Gavel Grab

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Federal Courts Seek $51 Million in Emergency Funds

Federal judiciary leaders are planning to send a request to the Office of Management and Budget later this month to ask Congress for more than $51 million in extra funding for 2013 due to the impact of across-the-board budget cuts.

According to the Federal Times, the federal public defender program has lost $51 million already to the budget cuts, known as sequestration. Criminal prosecutions are being delayed without public defenders available to represent clients who can’t afford legal costs, said Chief Judge William Traxler in a statement. He is chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

The courts are losing almost $350 million under sequestration, the article says. In his statement, Traxler said the cuts were “unsustainable,” and threatened the courts’ “responsibilities under the Constitution,” according to Courthouse News Service. Read more

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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Seminole County Judge Mike Rudisill made it to the bench four years ago based on his political connections, and is now a finalist for a vacancy on the 5th District Court of Appeal due to his political backing, says Scott Maxwell in an Orlando Sentinel commentary. Rudisill has been criticized for his lack of experience in the judiciary prior to his appointment to the County bench.
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts presided over the Lewis & Clark Law School moot court competition earlier this month, but the school’s newspaper did not publish an article on the event. The Washington Post reports that Dean Robert Klonoff was concerned about publishing a story without approval from the Supreme Court, but has since apologized for his “censorship” of the article.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett needs a two-thirds vote from the Senate to confirm any potential nominees to the state Supreme Court. A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article says this may give Senate Democrats more influence in drafting the state’s budget, since Senate Republicans need their votes to approve Corbett’s future nominee.
  • In the Bronx criminal courts, the promise of a speedy trial has been long forgotten as 73 percent of all felony cases exceeded the court’s guideline that they go to trial or be resolved within 180 days of a suspect’s indictment. A New York Times editorial says that justice is delayed as well as denied by the slow pace of the Bronx criminal courts.
  • The Associated Press reports that Derrick Kahala Watson will be the only native Hawaiian judge to serve on the federal bench currently, and he is the fourth native Hawaiian to be confirmed in U.S. history. President Obama nominated Watson in November 2012, and he was confirmed last week to the U.S. District Court in Hawaii.

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Opinion: Gov. Christie Failing to Promote Diverse Judicial Candidates

The New Jersey Legislature and state groups have continued to urge Gov. Chris Christie to appoint more diverse candidates to the state Supreme Court, but to no avail, argues Frank Argote-Freyre in a Times of Trenton opinion.

Currently, there are no African American or Latino justices on the bench, and there may not be one for another ten years, Argote-Freyre says.

Historically, state governors have alternated their high court nominees between political parties. Christie’s first Republican nominee, Justice Anne Patterson, was confirmed. There are currently two open seats on the bench, according to Argote-Freyre, and these may be the last ones filled for years to come.

New Jersey will be a “majority-minority state” by 2022. Is it fair to have only one person of color on the high court’s bench when that happens, Argote-Freyre asks?

State senators are right to demand that Christie nominate diverse candidates, and work with the governor to establish a bench that’s representative of the whole state, he says. Argote-Freyre is president of the Latino Action Network.

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MCFN: ‘Dark’ Money in Political Campaigns on the Rise

Individuals contributing to political campaigns are looking for more ways to endorse candidates while avoiding campaign finance laws, according to Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Robinson met with members of the League of Women Voters recently to discuss the issues in campaign finance, reports the Observer & Eccentric Newspaper. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Robinson says many TV ads for campaigns are “issue advertisements.” They don’t endorse or oppose a candidate; the ads urge the listener to contact a candidate and express their opinion on an issue, the article says.

While speaking at the Livonia Civic Center Library, Robinson noted that expenditures for these advertisements do not have to be reported to the Department of State’s campaign finance reporting system. Read more

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Editorial: Pennsylvania Justices ‘Meddling’ with Retirement Clause

The Pennsylvania Constitution dictates that state judges must retire at the age of 70. The Supreme Court seems inspired to change this law in the not-so-distant future, a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial suggests.

On May 8, the justices will hold arguments on a challenge to the state’s law (see Gavel Grab). Since Chief Justice Ronald Castille (photo), who is 69 years old, plans to run again for retention election this year, it’s easy to see why they are eager to take up the case, states a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial.

Besides Castille, three other Pennsylvania justices will be turning 70 over the next five years. This seems to be yet another instance of the state’s high court “moving aggressively” to “meddle” in a case of direct personal interest, the editorial argues. Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • When compared to supreme courts in other states across the country, Nebraskans should be happy to find that their own high court is operating smoothly and responsibly, says an Omaha World Herald opinion. Other state supreme courts have witnessed one justice place another in a chokehold, and the conviction on public corruption charges of a justice from still a different state.
  • On Wednesday, Michigan Supreme Court justices traveled to the Midland Center for the Arts to hear oral arguments in a case involving the theft of a perfume bottle. The Associated Press reports that students from local high schools and colleges attended the hearing.
  • Despite controversy that continues to surround the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson continues to be “the essential member of Wisconsin’s highest court,” says a Madison Cap Times editorial. Abrahamson recently broke the record to become the longest-serving high court justice in state history.
  • Three Rivers Commercial News reports that thanks to new a Michigan Supreme Court grant, new HD video monitors will be placed in each of St. Joseph County’s courtrooms. The article says this will allow for video appearances of witnesses during trials, cutting costs and time needed to transport prisoners from jails.
  • Suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, should be held fully accountable for violating the law, argues a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review opinion. A sentence of just under four years is too short for the charges of public corruption against the two sisters, it says.

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Former NC Governors Back Public Finance for Judicial Elections

In order to protect North Carolina’s courts from the “corrosive influence” of special interest money in judicial races, the state needs to support public financing for appellate court candidates.

This argument is put forth by former Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser and former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt in a letter to the editor of The (Davidson County) Dispatch.

The former governors say that judicial elections may require lead candidates to raise large sums of campaign money from people who may end up before them in court. North Carolina began a public campaign financing program in 2004 to prevent corruption, they write. Read more

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GAO Report Says Judiciary Underestimated Costs of Building Plans

The Government Accountability Office was planning to release a report this week on a $1.1 billion courthouse construction proposal from the federal court system.

According to the Washington Post, the GAO says the judiciary’s proposal “failed the transparency test and underestimated projected costs” of a five-year building plan. The office’s report calls for an immediate moratorium on the plan’s projects.

Judge Michael A. Posner criticized the moratorium in his testimony prepared for a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Read more

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PA Justice Orie Melvin’s Attorneys Seek a Probation Sentence

Rather than face incarceration, suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s lawyers argued this week that she should receive a sentence of probation instead.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Melvin will be sentenced May 7. She was convicted earlier this year on criminal corruption charges (see Gavel Grab). Her sister, Janine Orie, was convicted of similar charges as well.

In arguing for probation, Melvin’s attorney Patrick Casey wrote that she is a family-oriented individual, with a life dedicated to public service. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that five relatives of Osama bin Laden and a construction company started by bin Laden’s father cannot be held liable for the attacks on September 11, 2001, reports the Associated Press. Claims against 12 other defendants of providing material support to al-Qaeda were reinstated by the court, the article says.
  • The Associated Press reports that the Minnesota Senate has passed a state court funding bill with a pay increase for judges. Minnesota judges have not had a pay increase since 2008, the article says, but would get a 4-percent increase by 2016 under the bill.
  • Paid line-standers and scalpers selling seats to the highest bidder are found in front of the Supreme Court with increasing frequency before high profile cases. Adam Liptak of The New York Times says that the demand for seats during arguments exceeds the supply, and he mentions several solutions that have been proposed.

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