Texas bill would require courts, judicial agencies post “high-value data sets” online

Cross-posted to Court Technology Bulletin.

Novelist and attorney George Higgins once quipped that “Data is what distinguishes the dilettante from the artist.” Whether true or not, the press for data, especially from courts, is an ongoing saga.

Into this comes Texas’ SB 701 of 2011. The bill, as approved on a 31-0 vote of the the Texas Senate last week, would require “state agencies” (which for these purposes include any “board, commission, office, department, or other agency in the…judicial…branch of state government”) to post high-value data sets online. Said “high-value data” must:

  1. be raw data;
  2. in an open standard format that allows the public to search, extract, organize, and analyze the information;
  3. accessible from the the agency’s Internet website home page under a uniform resource locator suffix “data”; and
  4. be not more than two mouse clicks from the agency’s Internet website home page

So, what is a “high-value data set”? According to the bill, it includes any information that meets any of the following criteria:

  1. can be used to increase state agency accountability and responsiveness
  2. improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations
  3. further the core mission of the agency
  4. create economic opportunity
  5. respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation

Explicitly excluded is any information that is confidential or protected from disclosure under state or federal law. But things get even more interesting in the other exceptions. Data need be posted if and only if the “state agency”:

  1. determines that, using existing resources, the agency can post the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  2. enters into a contract advantageous to the state under which the contractor posts the data set on the Internet website at no additional cost to the state; or
  3. receives a gift or grant specifically for the purpose of posting one or more of the agency’s high-value data sets on the Internet website.

The bill is currently pending in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Welcome New York Times readers!

This post has been updated. Click here.

In the March update (located here) there were 42 bills introduced in 2011 in 20 states seeking to ban court use of sharia/international law. That number is now up to 44 bills in 21 states.

  • Arizona’s “new” bill was really a strike-all amendment to a completely unrelated bill HB 2064. The resulting bill was approved April 7 and is currently sitting on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.
  • North Carolina HB 640 was introduced April 5 and is currently pending in the House Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee C.

In addition to Arizona, bills in 6 other states advanced out of their committees or chambers, including Alabama SB 61 and SB 62, Alaska HB 88,  Florida SB 1294, Kansas HB 2087, Missouri HB 708, and Oklahoma HB 1552. Additionally, hearings were conducted in Texas and Missouri. All 2011 activity is in bold below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions 2011: Southern States

Alabama HB 414 Provides for increases in employee contributions for retirement to Judicial Retirement Fund:  7.25% of salary (May 2011 – October 2011); 8.4% (October 2011 – October 2012); 9% (October 2012 onward).

Florida HB 1139 & SB 290 Provides after July 2011, all judges/justices are to receive judicial retirement credit of 2% (currently 3.33%) of average final compensation for each year of creditable service as a judge/justice.

Florida HB 1405 Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 7.26%. Reduces the disability rate for justices and judges to one third of his or her monthly compensation. AMENDED: Changes employer contribution rates for judges/justices from 20.65% to 15.19%. Establishes additional employer contribution rates for the purpose of funding the unfunded actuarial liabilities: 0.39% (effective July 2011) and 12.05% (effective July 2012). Removes reduction and maintains the current disability benefit for justices and judges.

Georgia HB 250 Provides Georgia Judicial Retirement System member who rejected survivor’s benefits may elect such benefits by paying the actuarial cost. For those becoming members allows one-time election to convert the retirement allowance otherwise payable to him or her into a modified retirement allowance of equivalent actuarial value and designate a natural person to receive. Provides for the event of death or divorce of member of system and for the payment of the remainder of a member’s accumulated contributions.

Georgia HB 344 Provides juvenile court judges and other members of Georgia Judicial Retirement System may obtain creditable service for prior service as a full-time associate juvenile court judge.

Georgia HB 533 Permits transfer of funds from the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia to the Georgia Judicial Retirement System by judges and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Georgia HB 542 Permits transfer of funds from the Georgia Judicial Retirement System to the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia and to obtain creditable service. Expands transfer of funds authority to include juvenile court judges.

