Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'State Court News' Category

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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Hybrid Judicial Selection Process Gets Scrutiny in New Mexico

It can be difficult for a New Mexico governor to put her or his stamp on the state judiciary given the state’s unusual hybrid process for picking judges, Thomas J. Cole writes in an Albuquerque Journal column.

There has been a burst of debate recently about this process, which combines merit selection and partisan elections for picking state judges. A notable feature of the process is gubernatorial appointment of judges following candidate screening by nominating commissions; but judges do not always Read more

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Commentary: Washington State Legislature has ‘One More Chance’


Washington State Supreme Court Justices

The Washington State Legislature has “one more chance” to fully fund schools, writes president of the Washington Research Council Richard S. Davis in an op-ed in The Bellingham Herald. The Legislature has until 2018 to fully fund public education, but the state Supreme Court required lawmakers to provide a report on education funding plans for the upcoming legislative session. The Court held the Legislature in contempt because a report had not been made by the April deadline.

If steps aren’t taken to make more progress by the end of the 2015 legislative session, the Courts have threatened sanctions and remedies. These sanctions have not yet been defined, but the Court implies that it may take matters into its own hands.

However, Davis in part criticizes this decision, saying, “Some unexplored territory should remain off limits.” He concedes that the Court is at least reluctant to enter the legislative arena, but justices’ threats foreshadow possible action “with no assurance they could make their decision stick.” Davis is adamant in contending that the Court has little idea of the intricacies of budget and tax policy, and the job is best left to legislators. Read more

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Potential Court-Packing Amendment is Debated in Florida

Florida-Supreme-Court-Seal-300As a proposed constitutional amendment before Florida voters gets increased attention, retired state Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead blasts it as a partisan scheme “audaciously” advanced to pack the court upon retirement of three Democrat-appointed justices who survived an ouster effort in 2012.

“[T]he current legislative majority is seeking to accelerate a partisan political power grab of Florida’s judiciary at the highest level,” Justice Anstead writes in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed that is available through Google. “They want to vest a lame-duck outgoing governor with the authority to fill three seats on the Supreme Court that become vacant after the governor’s term expires.”

He condemns the proposal as a “blatant attempt to politicize the judiciary” and says it would remove the accountability protection inherent in a sitting governor, who faces the voters at the end of his or her term, making the appointments. Read more

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Kansas Court Rules on Ballot Fray, but Fight Isn’t Over

KansasIn a nationally watched case, the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the removal of Democrat Chad Taylor’s name from the ballot for the U.S. Senate in November, upholding Taylor’s wishes.

Because Taylor’s recent withdrawal –which was disputed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican — has been widely viewed as making the race more difficult for Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts against an independent, it has gained widespread attention. Republicans are seeking to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in November.

“It’s pretty outrageous. We’ve seen the Kansas Supreme Court do some pretty strange things, but this really takes the cake,” Kobach said afterward, according to KSHB. He also said, “It’s what the Supreme Court decided, and they have the authority to interpret Kansas law so now we move on. Read more

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