Unpacking the latest in the Maire Whelan controversy: proposed judicial appointments bill panned, government at risk

The controversial appointment of Maire Whelan to Ireland’s Court of Appeal continues to ruffle the country’s new government.  This week, Transport Minister Shane Ross proposed a bill to create a new Judicial Appointments Commission.  The new commission would have a majority of non-lawyer members, and would be chaired by a non-lawyer.  The commission would select final nominees, who would then be chosen by the government.

The bill immediately came under fire from Fianna Fail, the political party whose support is necessary to uphold the government’s confidence and supply agreement. The proposal was also publicly criticized by prominent members of the judiciary.

Continue reading “Unpacking the latest in the Maire Whelan controversy: proposed judicial appointments bill panned, government at risk”


Attorneys file federal class action lawsuit over PACER fees

In April, attorneys for several watchdog groups filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system overcharged the public for access to court records starting in April 2010.

The lawsuit seeks “an unspecified amount of damages that ‘are found to exceed the amount authorized by law,’ as well as attorney fees.” Court documents and further details on the suit from the class action attorneys can be found here.

I was notified by email that I am a member of the plaintiff class, based on periodic PACER research I have conducted since 2010. And I have been critical of high PACER fees in the past, especially when PACER is used purely for academic research.  But this is a pretty silly lawsuit.  The class action attorneys will make a tidy sum from any settlement, and the actual affected members will likely get nothing of consequence.  I would much prefer to see the courts offer PACER as a free research service, or otherwise develop a sensible, tiered payment system.



North Carolina Chief Justice pushes merit selection for state judges

Speaking to the North Carolina Bar Association on Saturday, Chief Justice Mark Martin called for merit selection of all North Carolina judges:

Martin proposed that retention elections for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges be held statewide and voters in individual judicial districts decide on District Court and Superior Court judges. The elections would be held after each term of office, which Martin said could be eight years or some other period.

This is an extraordinary statement, even in light of the ugly tug-of-war between North Carolina’s governor and state legislature over judicial selection in the last few months.  With most state judges ascending to the bench through an electoral process, his call for merit selection would remove the very system that gave him and his colleagues personal and professional success.

But that, of course, is exactly the point.  The North Carolina system is broken, and whatever democratic benefits direct elections of judges may serve now seem overshadowed by concerns that may reduce the judiciary’s public legitimacy.  Chief Justice Martin’s call for merit selection was a brave first step toward a better system of justice in the state.

Irish parliamentary debate over Maire Whelan appointment “extremely heated”

This blog has been closely following the appointment of former Irish Attorney General Maire Whelan to that country’s Court of Appeal last week, which has engendered enough controversy to threaten to bring down the new government.  Whelan accepted her appointment on Monday, but that hardly ended the matter.  On Wednesday night, the Dail (Ireland’s parliament) held a lengthy debate over the propriety of the appointment.  According to one story:

A two-hour debate was held in the Dáil to discuss the appointment last night.

It became extremely heated.

New Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said a new bill was part of the government’s aim of “entirely reforming the judicial appointment system”.

Jim O’Callaghan dismissed the claim that Cabinet confidentiality prevented the answering of essential questions on the matter.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, said that Micheál Martin – who wasn’t present for the debate – had serious questions to answer based on a telephone call he had with the Taoiseach on the matter last Sunday.

She questioned whether Martin attempted to use his influence on the government to prevent Whelan being appointed.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin took aim at the Independent Alliance who, he claimed, “clapped through an appointment that they now oppose”.

Clare Daly said the appointment was legal, but “political”.

Mattie McGrath said “new politics, my foot”.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien got into a war of words with Minister Flanagan, after asking how many others applied for the role.

Today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked if the situation had affected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply arrangement. “Obviously the week that has gone by I don’t think has been helpful for either party,” he said. “But we have a written agreement.”

We’ll continue to watch how this plays out.

Women’s groups in Israel challenge official divorce statistics

Earlier this week, Israel’s rabbinical courts released their annual statistics on divorces granted in the country, noting a very slight uptick over last year.  The statistics also identified the number of divorces granted to women whose husbands had left the country, as well as the number of “recalcitrant husbands” who were sanctioned by the courts for refusing to grant a divorce to their wives.

The latter statistics are relevant because marriage and divorce in Israel is governed by Jewish law (halacha), and divorces fall purely within the province of the country’s rabbinical courts. To obtain a divorce, both parties to the marriage must agree.  In practice, this often means that a woman who wants a divorce (for any reason, including spousal abuse) cannot obtain one without her husband’s consent.  Courts are authorized to sanction “recalcitrant husbands” who refuse to agree to a divorce, but this process typically takes years of court hearings.

Shortly after the statistics were released, several women’s groups in Israel questioned their validity.  In particular, the groups claimed that the number of sanctioned husbands badly underestimated the number of husbands nationwide who refused to grant a divorce.  The groups also questioned the statistics showing that 211 women were granted divorces in 2016 after their husbands fled the country, noting that the special court unit charged with administering such divorces would have granted almost one per workday–an impossibly high amount.


Iowa Supreme Court bans firearms in all state courthouses

In an order issued by Chief Justice Mark Cady, the Iowa Supreme Court yesterday banned firearms from all courthouses and justice centers in the state. The statewide regulation does not extend to law enforcement officials who are on duty in the buildings.

Although about half the counties in Iowa already restrict or ban weapons in courthouses, the Supreme Court rule creates a uniform statewide regulation.

Cady said in the order said that while the weapons policies were implemented to make the courtrooms safer, they have “failed to provide uniform protection across the state and throughout every courthouse.”

He acknowledged implementing a statewide weapons policy and the issue of restricting weapons is difficult, and this becomes more complex because city and county offices are within many court buildings. But he added it’s the court’s “constitutional responsibility” to make these buildings safe “before history records more acts of courthouse violence.”

Update on the Maire Whelan controversy in Ireland

The controversial appointment of former Attorney General Maire Whelan to Ireland’s Court of Appeal last week continues to draw headlines. Minority parties in the government have alleged several improprieties with the appointment, including that Whelan never formally applied for the post through the Judicial Appointment Advisory Board, and that she remained in the Cabinet meeting while her appointment was being debated.

Continue reading “Update on the Maire Whelan controversy in Ireland”