Kentucky HB 480 ORIGINAL: Requires members of the Judicial Form Retirement System and other specified retirement systems who are not subject to legislative or judicial branch code of ethics shall be subject to the executive branch code of ethics. Requires the audit of the Judicial Form Retirement System by the Auditor of Public Accounts at least once every five years and require the system to pay all costs of the audit. Prohibits members of the Judicial Form Retirement System from serving more than three consecutive terms of office on the board and prohibits the board chairman from serving more than six consecutive years as chairman. Prohibits assets of the Judicial Form Retirement System from being used to pay placement agents. Requires the Judicial Form Retirement System to make system expenditures and employee salaries available on a Web site. Establishes conflict-of-interest provisions applicable to trustees and employees of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System. AMENDED: Deletes measures affecting the Judicial Form Retirement System board term limits, board chair term limits, expand or establish conflicts of interest requirements for board members and employees of the board; require the Auditor of Public Accounts to conduct the system financial audit.

Kentucky SB 2 Closes Judicial Retirement Plan to new members effective July 1, 2012. Allows those in Judicial Retirement Plan with less than 5 years of service to transfer their membership and account balance to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Maryland SB 6 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Maryland SB 735 Provides that, on or after July 1, 2011, an individual not already a member of the Judges’ Retirement System may not join.

Mississippi HB 464 & SB 2154 Includes all remuneration or amounts paid (except mileage allowance) to Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Court of Appeals as “earned compensation” for retirement fund purposes.

Oklahoma HB 1005 Creates the Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine Judges and Justice Retirement System and other systems.

Oklahoma HB 1006 Creates Task Force on Pension Benefit Funding and Security to examine judge’s retirement system and other retirement systems.

Oklahoma HB 1010 AS AMENDED: Modifies provisions related to normal retirement age for members entering the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges on or after January 1, 2012. Eliminates the provision whereby a member with 8 years of judicial service may retire when the sum of their age and years of service equals or exceeds 80. Decreases the multiplier used to calculate the retirement benefit for members entering  on or after January 1, 2012 from 4% to 2%.

Oklahoma HB 2057 Prohibits cost of living adjustment for Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges unless system has a funded ratio which equals or exceeds85%

Oklahoma HB 2132 Modifies judicial and other retirement systems funding ratios and cost of living adjustments. Changes the definition of a “nonfiscal retirement bill” by removing the provision that allows a cost-of-living increase to be considered nonfiscal. Stipulates that any retirement bill having a fiscal impact is subject to the statutory requirements related to concurrent funding.

Oklahoma SB 53 Eliminates provision allowing up to five years of prior military service to be entered as credit towards the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges.

Oklahoma SB 310 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SB 311 Creates the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges Reform Act of 2011 (placeholder).

Oklahoma SJR 19 (Constitutional Amendment) Requires the Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges to have a funded ratio which equals or exceeds 90%.

South Carolina HB 3568 & SB 531 Closes state retirement system for judges and solicitors to future judges and requires they enroll in state’s retirement investment plan instead.

Tennessee HB 1622SB 1498 Revises retirement provisions for general sessions judges from Group 1 to Group 4 level.

Texas HB 390 & SB 1223 Modifies service retirement annuity for appellate judges under the Judicial Retirement System Plan Two.

Mid-session update: 42 bills in 20 states seek to ban court use of sharia/international law (with list and links)

Welcome ABA Journal readers! This post has been updated, here.

We are about half way through the 2011 state legislative season and so far there have been 42 bills in 2011 to ban or otherwise restrict court references or use to sharia/international law.

Prior 2011 posts on the subject can be found here, here, and here.

Below is an update on the current (as of 3/14/11) status of such efforts. Hearings coming up this week include Alaska HB 88, Missouri HB 708, Missouri SB 308, and Nebraska LB 647.

Interestingly, some of the most recently filed bills (Iowa HB 489 filed March 2;  Maine HB 811 filed March 15; West Virginia HB 3220 filed February 21) now provide that foreign law cannot be the “primary factor which a court…shall consider”.

Continue reading Mid-session update: 42 bills in 20 states seek to ban court use of sharia/international law (with list and links)

TX State of the Judiciary: End straight ticket voting for judges, support access to justice and indigent defense

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

On February 23, Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson delivered his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the legislature, per  HCR 43 adopted earlier in February. As HCR 43 notes, the speech has a statutory basis. Section 21.004 Government Code, provides:

(a) At a convenient time at the commencement of each regular session of the legislature, the chief justice of the supreme court shall deliver a written or oral state of the judiciary message evaluating the accessibility of the courts to the citizens of the state and the future directions and needs of the courts of the state.

(b) It is the intent of the legislature that the state of the judiciary message promote better understanding between the legislative and judicial branches of government and promote more efficient administration of justice in Texas.

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:

I have the privilege of addressing, in this room, the great leaders of our state, who have a vision for a better Texas; the passion to move public policy toward that end. Today, I am calling for action, on several fronts.

