program of random drug testing for elected judges. Died in committee.

2005

New Mexico SB 20 Voluntary drug testing for all “elected officials”. Died in committee.

Puerto Rico: Bill would require drug testing of all judicial nominees

Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly (Asamblea Legislativa de Puerto Rico)  has contended with many of the same issues as their counterpart legislatures in states. One bill in particular, however, stands out. PC 3215 requires all individuals nominated for a judicial office submit a hair sample for drug testing. The bill’s explanatory statement cites to a similar 1997 law in place that requires drug testing for public sector employees and directs the legislative and judicial branches to create similar procedures for their employees. PC 3125 is pending in the House Judiciary and Ethics Committee.

Additional bills currently pending include:

PC = Proyectos Camara = House Bill

PS = Proyectos Senado = Senate Bill

PC 3189 Requires mandatory judicial education for judges of the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeals include instruction in public security, and changes in policies and procedures related to the Penal Law, Law of Arms, Law of Explosives, Law of Controlled Substances, Law for the Prevention of and Intervention in Domestic Violence and the Vehicle Law. In House Judiciary and Ethics Committee.

PC 3355  Requires mandatory judicial education system include training sessions every two years on issues of abuse and child protection and changes in policies and procedures related to the “Law to Ensure the Future and Puerto Rican Child Protection.” In House Families and Communities Committee.

PC 3398 Creates medical malpractice specialized courts as special divisions of the Court of First Instance in all 13 judicial regions. Requires Chief Justice assign to these courts judges with education in the area of medical malpractice. In House Judiciary and Ethics Committee.

PS 2093 Directs Supreme Court to establish “Salas Especializadas para Sumariados” (Special Summary Courts) inside correctional facilities to help speedily  determine matters related probable cause for arrest, preliminary view, bail amount and conditions, and arraignment.

 

Non-state week 2011: A look at legislation affecting the non-state courts of the United States

Since its establishment in 2006 as a set of spreadsheets, Gavel to Gavel maintained itself as “A review of state legislation affecting the courts.” However, this has admitted and regrettably given short shrift to the other parts of the United States that are not states:

  1. Territory of American Samoa
  2. Territory of Guam
  3. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  4. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
  5. United States Virgin Islands
  6. District of Columbia

This week will be dedicated to rectifying that oversight, starting today with a look at the Chief Justice of Guam’s state of the judiciary and his proposal to put a new form of judicial funding in the territory’s “Organic Act” (effectively, the constitution for the territory).