Louisiana: bill would require judges to file annual financial statements, mandatory ethics training; separation of powers debate comes back after 2008 agreement

A bill prefiled in the Louisiana House would require elected and appointed judges in the state to follow the same financial disclosure statute as other officials.

SB 44 as filed would require judges file annual financial statements and attend mandatory ethics training.

Some background: the law in question was adopted in 2008. At the time of introduction, HB 1 of the First Extraordinary Session of 2008 included judges in the required annual financial statements and mandatory ethics training and placed enforcement in the hands of an executive branch agency.

As I wrote, this struck some as a possible separation of powers, including the state’s Chief Justice who wrote a letter asking the legislature to remove the provision related to judges, assuring that the Supreme Court would issue rules with the same effect.

Ultimately the solution was that the Senate adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court to impose financial disclosure on the judges similar to what had been adopted by law for the other officials (SR 6). The Supreme Court in fact did adopt a financial disclosure rule (Supreme Court Rule XXXIX) except for justices of the peace.

Despite the agreement reached in 2008, this isn’t the first time legislators have tried to statutorily impose disclosure on judges.

In 2010 SB 72 was filed to place judges under the provisions of the existing law. It was filed but failed to advance out of committee.

In 2015 several legislative efforts were made, starting again with putting judges under the existing statute (HB 294). It was heard in committee in May of that year. After the hearing the House considered HCR 195 and HR 127. Both requested the Louisiana Supreme Court make judicial financial disclosure reports available for viewing on the internet.  The HR was approved by the House, the HCR was never taken up.



Florida: Bill set for hearing tomorrow spells out relationship of courts, judges, and sheriffs regarding court security

A change in the way Florida’s court security is arranged may be in the offing. F.S. 30.15 spells out the “powers, duties, and obligations” of local sheriffs. Under HB 7089 as filed those may be changing.

HB 7089 is an omnibus public safety bill and includes over 80 pages of changes to various state laws, including F.S. 30.15, by adding a new section added regarding court security.

  1. Sheriffs would be explicitly required to “provide security for trial court facilities.” Current law provides they are to “Attend all sessions of the circuit court and county court held in their counties.”
  2. Sheriffs would be required to coordinate with the chief judge of the judicial circuit in which their county is located on all security matters for such facilities.
  3. Sheriffs would still retain operational control over the manner in which security is provided.
  4. Pursuant to F.S. 26.49 (which declares the sheriff of the county shall be the executive officer of the circuit court of the county), sheriffs and their deputies, employees, and contractors are officers of the court when providing security for trial court facilities.
  5. The chief judge of the judicial circuit shall have decisionmaking authority to ensure the protection of due process rights, including, but not limited to, the scheduling and conduct of trials and other judicial proceedings, as part of his or her responsibility for the administrative supervision of the trial courts pursuant to F.S. 43.26 (detailing the powers of chief judges).

HB 7089 is being heard in the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow.

Oklahoma: plan to let county employees carry guns into courthouses modified in House committee

A plan to let more people carry guns into Oklahoma courthouses was modified by a House committee last week.

HB 2527 as originally filed and discussed here provided all county employees, not just elected officials as in a 2017 law that expanded courthouse carry, with the ability to carry concealed weapons “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which he or she is employed.”

HB 2527 was amended in the House Public Safety Committee to allow for the county board of commissioners to make the decision.

The board of county commissioners of any county may designate certain employees of the county, who possess a valid handgun license issued pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, to carry a concealed handgun when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which the person is employed. The provisions of this paragraph shall not allow the county employee to carry the handgun into a courtroom.

HB 2527 now goes to the full House.

Oklahoma: House Resolution asks judicial disciplinary commission to remove judge who accepted a plea bargain in a child rape case; similar resolutions filed in 2010 & 2011

Yesterday a resolution was filed in the Oklahoma House asking for the state’s judicial disciplinary commission (Court on the Judiciary, Trial Division) to investigate District Judge Wallace Coppedge and remove him from office.

Judge Coppedge is accused of violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct in accepting the plea deal agreed to by the prosecutor and defense counsel in the case of Benjamin Petty who plead guilty to raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at Falls Creek church camp. The plea agreement included no jail time and 15 years probation. The prosecutor who agreed to the deal has been forced to resign.

HR 1025 as filed claims Judge Wallace’s decision not “to reject the terms of the negotiated plea bargain constitutes a gross neglect of duty.”

The resolution is almost identical to ones filed in 2010 (HR 1065) and 2011 (HR 1001) against District Judge Thomas Bartheld who in  June 2009 excepted a plea bargain approved of by “The district attorney, child’s family, advocates and the defendant.” In that case the defendants plead no contest of raping and sodomizing a 5-year-old girl and was sentenced 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. Neither resolution advanced and Judge Bartheld remained on the bench.



South Carolina: Senate passed bill would require judges receive 2 hours training every 4 years on animal cruelty

A bill passed unanimously by the South Carolina Senate to address animal cruelty in the state contains a judge-specific provision. SB 841 was drafted with a focus mainly on placing restrictions on how long animals can be tethered and under what conditions (news accounts here).

