Gavel Grab

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Editorial: Proposals Reflect Bid for ‘Control’ of KS High Court

Kansas-Flag-2An effort by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others to scrap the existing system for choosing state Supreme Court justices is “about control” of what should be an independent court, a Salina (Ks.) Journal editorial warns.

“The current system offers the best chance of an independent judiciary, which is one of the bedrock protections of our democracy. The fact that Brownback, Kobach and others want you to vote to change that should be a red flag,” the editorial says.

Proposals in the legislature would get rid of the current system involving a nonpartisan nominating commission that screens applicants and recommends finalists to the governor, who would make an appointment. Proposed alternatives are for direct election of the justices or appointment by the governor, subject to state Read more

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Judicial Recusal Bill Weighed in Montana Legislature

A bill under debate in the Montana legislature would require a judge to step aside from hearing a case if he or she received $35 in campaign donations from a party or lawyer involved in the case, according to Gavel to Gavel.

According to an Associated Press report, “A slate of judges, attorneys and a representative of the State Bar of Montana opposed the measure. They argued that widespread disqualification would ensue under HB 255 given the high number of attorneys that contribute to campaigns.”

Justice at Stake has called in general for more rigorous recusal rules, in order to protect fair and impartial courts when judges are elected. JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg wrote in a Chicago Tribune op-ed in September 2011: Read more

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Brownback Makes Second Court Appointment Under New Law

urlKansas Gov. Sam Brownback has announced his nomination of Kathryn Gardner to the state Court of Appeals. She has served as a longtime law clerk to a federal judge, as an assistant attorney general and as a lawyer in private practice.

It was the second time Brownback has nominated a Court of Appeals judge under a new law that eliminated a judicial nominating commission screening process, called merit selection. Before the Republican-dominated legislature dumped that process, Gardner applied for two different openings on the appeals court, the Associated Press reported.  She was not recommended by the commission as a finalist either time.

Brownback called the nominee thoughtful and intelligent. He noted that she writes cowboy poetry and called her a “renaissance woman.” Her nomination must be confirmed by the state Senate. Read more

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Judge’s Campaign Remarks Now Basis for Recusal Request

frenchDid Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith L. French display potential bias for fellow Republicans in elected office with her remarks at a campaign rally last year? The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association argues that she did, and as a result she should step aside from hearing an appeal of a case in which it is a party.

The controversy is the subject of a Columbus Dispatch article entitled, “Union wants Ohio Supreme Court’s Judith French off case, alleging bias.” The article says Justice French made the following remarks on Oct. 25 at a political rally:

“I am a Republican, and you should vote for me. … Let me tell you something, the Ohio Supreme Court is the backstop for all those other votes you are going to cast” for Republican candidates. “So, forget all those other votes if you don’t keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative.” Read more

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One Legal Analyst Examines Alabama Top Judge’s Stand on Marriage

Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court is actually right in saying that state courts don’t have to follow what a federal trial or appeals court says on an issue of law, legal journalist Lyle Denniston writes at the Constitution Daily blog.

“That is one of the oddities of a divided court regime – a federal system and a separate and quite independent state system,” Denniston explains.  Read more

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Ohio Chief Justice, Pushing for Reform, Releases Poll Data

VOTERA poll of Ohio voters shows that 56 percent “believe some unqualified people are elected to the bench due to problems with elections,” the Columbus Dispatch reported, and 44 percent agree or strongly agree that “courts are primarily political institutions where rival groups seek advantage under the law.”

On a more positive note for the courts, 76 percent said they agree or strongly agree when asked if  the “court system is the key protector of individual liberty, safety and property.”

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would shift judicial elections to off-years, in order for them to get more attention from voters. She released the polling data on Thursday. Read more

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Top Alabama Judge: Federal Court Ruling Not Binding

Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court said on Wednesday he does not find a federal judge’s ruling, striking down a ban on marriage for same-sex couples as unconstitutional, to be binding on the probate judges who would be asked to issue such marriage licenses.

At the same time, according to the Birmingham News, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint against Chief Justice Moore over his remarks in a letter to Alabama’s governor earlier (see Gavel Grab). The complaint said:

“It is difficult to imagine a more patent and undeniable violation of the prohibition against public comment on ‘impending’ cases than for the sitting Chief Justice to advise an entire class of judges on how they must rule on what likely will be hundreds of license applications to be filed in just two short weeks.” Read more

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High Court Orders Stays of Three Oklahoma Executions

The U.S. Supreme Court, having announced last week it would hear a case challenging the lethal injection used to execute condemned Oklahoma prisoners, ordered on Wednesday a stay of execution for three prisoners bringing the appeal.

According to a New York Times article, the court’s action on Wednesday “arrived too late for a fourth petitioner in the case, Charles F. Warner, who was executed on Jan. 15 after the court rejected his stay application in a 5-to-4 vote. That sequence of events brought attention to a gap in the court’s internal procedures, which require the votes of four justices to add a case to the court’s docket, but five to stop an execution.”

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N.H. House Panel to Look at Possible Impeachment of Judge

New Hampshire state Rep. Daniel Itse has sponsored a measure asking the state House of Representatives to explore whether to launch impeachment proceedings against Judge Jacalyn A. Colburn, a Superior Court judge, over a ruling in September.

According to a Nashua Telegraph article last month, Itse thinks the judge inserted personal belief into her ruling, involving addition of a city charter amendment to last November’s ballot. The newspaper said Itse “has sponsored or co-sponsored the removal of multiple judges in the past four years.” Read more

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Top Alabama Judge Denounces Marriage Equality Ruling

set-5a-color-roy-moore-chief-justice-14825913jpg-df54fe1459ae944bDespite a federal judge’s striking down an Alabama ban on marriage for same-sex couples, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said in a letter to the state’s governor that he will continue to recognize the ban.

“As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment,” he wrote, according to an article.

“I ask you to continue to uphold and support the Alabama Constitution with respect to marriage, both for the welfare of this state and for our posterity,” the chief justice wrote. “Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.” Read more

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