Texas legislature passes bill designating attacks on judges as hate crimes

The bill would make attacks on judges and police officers–whether verbal or physical–a hate crime in the state.  “Terroristic threats” could carry a two-year prison sentence, a simple assault could lead to up to 20 years in prison, and assault leading to serious bodily injury could be punishable by 99 years to life in prison.

The bill now advances to Governor Greg Abbott for signature.

Budget constraints will temporarily close Iowa’s district and juvenile courts

Iowa’s juvenile and district courts will not schedule any appearances this coming Friday, and all clerk of court and administrative offices will be closed. Court staff will instead take a mandatory, unpaid furlough day.  The move stemmed from budget cuts by the state legislature.

Courts dropping bail requirements; bail bondsmen hardest hit

To say that courts are interdependent is to say they are a part of a larger system. Courts rely on key resources–including funding, staffing, and a steady flow of cases–from external actors. And many people outside the courts rely on the court system itself for legal stability, safety, and sometimes their livelihoods.

A good example of the latter interdependence is the work of bail bondsmen. The Wall Street Journal reports today that many state courts have dropped or are radically revising the cash bail system for criminal defendants that has been in place since the late 1800s. With fewer defendants needing to post bail, there has been less of a need for bail bonds, and the bail bond industry is suffering more than at any point in the last four decades.

A very interesting story on a complex interdependency, and a good reminder as to why there are few easy, painless fixes in interdependent systems.

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Insurance claims analyst with no legal education elected as judge in Pennsylvania

Brian Tupper, a claims analyst with Berkshire Hathaway, will take the bench in Wilkes-Barre. The seat was held by Tupper’s father until his recent retirement.  The local story notes: “Because he is not a law graduate, Tupper prepared for his new job by completing a four week certification course with the Justified Judicial System of Pennsylvania in June 2016.”

Oh, boy.

Courts try new tactics to address those who skip jury duty

The Oregonian has an interesting article on the efforts of state and federal courts to crack down on citizens not appearing for jury duty.  The story nicely describes the range of tactics in play, from jury coordinators and James Taylor concert videos to being individually summoned and grilled by an irritated judge.

Jury trials are central to the American justice system, and citizens who serve on a jury almost always walk away with a better appreciation for the court system and their own civic responsibilities.

Six state chief justices join forces to combat opioid epidemic

The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states.  The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation.  It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.

Texas House passes court security bill

The Texas House of Representatives has given preliminary approval to a bill that would create a judicial security division and would fund training for court security.  The bill was named to honor Judge Julie Kocurek, who was severely injured after being shot outside her home in 2015.  Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht pushed for the bill’s passage during his State of the Judiciary speech in February.