Romanian senate passes bill limiting judicial independence

Last week, Romania’s lower house passed legislation that would restrict the independence of its judiciary. Now the country’s senate has approved the same bill.  As Reuters notes,

The three bills jointly limit magistrates’ independence and set up a special unit to probe crimes committed by magistrates. This makes magistrates the only professional category with a prosecuting unit dedicated to investigating them.

The bill passed on the same day that the European Union decided to begin hearings against Poland for imposing restrictions on its judiciary.

Advertisements

EU exercises “nuclear option” against Poland for threatening judicial independence

This past summer, Poland passed legislation widely understood to limit the independence of its judiciary, and bring it into line with the desires of the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party. On Wednesday, after months of pleading with the Polish government to reverse course, the European Union invoked Article 7 of its charter, which allows it to discipline member states for a “clear risk of serious breach” of the EU’s core principles — here, respect for the rule of law.  Article 7, known as the “nuclear option,” has never been triggered against a member state before.

There is a long process before discipline, if any, is invoked against Poland. But if 22 of 28 member states ultimately conclude that judicial independence is truly threatened, Poland could face EU sanctions or even loss of voting rights.

 

Romanian parliament passes controversial judicial reforms

Romania’s lower house has passed controversial legislation that will overhaul its justice system — legislation that has been widely criticized as threatening judicial independence and facilitating corruption.

From the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:

The [Romanian] legislation changes the manner in which magistrates are overseen and chief prosecutors are appointed—under the bill, the president has the right to vet prosecutors.

It also changes the source responsible for compensating for judicial errors from state funds to the judge responsible in sentencing. Experts claim this could possibly affect judges’ biases and tendencies in court rulings.

The lower house approved the bill with 179 out of 269 votes.

The European Commission and thousands of magistrates expressed concern over the legislation, saying it would allow political influence within the judicial system. Thousands of Romanians repeatedly protested against the proposed bill for its alleged power to hinder the fight against corruption. Demonstrations on Sunday drew over 10,000 people to take the streets of Bucharest, Cluj and other major cities.

“Justice, not corruption!” protesters chanted, according to ABC News.

The legislation is still pending in the upper house.

North Carolina judges try to stay neutral on selection fight

I have tracked the ongoing legislative battle in North Carolina over the selection of state judges. The judges themselves are caught in the middle, unable to comment in any direct or meaningful way. This article nicely demonstrates how sitting judges in the state are navigating the treacherous political waters.

Note that judges can — and sometimes do — comment on legislative issues that affect them. But most of the time that commentary goes to judicial salaries and resources, or other relatively apolitical issues affecting the judiciary as a whole. This selection debate is a political morass, and the judges are wise to stay out if they can.

North Carolina judicial selection update

It has been a while since I wrote about the political wrangling between North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the state legislature over the selection of state judges. But a lot has been going on.

Some background: North Carolina primarily elects its judges, with the governor filling vacancies on an interim basis as they occur. But there seems to be a general consensus that the current process is not functioning well. Contested (now partisan) elections, political gamesmanship with respect to filling judicial vacancies, and outworn judicial districts all have contributed to the malaise. The issue has become a flashpoint in recent months, in part because of a widely publicized tug-of-war between the state’s courts and its Republican legislature. The court system has struck down many significant pieces of legislation in recent months, leading to loud complaints from legislators.

In the last several weeks, under the guise of judicial reform, the state legislature has passed two bills that would radically remake the state’s judicial selection process–and with it, the state’s judiciary.

Continue reading “North Carolina judicial selection update”

Ohio to consider shielding judges’ personal information from the public

In the wake of the shooting of state judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of the Steubenville courthouse in August, the Ohio legislature has introduced a bipartisan bill to shield judges’ personal information from the public. The bill is still in its very early stages.

It is not hard to see why a bill like this might be necessary, but that realization is tinged with sadness. Judges are most effective when they are full members of the community, enjoying the same pleasures (and suffering the same indignities) as ordinary citizens. Grocery shopping, attending community events, waiting in line at the DMV, and similar activities foster an appreciation for everyday life that a judge needs to be an effective mediator, problem-solver, and voice for the community. When our judges are too cut off from the public, or exist in elite bubbles, they cannot have that effectiveness.

The benefits here of keeping a judge’s personal information from the public may well outweigh the costs. But we should be careful not to create a slippery slope in which the public and its judges lose critical opportunities for normal, everyday interaction.

Wyoming raises court fees to pay for technology upgrades

The technology in Wyoming’s state courts is reportedly in terrible shape, ranging from extremely outdated to nonexistent. Half the courtrooms lack adequate power, and 80 percent lack digital capacity for video and videoconferencing.  In response, the state legislature has approved an increase in court fees to fund technological improvements.  The affected fees are primarily “automation fees” associated with filing a case, and moderately increased monetary penalties for a felony conviction.