Texas: House and Senate approve plan to end straight ticket voting for judicial & other races, but lawsuits planned

When Texas’ chief justice in his State of the Judiciary address brought up the issue of ending straight ticket voting (STV) for judicial races I wondered what that legislation might look like. Would it end STV for judicial races only? Some judicial races?

The answer now appears to be all races, judicial included. HB 25, as amended and soon to be sent to the governor, ends STV for all elected offices.

News reports indicate that if enacted, the law would almost certainly face a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act, with opponents citing to a 2016 federal court ruling that stopped Michigan’s end to STV (Michigan judges run in nonpartisan general election contests and therefore were not under STV at any rate, as can be seen in this example from 2014).

 

Texas: House approves 133-2 constitutional amendment to alter qualifications for judicial office; efforts to extend terms and give legislature power to set additional qualifications stricken

Last week the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to change the qualifications for the state’s top courts.

Under HJR 10 of 2017 as amended and approved by the House:

Appellate Courts: HJR 10 requires

  • 10 years of service as a judge of a state court or county court created by the Legislature (previously “court of record”) or
  • 10 years as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 10 years.
  • During the 10-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

There was a requirement that the 10 years of service be “consecutive”, however that was amended out on the House floor.

Although addressing only the Supreme Court, other provisions in the state’s constitution provide that judges and chief/presiding judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals (Art. V, Sec. 4) and the Court of Appeals must have the “same qualifications” as their Supreme Court counterparts (Art. V, Sec. 6).

District Court:

  • 6 years (up from 4 years) of service as a judge of a court in the state or
  • 6 years (up from 4 years) as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 6 years (up from 4 years).
  • During the 6-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

New Legislative Power to Add Qualifications: The plan as approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provided the Legislature could by general law require additional qualifications to be eligible to serve as an appellate or District Court judge. Oklahoma has a similar provision in their constitution, discussed here. A floor amendment to HJR 10 removed that provision from the bill.

Increase in Terms: HJR 10 as introduced would also have extended the terms for the courts, with the appellate courts going from 6 years to 8 years and the District Courts from 4 years to 6 years. Those provisions were removed in committee.

 

Texas: House committee approves 3-part formula to set judicial salaries; computation includes other states + US Court of Appeals + in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been approved by a House committee.

HB 3971 as amended and approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provides two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a justice of the Supreme Court other than chief justice would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys in Texas employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

 

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Efforts to ban state courts from using or referencing foreign/international law in general, and sharia law in particular, continue apace with two legislatures approving versions while a bill in North Dakota was rejected.

Arkansas enacted a ban (HB 1041). An earlier version noted here would have re-declared that marriage in Arkansas was limited to a man and a woman, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying the opposite. The amended/enacted HB 1041 provides

A court ruling or decision violates the public policy of this state and is void and unenforceable if the court bases its ruling or decision in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code, or system that does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision one (1) or more of the following fundamental rights, liberties, and privileges granted under the Arkansas Constitution or the United States Constitution:
(1) The right to due process;
(2) The right to equal protection;
(3) Freedom of religion;
(4) Freedom of speech;
(5) Freedom of the press;
(6) The right to keep and bear arms;
(7) The right to privacy; or
(8) The right to marry, as “marriage” is defined by the Arkansas Constitution, to the extent that the definition of marriage does not conflict with federal law or a holding by the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the Montana legislature approved a version (SB 97) that is currently pending on the governor’s desk that reads in operative part

A court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision violates the public policy of Montana and is void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its ruling or decision on a law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the Montana constitution or the United States constitution, including but not limited to due process, equal protection, freedom of religion, speech, or press, the right to keep and bear arms, and any right of privacy or marriage.

Finally, North Dakota’s House approved HB 1425 in February, but in late March the Senate rejected the proposal. At issue was the situation similar to Arkansas, namely, that the bill would have attempted to re-establish a ban on same-sex marriage. Senators objected to the marriage provision and amended it out, but also worried this was an “insult to our judges” and assumes North Dakota judges would violate the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions without this bill.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Texas: Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017 clears Senate committee 7-0

A bill that would implement portions of the Texas Judicial Council review of security in the state has cleared the Senate. SB 42, originally discussed here, was passed by the Senate State Affairs committee today. The bill, as committee substituted, is named after Travis County District Judge Julie Kocurek who was the victim of an attempted assassination in 2015.

SB 42 makes numerous changes to laws related to court security, including

Certified Court Security Officers Requirement

  • Prohibits a person from serving as a court security officer unless the person holds a court security certification issued by a training program approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
  • Requires TCOLE create model court security curriculum in consultation with the Office of Court Administration (OCA).
  • Grants person providing court security 1 year to obtain certification from date officer beings providing court security; currently serving officers have until September 1, 2019.
  • Requires the sheriff, constable, law enforcement agency, or other entity that provides security for a court to verify that each court security officer holds the required certification.

