Debate Continues Over Expanding Arizona High Court

A bill moving forward in the Arizona Senate to expand the state Supreme Court from five to seven justices is clearly about politics, Linda Valdez writes in an Arizona Republic commentary.

One Republican sponsor noted publicly that he would not find the bill so attractive if the governor were not a Republican, but a Democrat, she writes.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales recently stated opposition  by the court’s five justices to the measure. It could not be justified by the court’s caseload or growth of Arizona’s population, he said. (more…)

Governor Signs Measure Keeping Kansas Courts Open

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed legislation to keep the entire state court system funded, following an end to a legal dispute over court funding.

This funding was jeopardized by legislation passed last year, widely viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background).

More recently the legislature voted to repeal the controversial provision stating that if the courts struck down a statute that removed authority of the Supreme Court to name district court chief judges, (more…)

Kansas Legislators Pass Bill to End Court Budget Threat

A bill addressing the threat of a court shutdown over a dispute about the power of the Kansas Supreme Court won final approval by the state legislature on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

The bill repeals a law passed in 2015 that had the potential to undermine the entire court system’s budget (see Gavel Grab). The repealed law was backed by Republican lawmakers and was associated with lawmakers’ unhappiness with court rulings.

But the conservative lawmakers said they never intended to shut down the courts and voted almost unanimously in favor of the funding bill. The only voice of dissent in either chamber was one no vote by a lone Republican who said that “the process for selecting Supreme Court justices is ‘largely unaccountable to our democratic process.’”

State Senate to Vote on Keeping Kansas Courts Open

The Kansas Senate was preparing to vote on Thursday on a House-passed bill that would keep the entire state court system funded, following an end to a legal dispute over court funding, The Associated Press said.

Such a Senate vote would dispel a cloud cast over this funding by legislation passed last year, widely viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background). (more…)

Call For Court Funding Fix in California

A column in the Los Angeles Daily News by Bob Hertzberg, Chair of the California Senate Committee on Government and Finance, calls for greater funding for the state’s court system.

While acknowledging California Governor Jerry Brown’s announcement of a 5.7 percent increase in overall court funding, he writes that the courts are in distress as “unprecedented budget cuts since 2008 have closed 52 courthouses and 202 courtrooms and produced court delays in many counties that run for years.” The result of this is that every day “thousands of Californians encounter shortened court hours, closed courthouses and overworked staff — and when they do get through the judicial process, they often get hit with hefty fines and penalties that don’t fit the violation.” (more…)

Will Kansas Judiciary Be Spared The Ax?

Acting quickly to avert a zeroing out of Kansas court funding, state legislators appear to be sparing the third branch “the ax,” said The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. The situation in Kansas continues to capture national media attention.

On Thursday, committees in each chamber of the Kansas legislature unanimously approved bills to keep the state courts open, the Associated Press said. They voted to dispel a cloud cast over this funding by legislation passed last year in what widely was viewed by defenders of fair and impartial courts as a political attack on the judiciary (see Gavel Grab for background).

A Lawrence Journal-World editorial, meanwhile, warned that given Gov. Sam Brownback’s call this week to change the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, there still is controversy ahead for the state’s judiciary. The editorial took a dim view of Brownback’s prescription: (more…)

Panels Move to Consider Court Funding Bills in Kansas

Two legislative committees were planning to hold hearings on Thursday on bills to avert a funding crisis for the Kansas courts, the Associated Press reported.  The hearings represented a quick start for consideration of the measures.

The legislation was introduced to repeal a 2015 law to nullify court funding if a judge overturned a separate law that trimmed authority of the state Supreme Court. Because the latter scenario has occurred, funding for the entire court system has been threatened (see Gavel Grab).

Pedro Irigonegaray is a lawyer for a state judge who brought the successful legal challenge that in turn raised concerns about court funding. “The Republican leadership has recognized the mistake they made and through [introducing the bills] are correcting the constitutional crisis they created,” he told Courthouse News Service.

How Will KS Legislators Address Potential Court Funding ‘Crisis’?

welcome-to-kansasFacing a potential court funding crisis, will state legislators continue court bashing, or will they take a more tempered approach?

A Lawrence Journal-World editorial, titled “Crisis looms,” posed that question after the state’s highest court struck down on Dec. 23 a statute removing the court’s authority to appoint chief district judges. A separate state law, temporarily on hold, dictates that if the first one were voided, then the entire state court system shall be defunded.

“Hopefully, the legislators who championed this bill last session will bring a different attitude to Topeka in January and work to ease the growing animosity of the legislative and executive branches toward the state court system,” the editorial said. “Unfortunately, such a change of heart is not guaranteed or, perhaps, even likely. Instead, many observers expect lawmakers to push for new judicial selection laws and perhaps other measures aimed at the courts.” The editorial concluded: (more…)

Alabama’s Chief Justice Calls for More Court Funding

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has called for more funding for the state’s court system, according to the Associated Press.

Moore is reported to have written a letter to Governor Robert Bentley urging him to release conditional appropriations to alleviate the burden placed on court employees. “The Judicial Branch of Government does not mind suffering and doing our fair share during economic downturns; however, there is no reason our hard-working employees should suffer alone,” he wrote.

While the Alabama legislature gave the United Judicial System level funding, it added a conditional appropriation that money can be released if it is available.

But Justice Moore argues that the judicial branch has not been treated fairly or as an equal branch of government, describing it as being treated “worse than an agency.”

Legislative budget chairmen talking to the Associated Press seemed doubtful that any conditional funds would come through unless Alabama received an “unexpected windfall.”

Justice at Stake advocates for sufficient resources for courts, and tracks developments in court-funding news here.

Budget Cuts Cause Alaskan Courts to Close Early on Fridays

Citing a letter written by Supreme Court Chief Justice Craig Stowers to court employees, a recent article by KTUU reveals that beginning in July, Alaskan courts will close at noon on Fridays in order to cut costs.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Craig Stowers described the move as necessary. “I do not like having to close courts as a strategy to meet budget targets, but the simple fact is that there is a real and direct cost to the loss of funding,” Stowers wrote.

The move is said to be one of many cost saving measures taken by the Alaskan judiciary as the state tries to reduce a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. Austin Baird of KTUU writes that, “a handful of other initiatives are also under way: When an employee retires or quits, the position they held will not be filled. Travel budgets have also been reduced. Employees are being asked to take voluntary unpaid leave, and courts will close the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve, as well as three days early next year.”