Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'State Court News' Category

In Pennsylvania, Renewed Calls for Shift to Merit Selection

supreme_seal_colorAfter the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery amid allegations of sending pornographic emails (see Gavel Grab), the entire episode has sparked extensive media commentary including calls for reform.

“Isn’t it time we stopped electing appellate and Supreme Court judges?” said a Pottstown Mercury editorial with the headline, “Shameful actions of justices stain state Supreme Court.” It continued, “It would be better to follow the federal example and come up with a merit selection process that has reasonable checks and balances.” It said both gubernatorial candidates back merit selection.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization advocating for merit selection, told a CBS affiliate, “We’ve received many calls in the past week asking for change.” She added, “Judges should be selected based on their personal integrity and legal qualifications. What you want is a fair and impartial judge, not somebody who got there because they campaigned their way in or because they were a good fundraiser.” Read more

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Pennsylvania Justice McCaffery is Suspended From Bench

Justice McCaffery

Justice McCaffery

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday suspended with pay one of its justices, Seamus McCaffery. The vote followed his apology for sending sexually explicit e-mails, which he had described as private and personal.

Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board, which has begun an investigation, was ordered by the court to decide in 30 days if there is probable cause for bringing formal misconduct charges, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article. Read more

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Conflict at Divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Allegations of wrongdoing are threatening to cast a cloud over the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. One justice, Seamus McCaffery, “acknowledged sending sexually explicit messages from a personal account,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and a divided court is weighing action.

There’s more to the messy and still-unfolding story. Justice McCaffery has labeled a push for his suspension by Chief Justice Ronald Castille as part of a “vindictive pattern attacks” on McCaffery, according to the Inquirer.

And Justice J. Michael Eakin, the Inquirer said, “was shown to have been sent pornographic and racially tinged e-mails on an anonymous private account”; the article said Justice Eakin “reported himself to the Judicial Conduct Board.” He “accused McCaffery of threatening to release the sexually explicit emails in Read more

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Kansas Court: Democrats Not Required to Field Senate Hopeful

A three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel has ruled that Kansas Democrats are not required to field a U.S. Senate candidate on the ballot in November, replacing a candidate who withdrew.

Because a strong independent candidate, Greg Orman, is running against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, and there is a fierce battle over control of the Senate, the legal issues surrounding the Kansas ballot have drawn national attention. Read more

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Justice Karmeier Won’t Recuse; Donations in His Election at Issue

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a request by lawyers for plaintiffs suing Philip Morris to recuse himself from participating in an appeal on grounds there was a public perception he is biased, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported.

In a rare, 16-page order, Justice Karmeier explained his decision not to recuse and he “addressed the plaintiffs’ allegations he voted to overturn the $10.1 billion verdict against the tobacco company in 2005, the year after it funneled donations to his campaign for the high court,” the newspaper said. Read more

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In Texas, a Frequently Tweeting Supreme Court Justice

don-willettJustice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court has an unusual distinction, according to a New York Times commentary. He has dashed off more than 12,800 tweets since he joined Twitter in 2009. And that, he says, makes him “probably the most avid judicial tweeter in America — which is like being the tallest munchkin in Oz.”

He is down-home in many of the tweets, self-deprecating, and careful to avoid discussion of any legal issues that might surface in his courtroom. He finds tweeting a valuable way to reach out to constituents in a state where voters elect their judges.

“He calls it ‘political malpractice’ not to make use of social media,” the commentary said. “Justice Willett also noted that the American Bar Association’s ethical guidelines approve of the ‘judicious’ use of social media in judicial elections as ‘a valuable tool for public outreach.’ (The wisdom of having an elected judiciary is, of course, another matter.)” Read more

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Charges Recommended Over Judicial Evaluation Commission Makeup

A grand jury has recommended charges against two high-ranking political officials in Tennessee on grounds they ignored state law regarding the composition of a state board that was appointed to evaluate judges, and that no longer exists.

nashville-davidson-countyThe Davidson County grand jury recommended charges against House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in connection with the composition of what was the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, according to The Tennessean. Its article said the grand jury stopped short of indicting the pair, although it had the authority to do so.

In January, a Davidson County Circuit judge found the makeup of the panel, which was in existence at the time, to be unconstitutional because it did not adequately reflect Tennessee’s population. The commission then was made up of seven white men, one white woman and one black woman (see Gavel Grab). At that time, about 52 percent of the state’s population were men and about 48 percent women. Read more

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Wisconsin Justices Face Questions About Conflict of Interest

Gavel_and_moneyCampaign spending by some groups targeted in a Wisconsin campaign finance investigation is now sparking questions as to whether four state Supreme Court justices ought to recuse from weighing whether state prosecutors can legally renew their probe.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the following:

“Among the groups mentioned in the investigation are three that have spent heavily in court races to elect four of the court’s seven justices. The Wisconsin Club for Growth is estimated to have spent $400,000 for Annette Ziegler in 2007; $507,000 for Michael Gableman in 2008; $520,000 for David Prosser in 2011; and $350,000 for Patience Roggensack in 2013.”

Another group, Citizens for a Strong America, was funded by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and spent about $985,000 in support of Justice Prosser; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, funded in part by the Club for Growth, “spent an estimated $2.2 million for Ziegler; $1.8 million for Gableman; $1.1 million for Prosser; and $500,000 for Roggensack,” the newspaper said. Read more

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OH Court Strikes Ethics Provision on Judicial Candidate Speech

Judges and judicial candidates will have more leeway in what they can say when seeking a judgeship, as a result of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday.

The court struck down an ethics rule provision that prohibits judicial candidates from disseminating truthful information that would “nevertheless deceive or mislead a reasonable person.”

“This portion of the rule does not leave room for innocent misstatements or for honest, truthful statements made in good faith but that could deceive some listeners,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote for the court majority, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer article. The court let stand a provision that bars judicial candidates from false information about their opponents or the candidates themselves. Read more

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Her Husband Hosted Political Fundraiser, and KS Judge is Criticized

The Kansas Republican Party found fuel for criticizing the state Supreme Court in a political fundraiser held for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis at the home of Justice Carol Beier. Her husband, Richard Green, arranged the event, and Justice Beier did not attend.

The fundraising event raises “numerous ethical questions for both Davis and the Kansas judicial branch,” Republicans said in a prepared statement, according to the Wichita Eagle.

“It’s my husband’s event, and I have taken care not to be there,” Justice Beier told the newspaper. The Davis campaign said she had no role in arranging the event. Read more

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