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Archive for the 'State Court News' Category

N.J.: Search for Fix Amid ‘Political Football’ Over Court

seal of the supreme court of njTwo former New Jersey Supreme Court justices who were appointed by Republican governors support a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee tenure for state judges unless they are found unfit for the bench, a Wall Street Journal article says.

The newspaper takes an in-depth look at the new proposal. On Friday the New Jersey Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for the measure (see Gavel Grab), and the idea behind it first was put forth by former Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Thomas Kean. Justice Stein recently called for an end “to the diminishment and demoralization of the judicial branch of our state government.”

Also in support is former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who was nominated by Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. ”An amendment would memorialize the system and make it stronger and less fragile,” she said. Read more

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N.M. Lawsuit Over Judicial Pay Veto Raises Questions

Numerous questions are raised by a newly filed lawsuit  against New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, challenging her veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise, according to news media accounts.

The lawsuit was filed by individual judges, two state senators, and groups representing state judges. It contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries, according to a New Mexico Watchdog report.

That publication quotes Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the Martinez administration, as saying New Mexico Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes lobbied the governor’s office to advocate for the judicial raises. Read more

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‘Court-Packing’ Plan Withdrawn in Alaska Senate

Alaska-quarterA proposed constitutional amendment to revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council, by doubling the number of its members who are named by the governor, was withdrawn by its sponsor in the state Senate.

The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. It has three lawyer members appointed by the Alaska State Bar Association, three non-attorney members appointed by the governor, and the Chief Justice as chair. The measure would have doubled the non-attorney members appointed by the governor from three to six, in what the Senate Democratic leader called a “court-packing” plan (see Gavel Grab).

An Alaska Dispatch article was headlined, “Senate withdraws plan to double governor’s picks on council for judge nominees.” The bill sponsor said he wasn’t certain there was enough support for the two-thirds vote needed to approve a constitutional amendment. Earlier, an Alaska Dispatch op-ed by attorney Lance Parrish had said about the GOP-led proposal, “[T]his is strictly about a power grab based [on] the assumption that Republican political pressure can be exerted.” Read more

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Tennessee Judicial Evaluation Committee Faces Inquiry

A Tennessee legislator has introduced an inquiry into the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), saying it could be prone to lawsuits.

Rep. Judd Matheny told The Tennessean that he is concerned that Tennessee may face lawsuits over whether the JPEC, which has the sole power to determine if appellate judges stand unopposed for retention elections, violated the law when it met and made decisions.

Read more

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Spotlight on NC Supreme Court Race

An article in The News & Observer  points to heightened political interest in the state’s 2014 Supreme Court election.  “With four of the seven seats on the ballot this year in a state where politics have become hyperpartisan, there have been NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224accusations of gamesmanship in races that until recently had not seen a huge infusion of outside money,” the piece notes.

The race has been rocked by last-minute challenges to two incumbent associate justices, including one running for the Chief Justice seat.  The surprise challenges to the justices, whose campaigns had been expected to be uneventful,  have raised eyebrows as the state’s May primary approaches.

This year’s judicial race in North Carolina will be run against the backdrop of 2012′s multimillion-dollar state Supreme Court contest, and without the availability of public financing for judicial campaigns.  Despite popular support for public financing, the state did away with it in 2013 (see Gavel Grab).  The high-spending 2012 judicial race in the state was also noted in a News & Observer piece April 5. The piece cited Justice at Stake’s New Politics of Judicial Elections report, which highlighted North Carolina’s judicial race as the fourth most expensive in the nation in 2011-12.


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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has named a Criminal Appeals Judge, Jeff Bivins, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press.   The governor recently established a screening commission to recommend candidates for high court seats.  The appointment comes as the state is weighing a constitutional amendment to permanently establish gubernatorial appointment of its judges (see Gavel Grab).
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Commissions in NM to Host Public Meetings on New Judgeships

A bipartisan commissions in New Mexico will hold public meetings to recommend candidates to Gov. Susana Martinez for potential new judicial appointments.  These meetings will be held in June in Santa Fe, Lovington and Los Lunas.

The Associated Press is reporting that separate judicial nominating commissions will interview applicants for district court judgeships that had been approved by the Legislature and governor earlier this year.

Earlier this yeas, Justice at Stake had applauded the creation of new judgeships in New Mexico.  For more on that legislation, see Gavel Grab.

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Editorial: A Surprise Primary Challenge Jolts NC Judicial Race

justice-scalesAn editorial in The News & Observer   questions whether “hardball politics” have already entered the 2014 North Carolina judicial elections in the form of a surprise primary challenge to one incumbent Supreme Court justice.  The editorial notes that the sudden entry into the race of a challenger to incumbent Justice Robin Hudson “recasts the election and complicates” the efforts of Hudson, one of two Democrats on the seven-member bench, to hold her seat.

This year’s North Carolina judicial race has long been expected to take place in a supercharged political climate, following the elimination of public financing for judicial elections and the multimillion-dollar 2012 Supreme Court race between incumbent Justice Paul Newby and Judge Sam Ervin.  The Newby-Ervin election was covered in depth in the Justice at Stake/Brennan Center report The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.  As was the case in 2012, the ideological makeup of the court hangs in the balance this year, and many observers are already predicting a high-cost and highly politicized contest.  For more, see Gavel Grab.

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Op-Ed Warns of Judicial Secrecy in NC

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224An op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times warns of dire consequences for North Carolina’s judicial system as a result of recent changes to the law.  Under the headline “Judicial Secrecy in NC Will Certainly Foster Corruption,” the op-ed predicts that ”The secrecy imposed on the Judicial Standards Commission will foster corruption. So will the repeal of public financing for appellate court campaigns. It’s not a question of whether, but only of when.”

The paper reports that the North Carolina legislature recently made changes to procedures of the Judicial Standards Commission that will prevent disclosure of disciplinary proceedings.  Complaints and proceedings will remain secret unless disciplinary action against a judge is recommended to and approved by the state Supreme Court.

The action comes as a recusal controversy continues to swirl around one of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s own justices, whose campaign in 2012 was aided by millions in independent spending by outside groups.  That campaign was covered in depth in the Justice at Stake/Brennan Center for Justice report  The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12:  How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts.  The Citizen-Times op-ed goes on to suggest that North Carolina should consider appointment, rather than election, of appellate judges.

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Report: Politicians Target Courts Over School Funding Orders

A new report by the Center for American Progress finds that “Conservative politicians are lashing out at courts that order equal funding for education,” as the report’s title states, and they are seeking to remove judges, reduce their authority or give the legislative and executive branches “exclusive control” over appointing judges.

According to the report by Billy Corriher, director of research for Legal Progress at CAP, some of the legislative proposals “violate the separation of powers principles in their respective state constitutions.”

The report takes a close look at Alaska, Kansas, New Jersey and Washington. Among the hostile actions against impartial courts that it cites are New Jersey Chris Christie’s declining to appoint a veteran state Supreme Court justice in 2010 (see Gavel Grab), a proposal to shrink the Washington Supreme Court from nine justices to five by having its members draw straws to see who steps down (see Gavel Grab), and “explicit threats” by leading Kansas Republicans to change the way state Supreme Court justices are selected if the high court went a certain way in issuing an education funding directive (see Gavel Grab).

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