Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'State Court News' Category

Ten Court-Related Items on State Ballots This Fall

A constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee is among 10 court-related items that will appear on nine state ballots this fall, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

Two of the ballot items will involve mandatory retirement for judges. In Hawaii, voters will weigh raising from 70 to 80 the mandatory retirement age. In Louisiana, voters will consider eliminating a mandatory retirement age entirely.

In Florida, voters will consider a ballot item that would allow a governor who is stepping down to make appointments to the bench for vacancies that occur on inauguration day. Read more

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Tennessee Court to Weigh Naming of Attorney General

When new eight-year terms commence Sept. 1 for three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who were recently retained by voters, their first “political decision” will be the court’s selection of a state attorney general, says political blogger Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Tennessee alone allows its state Supreme Court to choose the attorney general. When the three justices recently stood for retention, their critics made the court’s selection of Bob Cooper for attorney general an issue, saying Cooper had declined to join other state attorneys general in challenging the federal Affordable Care Act. Humphrey examines the political calculus of different options facing the high court.

A separate blog post by Humphrey, meanwhile, followed up on an allegation aired in the campaign that Chief Justice Gary Wade may have violated ethics rules. The post is headlined, “Wade says any ethics violation via campaign billboard was ‘unintentional and quickly remedied.’”

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Ex-Judge Excused From Penning Apology on Photo in Cuffs

joan-orie-melvin_originalThe Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the public corruption convictions of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. While she must apologize to former fellow judges, a requirement that she do so on a photograph of herself in handcuffs goes too far, the Superior Court said.

“The trial court’s use of the handcuffs as a prop is emblematic of the intent to humiliate Orie Melvin in the eyes of her former judicial colleagues,” the Superior Court said, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

Orie Melvin was sentenced to three years in house arrest and a $55,000 fine. She was convicted by a jury of corruption in campaigns for the state’s highest court. Following her conviction, there was a new round of calls for Pennsylvania to adopt merit-based selection of appeals court judges.

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Martin Appointed Chief Justice of N.C. Supreme Court

In North Carolina, where the governor selects the Chief Justice, Gov. Pat McCrory has given that appointment to Justice Mark Martin.

Martin has the longest seniority on the bench, according to a WUNC report, and the governor followed tradition in naming him Chief Justice. He will succeed Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who is stepping down. Read more

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Editorial Decries Partisan N.C. Bid to ‘Muzzle the Judges’

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224With a new law for weighing the constitutionality of statutes passed by North Carolina’s legislature, Republican leaders are working to “[m]uzzle the judges,” a (Raleigh) News & Observer editorial declares.

It’s because Republican legislators have been passing poorly crafted laws that individual Superior Court judges have overturned recently some statutes, the editorial says. It’s not the judges who are the problem, it asserts, and by creating special three-judge panels to hear challenges to such laws in the future (see Gavel Grab), Republicans “have moved to make judges more compliant toward the General Assembly.”

The three-judge panels will be named by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and “Republican judges control the state Supreme Court thanks to a flood of outside money that has thoroughly politicized the once low-profile elections,” the editorial continues. Read more

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Rumblings of Threat to Impeach Justices in Tennessee

justices_22442There’s no action yet, but there are rumblings in Tennessee of a possible bid to impeach three state Supreme Court justices who were retained by voters in a closely watched election this month.

According to a blog of the Knoxville News Sentinel, serial litigant John Jay Hooker, a longtime foe of Tennessee’s merit system for selecting judges, has gotten assurances from some legislators that they will seek impeachment next year.

A Davidson County grand jury met earlier this year with lawyer Hooker and subsequently voiced questions about the legality of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (see Gavel Grab for background about JPEC.) Hooker plans to ask the grand jury to issue a report stating the three incumbent justices were on the Aug. 7 retention ballot illegally. Read more

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New Criticism for 3-Judge Panel System in North Carolina

A provision in a budget approved by the North Carolina legislature,  to change the way state courts weigh challenges to the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly, is getting scrutiny in state news media.

“The public is going to perceive this is some kind of special court that limits their ability to challenge legislative acts,” said Catharine Arrowood, president of the North Carolina Bar Association. “We don’t want the public thinking judges are in any way not impartial or not fair,” she told The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Said Sharon Gladwell, a spokesperson for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, “We believe this concept should have been given additional review and consideration from appropriate stakeholders. We have both legal and practical concerns with this provision.” Read more

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Opinion: Cohesion of Michigan Supreme Court

Justices Robert P. Young Jr. and Bridget McCormack published an op-ed on The Detroit News summarizing the Michigan Supreme Court’s achievements of the past year.

The piece emphasizes the court’s unity rule, which consists of nearly 40 percent of their opinions. They note that dissents were not divided along the party lines and therefore, the court is governed by the law instead of politics.

The two justices also provide statistics that show high satisfaction of the public who used the court service. Furthermore, they point out its success in reducing costs and improving efficiency for both the courts and related government agencies.

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New Process Ahead for Hearing Challenges to N.C. Laws

A little-discussed provision in a budget approved by the North Carolina legislature will change the way state courts weigh challenges to the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly.

The legislation requires three-judge panels, instead of a lone Superior Court judge, to decide the merits of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is to pick the three judges. The budget bill containing the provision was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Pat McCrory, according to the Associated Press.

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Panel Recommends Three Finalists for Kansas High Court

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission, having completed interviews in public of 13 applicants, recommended three finalists for an opening on the Kansas Supreme Court to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The recommended candidates included Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, who had previously served as counsel to Brownback and whose nomination to the appeals court last year proved controversial; Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and state District Judge Merlin Wheeler, according to the Associated Press. Read more

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