Just yesterday I noted the impact of increased case filings on state courts in Washington. The State of Minnesota has also recently experienced significant increases in filings, especially in major criminal cases and child protection cases. In response, the Minnesota legislature has authorized two new judgeships to help alleviate the burden.
The courts helped themselves in this instance by keeping careful statistics on caseload growth, which added meaningful support to their request for new judges.
State Representatives Bryan Cutler and Madeleine Dean have proposed an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would eliminate direct elections for state appellate judges. Instead, judges would be chosen by merit selection. Under the plan, a 13-member panel would choose five nominees for a judicial vacancy, and send that list to the governor. The governor would then select one of the five nominees, and the state senate would confirm the final selection. Judges would then face periodic retention elections. The proposal mirrors many of the best qualities of existing merit selection systems.
Similar bills have been proposed in the past (including many by Rep. Cutler), without much success. But you can’t move the needle if you don’t keep trying, and Pennsylvania’s direct elections of judges have not been anything to write home about. Good luck to the proponents this time around.
I reported three months ago on a judicial redistricting bill that passed the Kentucky Senate, and seemed destined to pass. It would have reallocated judgeships within the state for the first time in 124 years. But the bill eventually died in the House.
Governing has an excellent post-mortem, noting:
Kentucky’s experience illustrates a problem that many state legislatures have faced: Even when most lawmakers recognize a need to address a judicial workload imbalance, they may not be willing to fix it if it means the communities they represent would lose judges. At least three states have tried to tackle the issue in the past few years, and none has successfully implemented a plan yet.
For anyone interested in pressures placed on legislators and the related impact on courts, the entire article is a must-read.
The legislature-approved salary increase of 4 percent over two years was in line with Governor Scott Walker’s recommendation, but far below the 16 percent increase requested by Chief Justice Patience Roggensack. The Wisconsin judiciary currently ranks 43rd nationwide in judicial pay.
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.
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.
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.