Court Security Committees (CSCs)

  • Requires the presiding judge, municipal judge, or local administrative judge (as applicable) of every court create a CSC and sets their composition.
  • Requires the CSCs establish the policies and procedures necessary to provide adequate security to the court(s).
  • Authorizes a CSC to recommend to county commissioners the uses of resources and expenditures of money for courthouse security, but prohibits a CSC from directing the assignment of those resources or the expenditure of those funds.

Training Fund

  • Creates a $5 fee on filings to go toward the existing Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund.
  • Requires that the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s court of last resort in criminal cases) grant legal funds to statewide professional associations and other entities that provide training to individuals responsible for providing court security.
  • Requires the legislature appropriate from the Judicial and Court Personnel Training Fund money to the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide for, among certain programs, court security training programs for individuals responsible for providing court security.

Court Incident Reporting

  • Provides the sheriff or other law enforcement agency or entity that provides security for a court shall provide to the Office of Court Administration a written report regarding any court/courthouse security incident. A 2007 law currently places that responsibility on the local administrative judges.

Office of Court Administration,  Judicial Security Division

  • Requires OCA establish a judicial security division to provide guidance to state court personnel on improving security for each court.
  • Requires the Director of OCA to notify county registrars, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), and any other state agency OCA determines should be notified of the judges, judges’ spouses, and related family members whose personal information must be kept from public records, as provided under Government Code 552.117.

Public Release/Availability of Personal Information on Judges

  • Defines “state judge” for purposes of non-release of personal information about “state judges”.
  • Include a current or former federal judge or state judge or a spouse of a current or former federal judge or state judge or a current or former district attorney, criminal district attorney, or county attorney whose jurisdiction includes any criminal law or child protective services matter, as persons whose information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 (Availability of Public Information) if it is information that relates to certain personal information.
  • Allow judges to remove for themselves and their spouses their home addresses and other personal information from public records required to file for office, including information held by
    • the Texas Ethics Commission
    • local county registrars (related to voter registration)
    • local county clerks
    • tax appraisal records
    • driver’s licenses, and in lieu of personal address use courthouse address

Protection For Judges

  • Authorizes any commissioned peace officer, including a commissioned officer of the Department of Public Safety, to provide personal security to a state judge at any location, regardless of the location of the law enforcement agency or department that employs or commissions the peace officer.

Texas: judicial salary plan calls for 3-part formula; computation includes other states, US Court of Appeals, in-state first year attorneys

A unique plan to change the way Texas sets judicial salaries has been introduced in the House and Senate.

HB 3971 / SB 1938 provide two major changes:

1) Most state judicial salaries would be set as a percentage of the salary of a justice of the Texas Supreme Court (other than chief justice). Presently District Courts receive a salary equal “of at least $125,000” made up of state and county funds. Judges of the Court of Appeals would receive a salary equal to 91% of a Supreme Court justice; they currently make 110% of a District Court justice.

2) The salary of a Texas Supreme Court justice (other than Chief Justice) would be set annually using a three-part formula

1/3 of the average salary of the justices (other than chief justices) of the highest appellate courts of the 9 most populous states

+

1/3 of the salary of a judge of the US Court of Appeals

+

1/3 average starting base salary of first-year associate attorneys employed with the five private law firms with the largest number of attorneys licensed in Texas

Data for these computations would come from the Office of Court Administration and the state bar.

The formula would have a limit, however. Under no circumstances could an adjustment in salary be greater than 4% or the % increase in CPI for the last year.

Texas: bill to end straight-ticket voting, including for judicial races, clears first committee; former judge noted impact of STV on judiciary

A Texas bill that would end straight-ticket voting (STV) for all  races, including judicial ones, cleared the House Elections Committee earlier this week.

The move to end straight-ticket voting comes after the state’s chief justice call to end the practice for judicial races in his state of the judiciary address and backing by the Speaker of the House.

During testimony at least one judge noted the impact straight-ticket voting has on the judiciary.

Another notable witness was Erin Lunceford, a Harris County judge, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015, who said she was swept out of office with partisan tides in the 2016 general election.

Lunceford, who ran as a Republican, in a county that voted majority Democrat, said she lost to her Democrat opponent, who has never even tried a case before.

She said without taking into account those who voted straight-ticket, she would have won the election by a 10-point margin.

HB 25 cleared the Elections Committee on a 5-2 party-line vote. The bill’s Senate counterpart SB 2175 has yet to be taken up. A bill to end straight-ticket voting for judicial races only (SB 1989) also has not been taken up.