Archive for the 'State Court News' Category
Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices contacted state legislators earlier this year to signal support for a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected. Justice Patricia Roggensack, one of the two who voiced support, could benefit from the change.
The (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel reported the developments, saying it is permissible for justices to lobby the legislature “but doing so runs the risk of deepening an already yawning rift on the court.”
Wisconsin’s chief justice currently is Shirley Abrahamson. Democrats and Republicans have divided over the legislation. Democrats contend the action is aimed at removing Justice Abrahamson, who has held the post for 17 years. Republicans say it would be better to have the Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law. Read more
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia received failing grades from the Center for Public Integrity as a part of an evaluation of disclosure requirements for high court judges. The Center found 35 examples of questionable gifts as well as caseloads that coincided with investments. Though a few did better than the others, no state was able to earn an A or a B mark.
Even with limited information available the three years of personal finance disclosures investigated created a varied list of questionable activity. This activity included judges that authored favorable opinions of companies they owned stock in along with other justices accepting lavish gifts from lawyers. Enforcement of disclosure rules was also found to be problematic with 12 states relying on justices to enforce the ethics rules of the courts on themselves.
An editorial in the News & Observer has concluded that North Carolina’s court system is in crisis. The courts are overloaded with cases, the court’s computer system needs to be updated, and an additional 700 people need to be hired. While both sides of the aisle can agree there is a crisis, neither side of the state legislature can agree on how to solve it, the editorial says.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle argue for different plans to help the courts run more efficiently. Republicans want to cut the budget of the court system, while Democrats believe providing the courts with more money is the way to increase efficiency of the court. The editorial says:
“A shortage of 700 people in a system in which there are 6,000 employees is a crisis not coming, but one that has arrived.”
Dissenting opinions from the Iowa Supreme Court have increased significantly since a retention (up-or-down) election in 2010 when critics successfully campaigned to oust three justices over a controversial decision about marriage.
A news article in The Gazette reported that cases with dissents have increased from six in 2009 to 22 in 2011-12 and 34 in 2012-13. The number of dissents remains relatively low, the newspaper said.
The article explored theories that might explain the increasing dissents. Ex-Justice Michael Streit, who was among those removed in the 2010 election, said the court on which he sat put more emphasis on reaching consensus than is now the case. Read more
Wisconsin’s Assembly has followed the lead of the state Senate and approved a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the state Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected.
Democrats contend the action is aimed at removing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who has held the post for 17 years, according to the Associated Press. Republicans say it would be better to have the Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law.
For the constitutional amendment to take effect, it would have to be approved by the legislature in its next session and then approved by voters statewide.
Kansas Supreme Court Justice Nancy Moritz, nominated by President Obama for a seat on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was well-received at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing recently and could ultimately win Senate confirmation, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
While Senate Republicans have resisted some of Obama’s judicial nominations, Justice Moritz has support from Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican. That may help advance her nomination, law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond told the Kansas newspaper. Moran made a favorable statement about Justice Moritz in introducing her to the Senate panel, according to a Moran press release.
If the Senate confirms Justice Moritz, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would have his first opportunity to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Brownback and allies have advocated dismantling an existing merit selection system for choosing state Supreme Court justices, similar to action taken by the legislature this year to scrap merit selection for Kansas Court of Appeals judges.
A trial court judge ordered on Friday that the entire criminal sentencing of ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin (photo) of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court be stayed, at least until a higher court reaches a decision on her appeal.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the state Superior Court agreed with a request by Orie Melvin’s lawyers and stayed a part of her sentencing that directed her to write apologies to former colleagues on photographs of her wearing handcuffs (see Gavel Grab).
On Friday, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ordered the temporary lifting of her house arrest and probation, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“She’s not serving my sentence! And the problem I have with that is she’s banking credit for time served and I will not allow it!” Judge Nauhaus declared.
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.
Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated state Senate has approved a proposal to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, despite Democrats’ criticism that the measure is politically motivated.
The Senate voted 18-15 in favor of a proposal that would have a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law.
Ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will not be required as part of her sentencing on public corruption counts to write apologies to former colleagues on photographs of her wearing handcuffs — at least for now.
A three-judge panel of the state Superior Court has agreed with a request by Orie Melvin’s lawyers to stay that portion of her sentencing pending the outcome of her direct appeal, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.
“While the requirement that she write apology letters does not involve potentially incriminating testimony in a courtroom, it nevertheless creates evidence that could possibly be used against her in a later criminal proceeding,” Judge Christine L. Donohue wrote in the opinion.
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. You can learn more about her challenge to the apology directive from Gavel Grab.
An ongoing debate around judicial selection in Oklahoma has led to state lawmakers launching a study this week on how members of appellate courts and the state Supreme Court are chosen and for how long they should serve. Tensions have been reported between the state’s legislative and judicial branches since the OK Supreme Court struck down a 2009 law on lawsuit reform that had been considered a priority item for Republican leaders in the state.
Currently, Oklahoma maintains a 15-member Judicial Nominating Committee made up of six lawyers and nine non-lawyers. The committee nominates candidates for appointment by the governor to fill judicial vacancies at the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals with judges serving six year terms and appearing on retention ballots on a rotating basis.
It has been noted by former members of the JNC who spoke to the Associated Press that the current system has worked well and is similar to processes used in more than 30 other states. Groups that are advocating for the current selection process to be changed to a federal system, in which the governor would nominate a candidate to be approved by the senate, or judicial elections, have been countered with multiple arguments against these suggestions including concerns about politicizing the judicial branch.