Minnesota bill would, among other things, force judges to promise they will remain in office their full term or forfeit 25% of their pensions

I noted an interesting Minnesota combination bill SB 627 (which now has a House companion, HB 1536) which would increase mandatory retirement age for judges but do away with the “incumbent” designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection.

Another interesting combination bill has been introduced, this time in the House, HB 1474.

Section 1 ends the practice of election by district. Instead, judges would be elected from the individual county or judicial election precinct in which they have their chambers within a judicial district, rather than by the district as a whole. For counties/judicial election precincts with no judge currently, the Commission on Judicial Selection would assign a judge.

The remaining sections make a unique linkage between service and retirement.

Under Section 3 of the bill, any judge or justice seeking reelection must file a “commitment in writing” that the justice or judge will serve in the office until:

  1. the mandatory retirement date (changed, see below), or
  2. a newly created “optional retirement date” (see below), or
  3. the disability date, or
  4. appointed to another office of government, or
  5. unable to serve due to a compelling physical or personal reason.

Section 5 then defines a “compelling physical or personal reason”  as “a physical condition that renders the judge unable to perform the duties of judicial office or the need to care for a member of the judge’s immediate family.” The Court of Appeals (and NOT the Supreme Court) would make the determination of whether a “compelling physical or personal reason” exists. Because this bill would apply to all state judge/justices, this could (would?) result in a lower court ruling on the status of a higher court’s membership.

A judge or justice who retires/resigns without that “compelling physical or personal reason” (whether they made the commitment or not, thus covering first-term judges/justices) would forfeit 25% of their retirement annuity. The only exception would be if the judge is appointed to serve on another court, the judge retires due to a disability or the aforementioned “compelling physical or personal reasons”.

Section 4 also addresses resignations/vacancies, providing first that the mere announcement of an intention to resign does not create a judicial vacancy. More critically, the provisions create the title or designation of “placeholder” to refer to anyone appointed by the governor to fill a judicial vacancy. The person would specifically not be “a prior office holder or the successor of a prior office holder,” thus presumably not eligible to have the word “incumbent” next to their name come election time. If a placeholder then dies/resigns and the election is still more than 12 months away, the governor would be free to appoint anyone “learned in the law” and who meets all other criteria for holding judicial office to serve until a successor elected. If the election is less than 12 months away, the office would remain vacant.

Section 6 extends the mandatory retirement date of from the *end of month* in which judge turns 70 to *end of year of a general election* after a judge turns 70, while Section 7 creates an “optional retirement date” of December 31 of a general election year.

HB 1474 is currently in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

Judicial Retirement Plans/Pensions 2011: Western States

California SB 503 Limits to one-time written election the option of a member of the The Judges’ Retirement System II to make contributions, and receive service credit for, all of the time he or she served as a full-time subordinate judicial officer, prior to becoming a judge, excluding any period of time for which the judge is receiving, or is entitled to receive, a retirement allowance from any other public retirement system. Authorizes the judge to make contributions to, and receive service credit for, any number of whole years or all of the time he or she served as a full-time subordinate judicial officer.

Hawaii HB 1038 Amends retirement benefits for judges and other state/county employees who become members of the employees’ retirement system after June 30, 2012. Modifies extent to which prior service as a judge may be applied to other retirement system(s) and calculation of years of service for retirement purposes.

Hawaii HB 1142 Amends retirement benefits for judges and other state/county employees who become members of the employees’ retirement system after June 30, 2012. Modifies extent to which prior service as a judge may be applied to other retirement system(s) and calculation of years of service for retirement purposes.

Hawaii SB 1265 Amends retirement benefits for judges and other state/county employees who become members of the employees’ retirement system after June 30, 2012. Modifies extent to which prior service as a judge may be applied to other retirement system(s) and calculation of years of service for retirement purposes.

Hawaii SB 1341 Amends retirement benefits for judges and other state/county employees who become members of the employees’ retirement system after June 30, 2012. Modifies extent to which prior service as a judge may be applied to other retirement system(s) and calculation of years of service for retirement purposes.

Michigan HB 4223 Requires Judges Retirement System invest at least 5% in Michigan businesses.

Michigan  HB 4484 Eliminates tax exemption for judicial pensions. Provides that distributions from employer contributions, earnings on those contributions, and distributions from employee contributions and earnings on those employee contributions would be subject to state tax, as of January 1, 2012. (Currently, they are exempt from state, county, municipal, or other local taxes.) Requires an employer to contribute four percent of salary to a participant’s Tier 2 (defined contribution system) account. Allows an employee to contribute up to three percent of salary to the account and requires the employer to match the amount contributed by the employee.

Minnesota HB 1256 & SB 813 Changes member contribution rates for judicial retirement system: 8% (present – July 2011), 11% (July 2011 onward). Changes employer contribution rates for judicial retirement system: 20.5% (present – July 2011), 17.5% (July 2011 onward).

