West Virginia legislature clears path to investigate state judiciary

The West Virginia House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would allow the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate allegations of malpractice and criminal activity by members of the state Supreme Court of Appeals. The investigation could lead to the impeachment of one or more of the Supreme Court justices.

More on the allegations against the Justices, and especially former Chief Justice Allen Loughry (who was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on 22 counts of fraud and other malfeasance) here and here.

An update on Florida’s judicial vacancy lawsuit

Last week I noted the lawsuit filed against Florida Governor Rick Scott by Jacksonville attorney David Trotti. Scott has moved to fill several seats on the state bench, which opened due to curiously timed judicial retirements. Trotti alleges that the retirements create a vacancy for such a short period that the seats should be filled by popular election.

The trial court ruled in favor of Trotti, which would have prevented the Governor from filling the seat. But the Scott Administration appealed, which automatically stayed the decision and once again enabled the Governor to appoint a new judge. Trotti convinced the trial court to vacate the stay, but Scott then convinced the appellate court to reinstate the stay.

Trotti has now appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the stay (and a Scott appointment) will eliminate the rights of citizens to vote for the judicial candidate of their choice. In his petition, he noted that several judges have times their retirements to create just enough of vacancy to permit the Governor to claim the right to fill the seat through appointment. As I noted in my earlier post, I am no fan of judicial elections, but this certainly smells like people are gaming the system.

Are more judges arming themselves in self-defense?

This story out of Toledo suggests that the answer is yes.

This trend is not entirely surprising, given the high-profile, violent attacks on judges in recent months. But it’s not at all clear whether–and how–concealed carry by judges would affect the regular work of courthouse security staff.

An interesting, and somewhat sad, development.

Connecticut family court judges under attack

This depressing story relates the brutal public invective that some family court judges in Connecticut have recently experienced–including a slew of anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic slurs. And it’s not just on social media. Opponents of the judges have erected vicious billboards on interstate highways, and have shown up to public hearings provocatively dressed to draw attention to their hatred of the judge.

The problem is compounded, first, by the nature of family court cases, which are often highly emotional and difficult. The well-accepted standard of doing what is in the “best interests of the child” is easy to state, but not to easy to apply. A second aggravating factor is the ongoing political fight between Connecticut’s legislators and Governor Dannel Malloy over judicial appointments and reappointments. And, of course, delays and court costs only add to the stress of the litigant experience.

So there is much room for improvement. But obviously no judge (indeed, no person) deserves to be attacked based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.

Chicago judge, convicted of mortgage fraud, refuses to leave the bench

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, convicted by a federal jury of mortgage fraud and facing a sentencing hearing in October, has refused to step down from the bench and continues to collect her nearly $200,000 yearly salary. Now the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board has asked the Illinois Courts Commission to suspend her pay pending a full hearing on removal from office.

In a fascinating bit of chutzpah, O’Brien recently filed paperwork to seek retention in the upcoming election. That seems unlikely, but O’Brien is making a strong push for inclusion in the (already spacious) Cook County Judges Hall of Shame.

 

Florida’s fight over filling a judicial vacancy

A curiously timed judicial retirement in Florida has spurred a lawsuit and a debate over whether the vacancy should be filled by the governor or the voters.

Robert Foster, a trial judge on the state’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, was expected to retire on January 7, 2019–the last day of his term. (Foster will have reached the state’s mandatory retirement age.) In April, however, Foster informed Governor Rick Scott that he will take retirement one week earlier, on December 31.

That one week makes a big difference. Normally when a Florida judge leaves on the final day of the term, his seat is filled by popular election. But the governor interpreted the December 31 retirement to be an “early” retirement, which would allow him to fill the seat by gubernatorial appointment. In early May, the Fourth Judicial Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission announced the vacancy and invited applications.

Continue reading “Florida’s fight over filling a judicial vacancy”

Pennsylvania Senate slips judicial reform into redistricting bill

The Pennsylvania Senate yesterday passed a significant redistricting bill that would redraw the maps both for the state legislature and the state’s representatives in Congress. Before the vote was taken, however, Senator Ryan Aument introduced an amendment that would also change the way Pennsylvanians vote for their appellate judges. The amendment calls for judges of the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court to be elected regionally rather than by statewide elections. The amendment passed, and did not seem to effect the passage of the final bill.

Sen. Aument later explained that his amendment would provide all areas of the state with representation on the appellate courts. Proponents also surmise that regional elections would increase voter turnout.