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.

HOUSE

PC 190: Requires judges of the Court of First Instance and judges of the Court of Appeal receive training on the Law for the Protection and Intervention in Domestic Violence every two years. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 319: Requires all judges upon appointment undergo drug testing. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 604: Requires annual judicial training for judges of the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals on public safety issues, and changes in policies and procedures related to the Criminal Code of Puerto Rico, Arms Act, Explosives Act, Controlled Substances Act, Law on Prevention and Intervention in Domestic Violence and Vehicle Ownership Act. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 1319: Specifies that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will be responsible for managing and overseeing all court officials under the Uniform Service of the Judicial Branch. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 1338: Requires annual drug testing of all judges. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 1602: Allows for early retirement of judges and adjusts pension benefit, age requirements and years of service for early retirement. In House Labor and Public Service Retirement Systems Committee.

PC 1957: Requires Judiciary work with Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to set aside rooms in correctional institutions themselves to handle cases in order to avoid cost/concerns raised in transporting to courthouse. In House Judiciary Committee.

PC 1996: Moves Office of Pretrial Services from Executive to Judicial Branch. In House Government Committee.

SENATE

PS 368: Restores or reassigns back to Chief Justice or President Justice of the Supreme Court certain powers removed by law in the last several years including assignment of judges to Judicial Evaluation Commission. Signed into law 6/17/14.

PS 592: Requires creation of drug courts in each judicial region. In Senate Judiciary, Security, and Veterans Committee.

PS 1018: Mandates creation of “Specialized Economic Crimes Chamber” of trial court to handle cases involving financial scams, tax, or customs offenses. In Senate Judiciary, Security, and Veterans Committee.

PS 1119: Requires notification to judge who presided over criminal trial when prisoner convicted in trial is released. In Senate Judiciary, Security, and Veterans Committee.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

RKC 7: Specifies Governor’s power to appoint judges subject to Senate confirmation is limited to the Supreme Court only and that selection of judges of lower courts is to be set by law. In House Judiciary Committee.

RKC 11: Specifies Governor has no power to appoint judges and that judges are to be appointed/selected in a manner set by law. In House Judiciary Committee.

RKC 13: Increases mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 80. In House Judiciary Committee.

RESOLUTIONS

RC 82: Directs House Judiciary Committee investigate possibility of mandating trial judges to explain their criminal decisions in writing in all cases. In House Internal Affairs Committee.

RC 407: Directs House Judiciary Committee investigate current operation of the Bureau of Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution, attached to the Office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, and evaluate its goals and purposes. In House Internal Affairs Committee.

RC 463: Directs House Committees on Government, Judiciary, along with Finance and Budget conduct research, evaluation and review of Judicial Branch and Executive Branch salaries, benefits, and bonuses. Approved by full House 9/3/13. No further approvals required.

RC 896: Directs House Judiciary Committee perform a comprehensive assessment on the legal basis and the Governor’s constitutional authority to send for advice and consent of the Senate of Puerto Rico the appointment of Chief Justice Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. In House Internal Affairs Committee.

RC 992: Directs House Judiciary Committee investigate arrest of Chief Judge Manuel Acevedo Hernández. In House Internal Affairs Committee.