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.

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Ohio judge shot on courthouse steps; returns fire; assailant killed

Yesterday morning, Judge Joseph Bruzzese of the Jefferson County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas was shot in the chest at near point-blank range as he prepared to enter the courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. Judge Bruzzese was rushed by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, and it appears that he will survive. Remarkably, the judge was armed and returned fire. A local probation officer was also at the scene and also fired at the perpetrator, who was killed. Authorities surmise that had the probation officer not been present, the suspect would have continued firing until Judge Bruzzese was dead.

The suspect was identified as Nathaniel Richmond, whose son was convicted in the same court for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2012. But the motivation for the shooting is unclear.  Judge Bruzzese apparently had nothing at all to do with the younger Richmond’s case, although he is overseeing a separate case in which the elder Richmond is the plaintiff.

A sad and strange story, which could have been much worse if not for some quick thinking by the probation officer.  Wishing Judge Bruzzese a speedy and full recovery.

New York court security officers to receive training on courthouse recording and media rights

In June, a reporter in the Syracuse, New York area was briefly handcuffed by courthouse security after he took pictures of individuals involved in a hallway altercation.  The court had generally prohibited photographing and video recording activities in court hallways, but made an exception for the media.

The reporter was freed after a few minutes and not charged, but court administrators are now requiring all security officers in the six-county area to undergo training on working with journalists as well as proper arrest procedure.  This appears to have been an isolated incident, but it is good to see the court system acknowledging the problem and working proactively with its officers to maintain the proper balance between security and transparency.

Louisiana judge accused of helping pretrial services company extort poor defendants

The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Louisiana, alleging that a Baton Rouge pretrial services company required hundreds of state inmates to pay “fees” far in excess of their court-ordered bail before they could be released from jail.  The lawsuit further alleges that the pretrial services company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI), was actively assisted by state judge Trudy White. RHI apparently supported Judge White’s 2014 re-election bid.

Although RHI has no formal contract with the state court system, Judge White allegedly ordered more than 300 criminal defendants to complete RHI’s services in 2015 and 2016–without ever inquiring into each defendant’s financial status. RHI subsequently charged the defendants hundreds of dollars in fees for its services–including a $525 “signup fee.” As a result, the suit alleges, hundreds of defendants were forced to languish in jail while friends and family scrambled to raise the needed money.

At this point, these are only allegations.  But we will follow this lawsuit closely.  The caption is Ayo et al. v. Dunn. et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-526.

 

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.

 

New Jersey may prohibit publication of judges’ home contact information

The New Jersey legislature will consider bills to prohibit publishing or posting the home addresses and phone numbers of state judges and prosecutors.  Violating the prohibition would carry a potential 18-month prison sentence and a fine of $10,000.  The bill also contemplates civil penalties.

The proposal comes amid increased awareness of direct threats to the judiciary. Just yesterday, a Florida man was arrested on multiple counts of threatening and stalking judges in Broward County.  And the Texas legislature recently passed bills to beef up courthouse security and designate attacks on judges as hate crimes.

 

Reform Party files challenge to mandatory judicial retirement age in New York

New York’s Reform Party has filed a challenge to the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges. City and State New York has a detailed and well-balanced article on the lawsuit and the hurdles it faces.  Key bits:

Vincent Bonventre, an expert on judical matters in New York and a professor at Albany Law School, agreed that judges should be able to serve past the age of 70, saying that many of them are just reaching their peak at that stage in terms of experience and perspective. But the lawsuit has little chance of finding success, he said.

Bonventre pointed to decisions in the New York state Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court that have upheld age limits for judges. Additionally, New York’s state constitution specifically provides for a mandatory retirement age. In 2013, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have raised the retirement age to 80 for state Supreme Court justices and extended the terms of several Court of Appeals judges fell short.

“It’s not even that the New York courts can take an independent state constitutional perspective on this thing, because the state constitution itself provides for this mandatory retirement age,” Bonventre said. “The state courts, in order to overturn mandatory retirement age, would have to do it under federal law.”

To steal a phrase from the blogosphere, read the whole thing.