Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘JAS Partner News’ Category

Philadelphia Inquirer Takes Stock After Eakin Resignation

Two articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer reflect on the state of the courts after Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin resigned last week rather than face his upcoming trial in the Court of Judicial discipline (see Gavel Grab).

In “Flawed ethics reviews, sharp criticism, and a justice’s path to resignation,” staff writers at the Philadelphia Inquirer recount the sprawling saga of the email porn scandal, tracing it from the early retirement in 2014 of Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery all the way up to Eakin’s resignation last Tuesday.

Also writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chris Mondics asks if “the shocks, humiliations and embarrassments that have been plaguing the Pennsylvania judicial system for decades [will] ever come to an end” after Eakin’s resignation made him the third Supreme Court Justice in four  years to be forced to leave the bench for disciplinary reasons.

“Scandal has become an enduring theme of the Pennsylvania judiciary,” Mondics writes, but the recent overhaul in personnel which saw the appointment of three new justice reflects the potential for a brighter future. Read more

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Six Years of Political Loggerheads Over Filling NJ High Court Seat

A political stalemate over filling an opening on the New Jersey Supreme Court “has stretched six years,” Philly.com reports in bringing context to a revived dispute in the state. The court’s members are chosen through an appointive system similar to the federal model.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, recently pledged there will be no confirmation hearing for  Gov. Chris Christie’s latest nominee to the high court, Superior Court Judge David Bauman, a Republican whom Christie had unsuccessfully nominated before (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Advocates Preparing Push for Merit Selection in Pennsylvania

PennsylvaniaPennsylvania’s living past and present governors are a bipartisan group, and while they’ve had their differences, they agree on one thing: “Elections are not a good way to pick state court judges.”

That’s according to a Reading Eagle article about a proposal to replace the contested election of top judges in Pennsylvania with a merit-based, appointive system. The state’s current governor and his five living predecessors made their views public last month (see Gavel Grab), and their endorsement is still rippling across the state in news articles such as the Eagle’s.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group championing the reform, told the newspaper that advocates are working on a public education effort about merit selection and hoping that this spring, the proposal will advance in the legislature. Read more

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Editorial: Stop ‘Dumbed-Down’ PA Judicial Elections

A plain-speaking editorial in The Express-Times urges a shift to merit selection of top Pennsylvania judges, saying “the Legislature has an opportunity to wean the state judiciary of campaign money and put a stop to dumbed-down elections.”

It was the latest in a chorus of newspaper editorials spotlighting scandals affecting state courts, record-breaking spending in the 2015 state Supreme Court election and a proposal before legislators for an appointment-based selection system. Some of the other recent news coverage from Pennsylvania about elected judges included the following: Read more

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Commentary: It’s About Power, Not Judicial Accountability, in Florida

A proposal to impose term limits on appellate and Florida Supreme Court judges “is just the latest in a series of naked power grabs” by those intent on reducing judicial independence, two defenders of fair and impartial courts write in the Florida Politics blog.

The opinion comes from Eric Lesh of Lambda Legal and Mark Ferrulo, executive director of Progress Florida. They are members of the Florida Access to Justice Project. The House recently approved the proposal but its prospects in the state Senate are uncertain (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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End to Circuit Court Elections is Debated in Maryland

maryland_flag1Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has dealt a setback to legislation to end the elections of Circuit Court judges, but the proposal is still alive.

The Senate Committee gave an unfavorable recommendation to the proposal on a 6-5 vote, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The House Judiciary Committee may vote on similar proposals this week.

Justice at Stake has supported an end to the Circuit Court elections in Maryland in statements to the legislature, recommending a series of Read more

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How Politicians are Toiling to Influence Some Southern Courts

Efforts are away across the South to tighten conservatives’ influence on a number of state supreme courts, Alex Kotch writes in Facing South, a publication of the Institute for Southern Studies.

The efforts are carried out “often in response to unpopular decisions by the courts or a fairly explicit ideological agenda to impact how courts are deciding cases,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Frequent readers of Gavel Grab will be familiar with the initiatives. “Republican lawmakers are changing election laws, expanding the number of justices, adding term limits, and challenging appointments to create high courts more likely to uphold their legislation,” Kotch writes. He mentions activity in these states specifically: North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. He also mentions outside group spending in the Arkansas Supreme Court election this week.

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MO Proposal Would Add New Grounds for Impeaching Judges

Under a proposed constitutional amendment introduced in Missouri, judges could be impeached if they “make certain decisions that fail to interpret the state’s constitution as originally understood by voters,” according to Gavel to Gavel.

Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, and it tracks legislation introduced in the states. Its article says the Missouri proposal provides for a three-step system for judicial decisions and threatens with impeachment any judge who fails to follow the three-step test.

A bill summary available at the state Senate’s website says the measure “delineates procedures a court must follow when assessing a claim against a government entity, that such entity has enforced a law or policy that might limit a person’s exercise of a right or freedom enumerated by the Missouri Constitution or penalize a person for exercising such right or freedom.” Read more

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Mediator Brought in to Eakin Ethics Proceedings

A tribunal considering charges of ethics violations against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin (see Gavel Grab) has brought in a veteran lawyer, Richard Sprague, to explore a negotiated agreement that could mean Eakin would not be tried publicly.

The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news, and it also reported there was criticism of the latest development. “The public is entitled to hear the facts and the arguments discused openly,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. “. . .Public confidence in the integrity of the courts will not be strengthened by a private deal.”

Attorney General Kathleen Kane also criticized the action, according to a subsequent Philadelphia Inquirer article. A commentary by Dave Davies at Newsworks.org was headlined, “Porngate: old boys network to the rescue.”

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Legislatures Asked to Weigh Restrictions on Use of Foreign Law

Efforts to restrict Islamic, foreign, or international law, in our courts continue on a widespread basis, and in West Virginia, proposed legislation threatens impeachment of a judge found to have violated such a restriction.

That news comes from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. “A raft of new legislation” has been introduced in 12 states this year, Gavel to Gavel reports, and some of the proposals continue to specifically ban use of sharia in state courts.

The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization. You can learn more about issues around impeachment of judges from the JAS web page on the topic.

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