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.

Canada weighs sexual assault training for judges

From the story:

The Canadian Judicial Council is pushing back against the idea of having sexual assault survivors and support organizations help develop training for aspiring and sitting judges, fearing it could interfere with the independence of those on the bench.

The requirement was a recent change to proposed legislation introduced by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, whose Bill C-337 calls for would-be federally appointed judges to first undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.

Once enacted, the legislation would also require the council to report on continuing education courses on sexual assault law, including telling the government how many sexual assault cases were heard each year by judges who lack the training.

The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement Tuesday saying it still believes the bill, which was sent to the Senate with all-party support Monday, goes too far.

“While the council has been clear from the beginning that it finds the objectives of the bill laudable, we continue to have some concerns about the constitutionality of some aspects of the proposed law which may infringe on judicial independence,” spokeswoman Johanna Laporte wrote in an email.

“Specifically, reporting the number of sexual assault cases heard by judges who have never participated in seminars and opening the door for special interest groups dictating the kinds of education judges should adopt.”

I’m curious what readers of this blog think.  Similar issues arise in other contexts, such as the placement of allegedly defense-oriented or plaintiff-oriented attorneys on rules committees. Courts want to strike the proper balance between informing judges and indoctrinating them, but sometimes that general principle is hard to put into practice.

Kansas weighs whether to shield the identity of jurors

Earlier this year, the Kansas District Judges Association proposed a bill that would shield the names of jurors from the public. The bill passed both houses of the Kansas legislature. But the Kansas Press Association challenged the bill before a final vote could be taken, arguing that the state courts had obligations of transparency, and that hiding the identity of jurors made it more difficult to hold the justice system accountable. The judges’ association agreed, and reached a compromise with the press association that would make jurors’ names and addresses available, but not other information about them. The changes are expected to be worked out in legislative conference committee.

This is a nice example of the courts and the press recognizing the difficulty of balancing individual privacy and public duty in the modern age, and working together to address the problem. There is no simple answer, and while a handful of states do shield the identity of jurors completely, the Kansas Press Association is correct that public obligations like jury duty require a degree of public accountability. If we want to maintain a public system of dispute resolution, every member of the public needs to take ownership of it in an appropriate way.

 

North Carolina court struggle heats up

That escalated quickly.

In light of the North Carolina legislature’s proposal to reduce the size of the state court of appeals from 15 to 12, Judge Douglas McCollough resigned from the court yesterday.  Judge McCullough was due to leave the court next month under the state’s mandatory retirement laws (he is nearing age 72), but chose to leave early so that Governor Roy Cooper could fill his position immediately.

And immediately he did.  Fifteen minutes after Judge McCollough tendered his resignation, the governor nominated John Arrowood to fill the open seat.

Judge McCollough stated that he resigned now — before the legislation could be passed — to increase the likelihood that the court would maintain its current 15 member composition.  “I didn’t want my legacy to be the elimination of the seat,” he said.  But his decision to leave early, which emphasized the institutional health of the court, was still shrouded in political intrigue. Continue reading “North Carolina court struggle heats up”

Legislators and bar association weigh in on Indiana merit selection plan

We previously reported that Indiana legislators are considering a merit selection plan for the judges of Marion County (the Indianapolis area), in light of a Seventh Circuit decision holding the previous election slating process unconstitutional.  Recently, both state legislators and the Indianapolis Bar Association have offered their own opinions of the proposed legislation.

 

Indiana legislature considers expanding merit selection for state judges

Merit selection refers to a method of choosing state judges through a nominating commission, which typically selects three candidates and forwards the names to the governor for final selection.  Judges chosen through merit selection are therefore pre-vetted for qualifications, skill, and judicial temperament.  Most states with merit selection protect accountability to the public by appointing judges to set terms on the bench, after which they must seek reappointment or retention before the voters.

I have long championed merit selection as the best process for balancing quality judges and public accountability.  The process is not perfect, but if done thoughtfully — with a balanced and inclusive nominating commission, sufficiently lengthy terms to allow a judge to grow professionally on the bench, and retention elections coupled with a transparent judicial evaluation process — they have proven to be very effective.

Many states around the country choose some or all of their judges through merit selection.  And Indiana, which uses merit selection for trial judges in three large counties (Allen, Lake, and St. Joseph), is now poised to expand the system to Marion County as well.

Continue reading “Indiana legislature considers expanding merit selection for state judges”

North Carolina House overrides veto on partisan judicial elections bill

As I reported previously, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would require state trial court elections to be partisan.  Candidates would have to participate in party primaries and run under a specific party affiliation.  Disappointingly, the state House of Representatives voted to override the veto yesterday.  The issue now moves to the state Senate.

UPDATE: The Senate has completed the veto override.  All North Carolina judicial elections will be partisan going forward.