Gavel Grab

Groups Criticize the Lack of Judicial Diversity

During this judicial election season, groups from various parts of the nation are striving to improve the reality of diversity in courts.

A coalition of eight Asian American bars denounced the lack of Asians among Gov. Jerry Brown’s 10 new judicial appointments to the California Superior Court in mid-July “as lagging behind Northern California’s demographics,” reported.

The Coalition of Asian Pacific Islander Bar Associations of Northern California stated that Gov. Brown “lags far behind the record of his Republican predecessor, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed 13 Asian American judges in Northern California during his two terms.” Read more

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Top N.Y. Court Permits Fracking Bans Adopted by Towns

FRACKING-master675Towns may use zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regardless of New York state law, the New York Court of Appeals has ruled in affirming a lower-court decision.

A New York Times article said the court ruling had “far-reaching implications” in the state. “Numerous municipalities across the state have either banned fracking or are considering doing so, and the trend may accelerate because of the court’s ruling,” it reported.

Mary Ann Sumne,  town supervisor for Dryden, a town that prevailed in the litigation, told, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.” Read more

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Voters Defeat N.Y. Proposal to Raise Judicial Retirement Age

A proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age to 80 for judges on the New York Court of Appeals and Supreme Court was rejected by voters on Election Day.

Sixty-one percent of voters opposed the measure, and 39 percent favored it, with results from 83 percent of precincts available, the New York Times reported. The newspaper discussed numerous political implications and motivations at play in the vote.

It was a “stinging rebuke” for New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who had advocated for the measure, according to the article, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lobbied against it. If adopted, the measure would have reduced Cuomo’s ability to shape the face of the highest court, because it would have lengthened the terms of several judges seated on it.

It was the fourth defeat in a row for proposals to raise state judges’ retirement ages across the country, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It is a JAS partner organization.

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New York Voters to Weigh Raising Retirement Age for Judges

Voters in New York state will be asked to decide on Election Day whether to raise from 70 to 80 the retirement mandate for judges on the state Supreme Court and on the Court of Appeals.

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and other advocates in support of the measure say it would help the courts deal with a backlog of cases, according to a Gotham Gazette article. But the proposal is contentious, and a majority of those surveyed in a recent poll said they would vote no.

The mandated retirement age would be the second highest in the nation if approved, after a ceiling of 90 in Vermont, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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NY Attorney General Requires Nonprofits to Disclose Political Spending

Nonprofit groups that spend hidden money  on elections in New York will now be required to disclose how much they raise and spend and the identity of their donors, reports the Associated Press.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (photo) is aiming to force groups to be transparent and reveal “dark money” spent in elections.

“When people spend money to try to influence our elections, the public needs to know where that money is coming from, and how it is being spent,” Schneiderman said. “Simply put, transparency reduces the likelihood of corruption.”

Schneiderman’s campaign directive came into effect Wednesday, ensuring that nonprofit groups and “social welfare” organizations report their campaign activities if they spent $10,000 or more in a New York race.

The article says this encompasses expenses for TV, radio, Internet and print advertising. Money spent on forums and “town hall” meetings will not have to be disclosed. Once this information is posted to the Attorney General’s Office website, the public will be able to track campaign expenditures, the article notes.

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NY Legislature Weighs Higher Retirement Age for Judges

A proposed constitutional amendment to raise to 80 the mandatory retirement age for hundreds of state judges is getting a hard look in the New York legislature. And that’s not the only state capital where similar initiatives are getting consideration.

Depending on what court they serve on, New York judges currently are required to retire at either 70 or 76. ”The 70-year-old that existed in the 1890s is not the 70-year-old of today,” said Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, sponsor of a House-passed proposal to raise the retirement age to 80, according to a New York Times article. The Senate could vote next week.

Similar legislation to raise or eliminate the retirement age for judges has been considered in many states, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. In March, the National Center’s Bill Raftery reported on the the topic in a piece that was headlined, “Update on mandatory judicial retirement legislation: bills in 16 states, but so far no enactments; Hawaii appears to be closest but has choppy history on the subject.”

