Fair Courts E-lert: Retention Elections Proposed for NJ High Court; CT Judiciary Committee Endorses New Judges

May 26, 2017

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

NJ Lawmakers Propose Retention Elections for State Supreme Court

Two Republican lawmakers have proposed introducing retention elections and four-year terms for state high court judges in New Jersey, writes S.P. Sullivan for NJ.com. Under New Jersey’s existing system, justices are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate for an initial seven-year term, and can then be reappointed and confirmed to a second indefinite term, subject to a mandatory retirement age of 70.  According to Sullivan, state senators Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) and Michael Doherty (R-Warren) issued a joint statement that cited “a long history of horrendous Supreme Court decisions that have made New Jersey the most expensive state in the country for property taxpayers.” They argue the change would “make the justices accountable to New Jersey voters,” but Sullivan writes that “some worry the move would further inject politics into the state’s highest court.” Robert Hille, the president of the New Jersey Bar Association, said that “generally, ‘we believe tenure protects judicial independence’” and that judicial independence “in turn, protects the public by allowing judges to decide cases on the law and facts and not political pressures.”

CT Judiciary Committee Endorses New Judges Despite Fiscal Concerns

The Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly endorsed the nomination of 13 new superior court judges despite budgetary concerns, writes Mark Paznoikas for The Connecticut Mirror. According to Paznoikas, there is “uncertainty over whether the judiciary will have sufficient funds to pay their salaries or provide support personnel.” Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) says “the nominations are necessary to provide justice” and that “[t]hese appointments represent a fraction of the current vacancies and will help ensure that the court is able to conduct its business in a timely fashion.” Rep. Toni Walker (D-New Haven) said she is concerned because “[w]e have approximately $6 million worth of new judges here, maybe five.” The union representing state judicial branch and criminal justice employees also criticized the nominations because “the budget for the next fiscal year is unresolved.” Charles DellaRocco, the president of AFSCME Local 749 said: “The state and the branch are spending money unwisely on essentially lifetime appointments for managerial-level employees, while asking its lowest paid to give back – or face the unemployment line. It makes no sense and it sends the absolute wrong message to the workers we represent.”


COURT BUDGET

Pilot Mental Health Courts Program in MS Seeks Funding

Mississippi district courts are seeking grant funding to begin a pilot mental health court program, writes Jimmie E. Gates for The Clarion-Ledger. According to Gates, the pilot program was instituted to “[r]educe the number of future criminal justice contacts among offenders with mental illnesses” and to “keep inmates with a mental illness from sitting in jail for a long period awaiting a mental evaluation,” among other goals. Eighth Circuit Drug Court Administrator Marcus Ellis, who worked with others to get the legislation passed, explained that “they specifically didn’t seek any state funding because the bill probably wouldn’t have passed if state funding was sought.” The program was championed by Circuit Judge Chris A. Collins, who says it will “offer a more individualized structure than drug courts” and that “the main goal is to see that those with a mental illness stay on their medication.” Ellis also highlighted that “[i]f we can keep them out of jail, which is no place for the mentally ill, then we can have productive citizens.”


DIVERSITY

Illinois Counties Using Pilot Program to Improve Jury Diversity

Five counties in Illinois have begun the first phase of a pilot program to increase jury diversity, writes Bernard Schoenburg for The State Register-Journal. According to an Illinois State Courts E-Newsletter, the program was implemented following “a recommendation to test a new system for jury selection through a pilot program” by the Conference of Chief Circuit Judges. According to Andy Kravetz of the Journal Star, the counties will “gather demographic on their jury pools and then use ZIP codes to ensure they get the right mix based upon population,” with the goal being to have the demographics of the state reflected in the pool of potential jurors. Schoenburg writes that the court will collect data from before and after the pilot is instituted to measure the impact of the new system. Circuit Judge John Schmidt said he “think[s] it’s important that every member in every segment of our society be represented for jury duty, to the best of the system’s ability.” Judge Steve Kouri added that under the current system “[w]e have a segment of the population who think the system is rigged, slanted, and a number of those aren’t people who are defendants” and that “[i]t’s very important that people think a verdict at trial, guilty or not guilty, is legitimate.”