Montana HB 70 Requires separate investment fund must be maintained for judges’ retirement system apart from any other retirement system.

Montana HB 608 Closes judicial and all other retirement systems and provide for annuity benefit program for judges elected after July 2012.

Nevada SB 436 Transfers the responsibility to deposit certain money for the purpose of paying pension benefits to justices of the Supreme Court or district judges from the State of Nevada to the Court Administrator.

New Mexico HB 58 ORIGINAL: Provides that certain amounts of the civil docket and jury fees be deposited into the General Fund. Provides contributions to judicial and magistrate retirement be provided from the General Fund. Increases contributions to judicial and magistrate retirement funds. AMENDED: Same, but strikes existing law that defines “judicial retirement fund” as including” docket and jury fees of metropolitan courts, district courts, the court of appeals and the supreme court.”

New Mexico HB 468 Makes numerous temporary and permanent changes to employee and employer contribution rates for those under Judicial Retirement Act and Magistrate Retirement Act plans.

New Mexico HB 628 Makes numerous temporary and permanent changes to employee and employer contribution rates for those under Judicial Retirement Act and Magistrate Retirement Act plans.

New Mexico SB 88 Makes numerous temporary and permanent changes to employee and employer contribution rates for those under Judicial Retirement Act and Magistrate Retirement Act plans.

New Mexico SB 248 Makes numerous temporary and permanent changes to employee and employer contribution rates for those under Judicial Retirement Act and Magistrate Retirement Act plans.

New Mexico SB 268 Makes numerous temporary and permanent changes to employee and employer contribution rates for those under Judicial Retirement Act and Magistrate Retirement Act pla

MN bill would require monthly reviews of trial judges’ clearance & compliance with 90-days-to-disposition requirement

Many states have statutorily imposed deadlines for judges to render their decisions under penalty of some sort of punishment or withholding of salary. Minnesota is no exception. Minnesota Statutes 546.27 provides

all questions of fact and law, and all motions and matters submitted to a judge for a decision in trial and appellate matters, shall be disposed of and the decision filed with the court administrator within 90 days after such submission, unless sickness or casualty shall prevent, or the time be extended by written consent of the parties. No part of the salary of any judge shall be paid unless the voucher therefor be accompanied by a certificate of the judge that there has been full compliance with the requirements of this section.

Also under 546.27, the 90 day rule is reduced to a 15 day rule in certain cases.

The state’s Board of Judicial Standards is required to review annually a judge’s compliance with the 90 day rule and is to be notified on a continuing basis if a judge has exceeded the deadlines. The board shall then notify the commissioner of management and budget, who would then stop paying the judge. The board may decline to issue such a notification if they find “a judge has compelling reasons for noncompliance.”

HB 1298 of 2011, however, would change this system into a more step-progressive approach:

  • The Board of Judicial Standards would review judge’s compliance monthly, not annually
  • References to notifying the commissioner of management and budget are removed
  • A first infraction would result in notification to the chief judge of the judicial district
  • A second infraction within 5 years would result in the chief judge and the judge who committed the infraction developing a written plan with the judge to remedy the current non-compliance and avoid future ones. A failure to comply with the plan would be sent to the Board by the chief judge.
  • A third infraction within 5 years of the first would result in the Board taking immediate action without referral to the chief judge (the chief judge would be notified).

The bill is currently pending in the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.

MN: Bill would increase mandatory retirement age, but do away with “incumbent” designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection

The last several years have seen dozens of efforts to lift or raise mandatory retirement ages for judges. Minnesota’s SB 627 does so minimally. Currently judges must retire on the last day of the month they turn 70. This would extend the term to the last day of the “official year of the state in the first even-numbered year during which a judge has attained 70 years of age.”

While the verbiage of Section 1 of the bill is somewhat obtuse, the language of Section 2 is starkly clear: “Minnesota Statutes 2010, section 204B.36, subdivision 5 is repealed.” That section provides that “If a chief justice, associate justice, or judge is a candidate to succeed again, the word “incumbent” shall be printed after that judge’s name as a candidate.”

It is unclear why these two items (one dealing with judicial selection, the other judicial qualifications & terms) are in the same bill.

SB 627 is currently pending in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

MN: One step closer to retention elections

Earlier today the Senate Rules Committee approved SB 70, a bill to establish retention elections for judges. The bill also expands terms of office from six to eight years and creates a judicial performance commission. the commission must issue in the year a judge seeks retention ean valuation of “well-qualified,” “qualified,” or “unqualified”. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

MN: Contribution limits for judicial candidates pass key committee

SB 80, which would sets contributions limits for judicial candidates, made it out of the Senate in 2009 and was today approved by the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. The committee made some amendments but retained the Senate’s limits: $2,000 in an election year and $500 in other years. It is now on the House floor and, if approved, would have to be re-approved by the Senate.