What just happened? August 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: attacks on judicial independence are joined by actual attacks on judges, and the judiciary continues its slow embrace of technology

After a challenging July that saw significant threats to judicial independence in Poland, court systems worldwide might have hoped for some restoration of respect for the third branch as an independent entity.  Not so much: the Polish government continued to dig in its heels on reforms that would weaken the judiciary, leading to increased political tensions with the EU and especially Germany.  Near the end of the month, the government of Romania and the Palestinian authority announced their own efforts to circumscribe their judges’ independence in the name of populist reform.

Even more disheartening was a series of threats and attacks–both physical and on the internet–on judges across the world.  In Ohio, a judge was shot on the courthouse steps. Remarkably, he returned fire, and survived–and the fact that he was armed led to a broader discussion of how judges should protect themselves.  In the United Kingdom, the courts announced that visitors would have to take a sip of their drinks to prove they did not contain disfiguring acid.  In Mississippi, a state judge received death threats on social media after he removed the state flag (which partially contains the Confederate flag) from his courtroom.

But there was good news on the social media front as well.  A Florida panel ruled that Facebook friendships with attorneys do not automatically disqualify judges from hearing cases.  And more broadly in the realm of technology, two state supreme courts began streaming their oral arguments, and the U.S. Supreme Court finally adopted electronic filing.

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