Juvenile Justice
The Supreme Court of Texas hears only civil matters. But by constitution, custom, and statute, we also have jurisdiction over juvenile cases. Those files cross our desks from time to time. We read the record, apply the law, and move on to the next case. I got a call a few months ago from a judge who said: “Chief, I would like you to see the faces behind those files.” And so I sat in on Judge Jeanne Meurer’s court and observed a day in the lives of families dealing with juvenile offenders
So let me announce my first plea for action. This one is easy. Jeanne Meurer is in the trenches, she knows how to reach these kids, she understands the challenges facing our parents and schools. When Jeanne Meurer calls you, and asks for your help, file the bill, appropriate the funds, sign the Act.

Access to Justice
We are a nation and state that believes the law provides protection for those who are most powerful, for those who are most vulnerable. But today, the courthouse door is closed to many who have lost their jobs, to military veterans who are on the streets, to women who suffer physical abuse
Here, then, is my second call to action. Even in the face of a tremendous budget crisis, I ask the Legislature to duplicate what it courageously did last Session and appropriate $20 million from general revenue for basic civil legal services. Advance legislation that would add a small fee to case filings, so that money is available to help Texans secure the legal rights that our constitution and laws give them.

Indigent Defense
Our commitment to equal justice does not end with civil justice. Recent efforts to find and rectify wrongful convictions in Texas provide a promising example of how our courts are working to free the innocent…We in the judiciary are trying to do our part. The Court of Criminal Appeals’ Criminal Justice Integrity Unit organized a two-day Forensic Science Seminar, educating more than 400 attorneys, judges, police officers, legislators, and lab personnel on evidence standards and specific sciences. The judicial Task Force on Indigent Defense recently helped establish the Harris County Public Defender’s Office
My third call for action is to ask this Legislature to support these efforts to make our criminal justice system fair. I commend Senator Ellis for his work on these issues and I commend those of you in this room who will work to pass the bills, and fund the projects, that will ensure no innocent person languishes in our prisons.

Judicial Selection

All that I have discussed depends on an impartial system of justice overseen by the judicial branch. We lost one of that branch’s greatest leaders, Joe Greenhill, less than two weeks ago. He told me once that he regretted that Texas has continued to elect judges on a partisan basis. I regret it, too. A justice system built on some notion of Democratic judging or Republican judging is a system that cannot be trusted. I urge the Legislature to send the people a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to be selected on their merit. If we do not reform the process completely, judicial elections can at least be changed. And so my final call to action is that we consider common-sense solutions to the problems that plague partisan election of judges.

First, I would eliminate straight-ticket voting that allows judges to be swept from the bench…Let’s extend terms for state judges, from four years to six for district court judges, and from six years to eight for appellate court judges.. And let’s bring sense to the process to allow a judge appointed to an unexpired term to serve a full term before having to face the voters. That will give her or him experience and – this is important – a record to run on.

The Past, Present, and Future of the Judiciary in Texas
Led by public officials and private citizens, the Task Force has found documents about Sam Houston, litigation surrounding American Indians, immigration records in Galveston County – some of your families first came to Texas through that port – and about other exciting periods in our history. This session, the Legislature will be asked to address whether court clerks should retain such historic records. My recommendation is an emphatic yes. These documents are our living history: the parchment of our past. They prove to us, not only that we rose from the severest of circumstances, but that we forged ahead, and became stronger for it.

I ask you to take action this Session. Give us the assurance that, at this crucial juncture, we did not turn our backs on the neediest among us, but continued to serve them as the Constitution so strongly demands.

Texas bill would require Office of Court Administration put list of vexatious litigants online

Texas’ HB 720 was approved yesterday by that state’s House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence. The bill’s primary aim is to explicitly permit a person who has been found to be a vexatious litigant (and thus under an order requiring prior approval before additional filings)  may appeal the designation to a court of appeals.

Another portion of the bill, however, would modify an existing law that requires the state Office of Court Administration keep a list of vexatious litigants. That list must currently be send annually to the clerks of all courts in the state. If approved, Section 11.104(b) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code would delete the annual distribution requirement and instead require the list be posted online, along with an indication of whether the person has filed an appeal of the designation.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Arizona and die in Mississippi and South Dakota

Readers may recall that I have examined efforts to prohibit state courts from using or referencing sharia or international law (see here and here). Last week some of these bills began to move through the legislative process, so an update seemed in order: Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Arizona and die in Mississippi and South Dakota