Minnesota Supreme Court to begin live streaming oral arguments

On the heels of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s first live broadcast of an oral argument last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court has announced that it will begin live streaming its own oral arguments next week.  The first live streamed case will involve a dispute between Governor Mark Dayton and the state legislature.

In a statement, Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said the court is “committed to maintaining the public’s trust in our Court, and ensuring the openness and accessibility of our public proceedings.”

“By livestreaming our oral arguments, we hope to give more Minnesotans the opportunity to see their highest Court in action, and to learn more about how our Court considers and decides the important legal matters that come before us,” she said.

Advertisements

Minnesota adds two judgeships to keep up with case filings

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.

Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news

On Monday, the President nominated ten individuals for federal judgeships — five on the circuit courts of appeal, four on the district courts, and one on the U.S. Court of Claims.  Three of the ten (Joan Larsen of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota, and David Nye of Idaho) currently sit on state courts — Larsen and Stras on their state supreme courts, and Nye on his state’s trial bench.

The value of state court experience for federal judges has not been discussed much, but it should be. An intimate knowledge of state law and state court operations is surprisingly useful for the federal bench. And appointing federal judges from the state courts has valuable ripple effects for the states as well. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news”

Update on state legislation affecting the courts

State legislatures continue to propose and advance bills that will impact their respective court systems.  Here are some of the latest developments:

  • Indiana’s proposal to convert Marion County (Indianapolis) to a merit selection system is heading to conference committee.  The latest version of the bill calls for a 14-member nominating committee to choose three final candidates for the governor’s selection; four of the committee members would be chosen from voters.  Previous coverage of the Indiana bill and its history is here.
  • In Arkansas, a new bill would change the way state judges are elected in Cumberland County Superior Court.  The current election system grants seats on the bench to the top two vote-getters among all candidates.  The bill would require candidates to declare which of the two judicial seats they are seeking.
  • The Florida House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the state constitution that would impose term limits on state appellate judges, including supreme court justices.  This is a terrible idea, but happily it is still in its infancy.  The state senate would also have to approve the move, and then voters would have to approve it in 2018.  Similar efforts in others states have been defeated in recent years after they were exposed for the transparent political proposals that they were.
  • Nebraska’s unicameral legislature has advanced a bill to raise judicial pay in the state.

 

A refreshingly honest take on courtroom cameras

Judge Dale Harris has an op-ed discussing his first experience with cameras in his courtroom, stemming from Minnesota’s pilot project to allow recording of certain sentencing proceedings.  It’s a usefully honest take:

There is not much of a question in my mind that the cameras had some effect on the participants. I could tell I was measuring my words more carefully than usual, and I am pretty sure the attorneys were as well. Although most court proceedings are open to the public, human beings just tend to act differently when they know they are on camera. It is also hard to pull out a couple short clips that accurately depict a complex hearing. Those are the primary reasons I was not a fan of the pilot program.

For those of us who work in the courthouse every day, however, it is probably too easy to take familiarity of the judicial process for granted. Many people never see the inside of a courtroom, so having this type of access through the media might provide some insight that those people would not otherwise get. The media is merely responding to that perceived need.

As a government entity, the court system always has to strive for greater transparency. The question in the near future, as the pilot project is evaluated, is whether these benefits amount to a net gain. If the answer is “yes,” then I fully would expect the pilot program to be expanded to more types of court hearings. Stay tuned.

Cameras probably do have some effect on participants, just as a live audience would.  But if the end result is a sentencing characterized by more measured words and a careful tone, the cameras pilot should indeed be considered a success.

Minnesota courts continue innovations regarding self-represented litigants

State courts have increasingly tried to keep up with the growth of self-represented litigants. Concrete numbers are elusive, in part due to varying definitions of “self-represented.”* But studies undertaken by individual states clearly demonstrate the burgeoning self-represented population in probate, domestic violence, family law, and even run-of-the-mill civil cases. Federal courts, too, report that almost 86,000 civil cases were filed by a self-represented plaintiff in Fiscal Year 2016 (most of them prisoner petitions).

This interesting article discusses the efforts of the Minnesota state courts to address the growing numbers of self-represented parties:

It’s not uncommon for pro se litigants to arrive at court with paperwork that’s either the wrong form or filled out incorrectly. These kinds of mistakes can gum up the system, court officials say. Now judges can sometimes send people straight from the courtroom to a self-help center.

“It helps people feel like they’ve been heard,” District Judge Bethany Fountain Lindberg said. “It also eliminates unnecessary hearings.”

While the number of court cases overall in Minnesota has decreased since 2010, the percentage of litigants proceeding without a lawyer remains high. Excluding traffic and parking cases, nearly 80 percent of cases heard in Minnesota district courts last year involved a pro se litigant at some point, state data show.

The reason is often financial, court officials say. The rise of the do-it-yourself web culture may also be behind the trend.

“It used to be that everyone had attorneys,” said Mike Moriarity, 10th Judicial District administrator. “Now there’s a spirit that people want to try doing it themselves.

* The Court Statistics Project, maintained by the National Center for State Courts, tracks self-represented litigation through a common definition, but the numbers are not available for all states.

Minnesota judge loses constitutional challenge to state’s mandatory retirement age

Last summer, Minnesota District Judge Galen Vaa filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that its mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 was unconstitutional.  (Vaa is currently 69 and wants to keep working past next year.)  This week, another district judge in the state ruled against his claim, concluding that the state constitution authorized the legislature to set a mandatory retirement age.

Most states impose mandatory retirement ages between 70 and 75.  Judge Vaa plans to appeal the ruling.

UPDATE: Michigan lawmakers are considering eliminating that state’s mandatory retirement age for judges.  We’ll follow this development as well.