Gavel Grab

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • After 24 years on the bench, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder is retiring.  The Tennessean published a piece describing her long career that was defined, in part, by an administrative fluke.
  • Cleveland.com released results of a recent poll that asked readers if they thought judges should receive raises.  Most readers disagreed with Ohio’s Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor who said Thursday in her State of the Judiciary address that the state’s judiciary deserves a raise.
  • In a video posted online by C-SPAN, Sandra Day O’Connor discussed her book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. The interview took place at the 2014 National Book Festival on August 30.
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Opinion: Confidence in the Courts is Impaired by Budget Cuts

California’s judicial budget has been reduced by about 30 percent over the last several years.  A bar association report detailed how budget cuts and financial difficulties affected California courts.  This includes an approximate 15 percent reduction in the number of courtrooms and a projected 470 vacancies among permanent court staff.

Brad Weinreb discussed how budget cuts lead to undermining confidence in the judiciary for an editorial published in San Diego Jewish World. He highlights the difficulties created for families and businesses.

In addition to these operational effects, there is the real world impact on the public, and the bar association report offers several examples. It becomes harder for businesses to prevent rivals from engaging in unfair competition or misappropriating trade secrets, or to develop new products, operate in new markets or hire employees. They also have difficulty enforcing contracts in a timely manner.

For more stories on court funding click here.

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • General financial information about government officials and the salaries of many of their staff are easily accessible online. In contrast, The Washington Post notes that the financial disclosure forms of Supreme Court justices remain “virtually inaccessible to the average member of the public.”
  • The LA Times reports that after 24 years on the California Supreme Court, Justice Marvin R. Baxter will retire.  His retirement will create the second vacancy on the court to be filled by Gov. Jerry Brown.
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And the Emmy Goes to a Civics Education Effort, Featuring O'Connor

The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has been awarded with an Emmy for its film “Fair and Free” featuring Justice at Stake Honorary Chair, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  As a part of a groundbreaking civics education campaign the film addresses “a dangerous gap in civic literacy in our nation.”

Digital Journal announced in a press release that the Emmy was presented by the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  It was the only award given in the Public Service Announcement category.  Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington, DC and NAWJ President made a statement on the importance of the campaign.

“Each day in American courts, thousands of judges preside over cases ranging from traffic offenses to tax and land disputes, child abuse and murder. The judicial system reflects the fabric of life in this country. And unlike legislators, a judge must stand apart from political and partisan ideas, and ensure each litigant’s case receives a fair and impartial hearing, with a resolution based on the law. That is the foundation of the public’s trust and confidence in the courts.”

The National Association of Women Judges is a Justice at Stake partner organization.  For more news on public education efforts, see other posts from Gavel Grab here.

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The New York Times discussed a study which determined that judges with daughters are more likely to vote in favor of women’s rights than judges with only sons.  Gavel Grab has written about this study in the past.
  • On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether or not violent images and threatening language posted on social media constitute a true threat to others.  The Washington Post reports that the case will be considered during the term beginning in the fall.
  • An Alabama appeals court has thrown out an anti-sodomy law, declaring it to be unconstitutional.  Reuters covered the story, noting that several other states have recently reviewed similar laws.
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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Wisconsin’s gay-marriage ban was struck down by a federal court, eight years after voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that banned marriage equality in the state.  MSNBC has more coverage of the decision and recent trends.
  • Governor Markell has nominated Karen Valihura for a vacancy on the Delaware Supreme Court.  WDDE noted that if Valihura’s nomination is confirmed by the state senate, she will become the second woman to serve on the state’s high court.
  • Minnesota Lawyer is reporting that two Supreme Court justices in Minnesota are facing challengers in upcoming elections.  There are no challenges to the state’s Court of Appeals seats but several district will have primaries and contested races as well.
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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Democracy-Herald ran an opinion piece on the importance of “low-key” judicial races in Oregon .  The author notes that only 5 of 70 judgeships on ballots in Oregon this year are contested but “that doesn’t mean that voters can afford to ignore the candidates seeking a seat in the vital third branch of our government.”
  • Last week, a group of judges gathered for the first time since 2011, in part to discuss budget worries.  Ajc.com covered judicial conferences happening this year and the reaction from lawmakers in Congress.
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More on Political Pressure and the Botched Execution in Oklahoma

NewsOK published a piece over the weekend on the botched execution that took place in Oklahoma last week.  In it, Stephen Jones discusses the potential affect of current media attention on future discussions about the death penalty and American courts.

“The death penalty will only survive if the entire legal process is fair and humane. By demonstrating Oklahoma’s method of lethal injection isn’t humane, ironically, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Gov. Mary Fallin, a majority of the state Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court have advanced the abolition of the death penalty more than they could have foreseen.”

Jones cites inappropriate political pressure, particularly pressure on the courts, as the reason for the rushed nature of the execution.  This includes recent state legislative resolutions introduced to impeach the five Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices who stayed the execution in order to consider an appeal about the state’s secrecy law and the source of the lethal drugs after the Court of Criminal Appeals twice declined to do so.  Two days after the articles of impeachment were introduced, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a brief legal decision addressing the issue and dissolving the stay. For more information on statements Justice at Stake has made in relation to these events, see Gavel Grab.

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Union donations and judicial recusal in Wisconsin

As the Wisconsin Supreme Court prepares to rule on a challenge to the state’s “Act 10,” which seeks to dismantle collective bargaining for most public workers, academics and interest groups are debating whether any of the justices should have to recuse themselves because they received campaign donations from public sector unions.

The Act, passed in 2011, was challenged by unions, who argue that its labor restrictions violated the state constitution.  A Circuit Court judge agreed in 2012, and the case is now under consideration by the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin’s rules requires judges to bow out of certain cases where their impartiality can be questioned.  The Journal Sentinel reported on calls for recusal, along with the opinions of some legal scholars who stated that the donations in question were so small in relation to overall campaign spending that they may not require recusal.

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Oklahoma House Rules committee passed a bill that would have attorneys appointed to the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission by leaders of the House and Senate.  For more, see the Associated Press.
  • According to the Boston Globe, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider requirements for transferring class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts.
  • The Associated Press covered a bill in Pennsylvania that would create the Pennsylvania Center for Effective Indigent Defense Legal Representation and give $1 million to start training lawyers.  Pennsylvania is currently the only state that does not help the poor get access to legal defense for criminal cases.
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