Gavel Grab

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Three Legislators File Complaint Against TN Trial Judge

A Tennessee trial court judge’s handling of an assault case, in which a friend and campaign donor represented the defendant, has become the topic of an ethics complaint filed by three state senators.

Judge Casey Moreland decided in the case at issue to provide early release for a defendant whose attorney, Bryan Lewis, was good friends with the judge and had donated to his campaign. The defendant allegedly attacked his victim a second time soon after release (see Gavel Grab).

Sens. Mike Bell, Randy McNally and Brian Kelsey filed the complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct, according to The Tennessean. The three are Republicans. They said in the complaint that Judge Moreland’s actions “have done nothing but promote distrust, suspicion and a belief that the ‘good ole boy’ system pervades the judiciary.” Read more

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Retiring Florida Judge Cites Need for Judicial Diversity

1404759515000-118409161Chief Judge Belvin Perry of Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit has announced his intention to retire. Judge Perry, who is African American, said he has a major concern that Florida’s judiciary become more diverse and more reflective of the public it serves.

“My only concern is a concern that has been voiced by a number of people — that we have more diversity in the bench that reflects this community,” Judge Perry said, according to “And, that’s my major concern. That’s an issue that was worked on by the Florida Bar. And, we’ve had some recommendations. I was very encouraged by the governor’s last appointment of Judge Tanya Wilson to the bench. But, there’s still much to be done.” Read more

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Top N.Y. Court Permits Fracking Bans Adopted by Towns

FRACKING-master675Towns may use zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regardless of New York state law, the New York Court of Appeals has ruled in affirming a lower-court decision.

A New York Times article said the court ruling had “far-reaching implications” in the state. “Numerous municipalities across the state have either banned fracking or are considering doing so, and the trend may accelerate because of the court’s ruling,” it reported.

Mary Ann Sumne,  town supervisor for Dryden, a town that prevailed in the litigation, told, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.” Read more

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The Tennessean: ‘Can Justice be Tainted by Money?’

gavel_cash-300x202In November, Tennessee voters will weigh a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting appellate Tennessee judges. On Sunday, a leading state newspaper, The Tennessean, said it will look in upcoming weeks at states with judicial elections and states with appointment systems, to answer the question: “Can justice be tainted by money?”

When lawyers donate to judicial campaigns and then appear later before the judge, it can cause a problem, the Tennessean article noted in spotlighting one of the most common issues associated with electing judges.

“People who spend that kind of money tend to want something for the effort,” politics and government editor Scott Stroud wrote. He pointed to a recent example in Davidson County.  There is controversy about a judge’s deciding in an assault case to provide early release for a defendant whose attorney, Bryan Lewis, was good friends with the judge and had donated to his campaign. The defendant allegedly attacked his victim a second time soon afterward. Read more

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In Florida County, Allegations of Judges Behaving Badly

The recent arrest of a Broward County, Florida judge on charges of driving under the influence, after the vehicle he was driving swiped a police cruiser in a courthouse parking lot, has sparked concern about a spate of incidents of judges allegedly behaving badly.

Broward-County-LogoThe incidents are so numerous and dramatic that they were the topic of a New York Times article entitled, “Here Comes the Judge, in Cuffs: In Broward County, Fla., Spate of Judges in D.U.I. Arrests.” Here is one view it offers of the county’s judiciary:

“Broward — a heavily Democratic county of 1.8 million people with many judges who are the children, spouses, siblings and fraternity brothers of other judges and some of the region’s most powerful people — seems to be ground zero for allegations of judicial misconduct. The system’s critics say that is because Broward has a highly politicized and clannish culture that is known for protecting its own, which has led some in the judiciary to feel invincible, even as they preside over a county court system that produces the state’s highest exoneration rate.” Read more

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Censured Montana Judge Challenges His Punishment

District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Montana, facing censure and a 31-day suspension from the state Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab) after he said a 14-year-old rape victim seemed “older than her chronological age,” says he is receiving an unprecedented punishment.

The justices took the unprecedented action of ordering his suspension when the Montana Judicial Standards Commission had not recommended it, Judge Baugh said in documents submitted to the high court, according to Reuters.

“Thus, I think, the imposition of suspension which was not recommended by the commission is unwarranted,” Judge Baugh wrote. “I will not object to you withdrawing the suspension.”

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Pennsylvania Senate Scuttles Court-Cutting Proposal

1048px-Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Pennsylvania.svgThe Pennsylvania Senate voted 40-10 on Thursday to kill a proposal for reducing the size of the state Supreme Court by two justices and the state Superior Court by four judges. reported that senators opposed to the proposal had contended earlier it could have a harmful impact on a caseload in the appellate courts that already is heavy.

An advocate for the reductions, however, argued that the Legislature has been pressured to tighten its belt, while the courts seemed to evade the same pressure.  ”I think reducing the size of the Supreme and Superior Court is not going to cause any dysfunction in our system,” said Sen. John Wozniak, a Democrat. Read more

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A Whiff of Politics in Hearing on Tennessee Chief Justice?

Sen. Bell

Sen. Bell

Are Tennessee Supreme Court election-season politics spilling over into the legislative arena? Some insiders say that appeared to be the case when conservative legislators took the Chief Justice to task in a Tuesday hearing.

Conservatives led by Republican Sen. Mike Bell questioned whether Chief Justice Gary Wade had violated judicial ethics when he publicly defended three appellate judges who had gotten negative professional evaluations. Chief Justice Wade said the trio deserved another chance.

At Tuesday’s hearing, officials who handle enforcement of judicial ethics cleared the judge. “If the statement had been ‘everyone needs to get behind these judges on August 7th,’ that would be an absolutely clear statement of an endorsement in an election rather than an implied endorsement,” said Judge Chris Craft, chair of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, according to a Nashville Public Radio report. Read more

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Two Justices Decline to Recuse in High-Profile S.C. Case

south-carolina-flagThe South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a high-profile case involving  the powerful House speaker. Two justices who had been asked by a watchdog group to recuse themselves did not do so, according to The Post and Courier.

In the oral arguments, a lawyer representing Attorney General John Wilson asked the court to set aside a state judge’s decision directing Wilson to halt a criminal investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who won re-election as chief justice by the legislature this year, was actively supported by Harrell’s electioneering. The executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina asked earlier that both Chief Justice Toal and her opponent, Associate Justice Constance Pleicones, consider recusing themselves (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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TN Senate’s ‘Judicial Accountability’ Panel to Meet on Tuesday

tennessee-sign-532x291When an “Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Accountability” that was appointed by the Tennessee Senate meets on June 24, it may turn into an effort to investigate Chief Justice Gary Wade, or the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

That report comes from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a JAS partner organization. The report notes that Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican and chair of the Ad Hoc committee, earlier filed an ethics complaint against the chief justice; the complaint did not lead to a reprimand from the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. Read more

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