Under the bill as approved by the Senate Magistrate Court and Municipal Court judges must receive at least two hours of instruction on issues concerning animal cruelty every four years.

The bill now goes to the House.

Utah: Senate committee approves bill to remove personal information off court’s online search if criminal case dismissed; case number searching still allowed

The Utah Senate’s Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee last week approved SB 106 as amended. The bill provides that where a criminal case is dismissed the defendant may move the court for an order to remove the link between the person’s personal identifying information from the dismissed case in any publicly searchable database of the Utah state courts.

“Personal identifying information” is defined as current name, former name, nickname, alias, or date of birth.

The case would not be entirely removed, however for the court’s online search system. A case history, unless expunged, remains public and accessible through a search by case number even if not searchable by the person’s personal identifying information.

SB 106 now goes to the full Senate.

Oklahoma: last session legislature expanded who can carry guns into courthouses, now bills filed to expand to even more people; judges could be allowed to carry guns in court without a per

The latest efforts to expand carrying of guns into Oklahoma courthouses has been filed for the 2018 session.

As a general precept of law, guns and other weapons are not allowed in state courthouses (21 Okl. St. § 1272(A)(4)) In addition, having a concealed handgun permit doesn’t allow for courthouse carry, either (21 Okl. St. § 1277(A)).

However, there have been numerous exceptions added to law in recent years.

In 2007 judges were allowed to bring guns into courthouses so long as they had a handgun license and notified the Administrative Director of the Courts. (SB 145 of 2007)

In 2017 elected county officials were permitted to carry a concealed handgun “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of this state” (discussed here). An amendment was added to the original bill to keep guns out of courtrooms. (HB 1145 of 2017)

Now there are plans to expand courthouse carry to all county employees and to remove the requirement that judges must have a handgun license to carry

HB 2527 as filed would provide county employees, not just elected officials as in the 2017 law, with the ability to carry concealed weapons “when acting in the course and scope of employment within the courthouses of the county in which he or she is employed.”

SB 1307 would simply amended the 2017 to add “or employees” in the existing law (e.g. “Elected officials OR EMPLOYEES of a county…”)

SB 1227 would remove the requirement that District Court judges must have a handgun license in order to carry a gun into a courthouse.


Ohio: House passes bill exempting personal information about judges from disclosure

The Ohio House approved 95-2 last week a bill to exempt personal information about judges from public disclosure.

HB 341 as approved has two main elements.

  1. It adds judges and magistrates to the list of professions whose residential and familial information is exempted from disclosure under Ohio’s Public Records Law.
  2. It permits a judge or magistrate to request that the judge or magistrate’s address be redacted from any record of a public office that is publicly available on the Internet in which the judge or magistrate’s residential and familial information appears, except for the records of a county auditor. For county auditor’s records, the judge or magistrate’s initials can be used instead.

HB 341 is in now in the Senate but not yet assigned to a committee.

Virginia: Senate committee OKs bill to mandate civil e-filing in under 18 months; no paper documents accepted after July 2019; provides for paying for system based on annual subscription fee

The Virginia Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee approved on a 15-0 vote last week a plan to mandate civil e-filing in the state within 18 months.

SB 980 provides that

  1. Except in limited instances no document filed in court shall contain the social security number of any party, or of any minor child of any party, or any identifying financial information of any party. If needed, the information must be filed in a separate addendum file by the attorney or party in such civil case.
  2. Requires all circuit clerks to establish and operate a system for electronic filing. Currently law provides they may create such a system.
  3. Provides that in civil cases after July 2019 all nonconfidential documents filed with the clerk are to be in electronic form and available through secure remote access and searchable by name and case number across all circuit courts that use the Office of the Executive Secretary’s electronic imaging system.
  4. Direcst the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to administer a paid subscription service that provides access to all electronic records maintained by the clerks who use such electronic imaging system for civil cases filed on or after July 1, 2019.
  5. Specifies that such subscription shall be on an annual basis, with an annual fee to be established by the Judicial Council of Virginia.
  6. Provides that any sums collected pursuant to such subscription shall be deposited into the state treasury to the credit of the Courts Technology Fund.
  7. Directs the Virginia Information Technologies Agency to update its document entitled “Security Standard for Restricted Remote Access to Documents on Court-Controlled Websites” consistent with the provisions of the bill by July 1, 2019.

Iowa: Senate bills would force courts to accept guns in courthouses; similar bills already filed in House

As I mentioned here the Iowa Supreme Court issued orders last year regarding a new law that expanded where guns could be carried first discussed here. The orders limited courthouse carrying of firearms, much to the anger of some legislators. A series of House bills were filed targeting the courts on this issue, now it is the Senate’s turn.

SF 2044 provides if state supreme court or local court prohibits carrying of firearms into courthouses, courts are to pay rent and provide armed security to be paid for by reducing judge’s salaries.

SF 2052 provides people may carry a firearm into a courthouse with a handgun permit.

SF 2104 provides no supreme court or judicial branch order may prohibit a person from carrying a firearm into a courthouse.