Judges beware: the (ongoing) risks of a social media presence

At Above the Law, Nicole Black has an interesting piece on “judicial missteps” associated with social media use.  Judges have faced recent disciplinary actions for posting on Facebook about active cases, attorneys appearing before them, or other judicial candidates. Black reminds us:

But the convenience of the immediacy and reach of social media is often tempered by its permanency. After all, a single tweet or Facebook post can have unintended and long-lasting effects. Unfortunately, that’s something people often forget in the heat of the moment, resulting in regrettable and irreversible mistakes.

That’s good advice for everyone.  A little discretion on the internet goes a long way.

White House announces eleven new district court nominees

President Trump nominated eleven people to federal district judgeships yesterday, covering districts in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  Once again, I am struck by the nominees’ breadth of experience. The group of eleven includes five attorneys in private practice, three state court judges, one United States Magistrate Judge, one law professor, and one state legislator.  Several of the nominees have practice experience in both the government and the private sector.

As a general matter, I have been very impressed with the quality of judicial nominees coming from the administration.  Hopefully Congress will hold swift confirmation hearings on the nominees and begin to cure the severe vacancy crisis in our federal district courts.

Two North Carolina programs aim to ease court congestion

Two very different programs with the same goal of keeping people out of court were announced in North Carolina this week.

Durham County has one of the state’s highest levels of eviction filings, with approximately 900 cases filed each month.  Eviction cases are stressful for tenants and costly for landlords. A new program co-sponsored by Legal Aid of North Carolina, Duke University’s Civil Justice Clinic, and the Durham County Department of Social Services is aiming to reduce eviction filings by guiding affected tenants to legal and financial assistance programs.  The hope is that tenants will be able to remain in their homes, landlords will be paid the rent owed, and the courts will not be clogged with cases that might well be amenable to extrajudicial resolution.

In Buncombe County, local prosecutors have developed their own program to reduce the need for drivers to come to court to challenge or pay speeding tickets.  Drivers caught going 15 miles or less over the speed limit would have the option of paying their fine or even negotiating for reduced points online.  The district attorney behind the program estimated that 2000 people per day crowd the courthouse to appear before a magistrate for speeding fines.

 

Two extremes along the spectrum of judicial professionalism

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown was recognized with the 2017 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Ninth Circuit.  Judge Brown has served on the bench for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon since 1999.  Cribbing from the press release:

Brown is president of the 9th Circuit District Judges Association, speaks frequently on programs for new trial judges, and currently serves on the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference. She is a past member and officer of the Gus. J. Solomon American Inn of Court, has served as chair of the Oregon State Bar Uniform Civil and Criminal Jury Instructions Committees and the 9th Circuit Jury Instructions and Jury Trial Improvement Committees, and is a founding member of Oregon Women Judges in conjunction with Oregon Women Lawyers and the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society.

While working full-time as a 911 operator, Brown earned her bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. Attending law school at night, she earned a J.D. from Northwestern School of Law (now Lewis & Clark Law School). She served as law clerk to Multnomah County Circuit Judge John C. Beatty, Jr.

Congratulations to Judge Brown on a well-deserved honor.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, something far less than honor was falling on Houston Justice of the Peace Hilary Green, who was suspended by the Texas Supreme Court amid allegations that she engaged in sexting in the courtroom, hired prostitutes, used her bailiff to buy drugs, and brought home marijuana seized from a defendant.

Green’s lawyer, Chip Babcock, responded to the suspension by noting that Green had been reelected many times by the voters.  “She’s very popular in the precinct,” he said.

Sigh.

 

The precise cost of a new judgeship

The Unified Courts of Guam have made their budget request for 2018, which includes line items for adding a new Superior Court judge.  The court system estimates that the cost of adding a new judge (which includes salary, staff, courtroom facilities, and supplies) will be $397,537.

The proposed judicial budget would make up a little over 5 percent of Guam’s overall governmental budget for 2018.

A curious string of recusals in a New Mexico corruption case

One by one, eight state trial judges have recused themselves from presiding over a criminal case against a former New Mexico state senator.  Phil Griego was indicated in June on 22 counts, including perjury and embezzlement.  Among other things, Griego is alleged to have spent funds from his re-election account after resigning from the state senate in March 2015.

None of the eight judges identified a specific reason for recusing themselves from the case, with each indicating only “good cause” for the recusal.   The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:

Former state Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna said one factor in the decision by so many Santa Fe judges to recuse themselves from Griego’s case might have been their role lobbying legislators for court funding.

If the need to obtain court funds from the legislature compromises judges to this extent,  interdependence can become a danger to the administration of justice.

 

 

New York appellate court affirms restrictions on juror anonymity

Under New York law, trial judges may withhold jurors’ addresses from the public and the parties if there is a concern for juror safety. The judge, however, may not withhold the names of jurors. A purely anonymous jury is thought to compromise due process for criminal defendants.

The New York Times reports that a state appellate court recently upheld these restrictions.  In a criminal trial involving four members of an alleged street gang, the trial court declined to provide juror names to counsel, identifying jurors only by number.  Defense lawyers objected, but the trial judge cited to jurors in previous cases who had expressed concerns about their safety. The defendants appealed.

This week, the appeals court sided with the defendants and granted them a new trial, holding that the trial court had violated the statute’s prohibition on purely anonymous juries.