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If Confirmed, New York Court Nominee Would Make History

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, of the First Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, to the state Court of Appeals would make her the first African-American woman in history to sit on New York’s highest court, if she were confirmed.

“Rising from working-class roots to serve for decades on the bench of the New York State Supreme Court, Justice Abdus-Salaam has a deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers, as well as the complex legal issues that come before the state’s highest court,”  Cuomo said, according to a New York Times article.

JAS states on its website, “Justice at Stake believes that diversity in the legal system improves the quality of justice, while building confidence in all communities that American courts are fair and impartial.”

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Rivera Confirmed to NY Court After Difficult Nomination Process

City University of New York Law School professor Jenny Rivera was confirmed this week to the New York State Court of Appeals.

Rivera is the second female Hispanic appointed to the state court in its history. Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who is Hispanic, retired in December, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Rivera received a law degree from New York University, and has been a faculty member at CUNY Law School since 1997. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the U.S. Second District Court, and served as commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights for five years.

Republican state senators were critical of Rivera’s lack of trial experience. During her committee hearing, Sen. John Bonacic debated whether she would be effective on the bench. Read more

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NY Judicial Nomination Commission Recommends Diverse Candidates

Seven people recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for a Court of Appeals seat  represent the most diverse group of high court nominees yet, as well as a group of exceptionally qualified candidates, reports The New York Law Journal.

According to a Thomson Reuters News and Insight article, a record 75 people applied for Ciparick’s seat, including a record number of both women and minorities. Of the 75 applicants, 35 were women and 24 were of minority populations.

The nominees include First Department Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam; First Department Justice Rolando Acosta; Fourth Department Justice Eugene Fahey; Kathy Chin of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; David Schulz of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz; CUNY School of Law Professor Jenny Rivera and Grand Street Settlement Executive Director Margarita Rosa.

If nominated, both Abdus-Salaam and Chin would be firsts for the court; Abdus-Salaam would be the court’s first African-American woman, Chin the first Asian-American. Acosta, Rivera, or Rosa would be only the second Hispanic to serve on the court if chosen. The nominees were recommended to fill a seat being vacated by retirement of Judge Carmen Ciparick.

“I think this is a distinguished list of candidates and I am sure the governor will make an outstanding choice,” said Victor Kovenor, former chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts. “We have been blessed in this state with the merit selection system for choosing judges of the Court of Appeals and this is just another occasion where we can feel confident we will have an outstanding new member of our highest court.”

The names of the six people whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo passes by for Ciparick’s seat will be considered for the vacancy left by the death of Judge Theodore Jones.

Justice at Stake believes that a diverse legal system is the first step in improving the quality of justice and building community confidence in American courts. To learn more about the importance of diversity, click here.

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2012 Roundup: Judicial Elections

News media reports are providing a fuller picture of the Election Day outcomes for judicial elections. Here is a roundup of more election results:

WASHINGTON: Attorney Sheryl Gordon McCloud won a six-year term on the Washington state Supreme Court, defeating former Justice Richard Sanders, the Seattle Times says. Sanders served on the high court for 15 years, but lost his seat two years ago after he made controversial remarks regarding minority groups.

NEBRASKA: Three Buffalo County judges were retained by a landslide vote, and will serve for another six years, Kearney Hub reports. Judges Gerald Jorgensen, Graten Beavers and John Icenogle all preside over the 9th Judicial District of Nebraska.

TEXAS: According to the Houston Chronicle, Republicans won 8 of 10 races for seats on the First and 14th State Courts of Appeal. Democrats came into the election Tuesday with 19 of the 23 state district benches open for competition, but only came away with 14 judgeships.

WISCONSIN: Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi says she is seriously considering running against Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack when she is up for reelection in the spring. In an Isthmus Daily Page article, Sumi says the state Supreme Court is in need of a change.


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