Fair Courts E-lert: RI Bill Proposed to Promote Judicial Diversity; Two WA Bills Could Alter Supreme Court

February 12, 2016


RI Introduced Bill to Promote Judicial Diversity

Rhode Island state Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) introduced a bill Thursday to promote diversity amongst both the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission, used to help select judges in the state, and the judicial candidates they recommend to the governor. Katie Mulvaney of the Providence Journal writes that the bill requires that “the governor and House and Senate leaders ensure that the membership of the Judicial Nominating Commission mirror the state population in terms of race and ethnic and gender make-up.” The bill also “dictates that the commission select judicial candidates in a manner that ‘ensures that a broad array of perspective and experiences are brought to the bench, reinforces public trust and confidence in the fairness of the judicial system and the administration of justice and ultimately enhances the delivery of justice and the judiciary's credibility and moral authority.’” To do so, the bill “specifies that each list the JNC forwards to the governor ‘shall include a person of color.’” Mulvaney adds that “[t]here are no candidates of color on the list presented to Governor Raimondo in the past year.”


UT Bill Requiring Judges to Have Law Degrees Moves Forward

On Feb. 5, the Utah House Judiciary Committee favorably reported an amended version of a bill requiring that all new judges in the justice courts of Utah’s 12 largest counties have a law degree, writes Mariah Noble of The Salt Lake City Tribune. Justice courts, established by counties and municipalities, have limited jurisdiction over cases including some forms of misdemeanors, violations of ordinances, infractions, and small claims. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley City), said that “giving the power to sentence defendants to someone who hasn't been previously trained in law is a bad idea.” Maybell Romero, a professor of law at Brigham Young University, also stated that “[t]he justice courts, without having law-trained judges there, they are just [ripe] for 6th Amendment violations.” However, Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City), chairman of the Judicial Conduct Commission, disagreed, saying “there are good law-trained and non-law-trained judges, and there are poor law-trained and non-law-trained judges.” He also “cited 12 public sanctions issued by the commission against law-trained judges in the last year, as opposed to only one against a judge without a law degree,” according to Noble.

Two WA Bills Could Affect the State Supreme Court’s Composition

Two bills before the  Washington State Legislature could affect the composition of  the state’s Supreme Court, writes Bill Raftery for Gavel to Gavel. One bill, HB 2784, seeks to “declare the existing 9-member court unconstitutional.” The Washington State Constitution “provides for a 5-member supreme court, but gives the legislature the power to increase its membership” which the legislature has done, “creating the current 9-member court in the early 1900s.” The bill would return the court to 5 justices and remove the legislature’s ability to increase its size. It would also require “all 9 current members of the court [to] immediately face one another in an election to fill the 5 seats.” Another bill, HJR 4217, would amend the constitution to shorten the court’s terms “from 6 years down to 4 years” and “justices would be limited to two terms, for a total of 8 years.” Raftery adds: “If applied retroactively, the amendment could force several members of the court off the bench.”


TX Judge Uses Juror Information for Re-Election Mailings

A Texas resident claims that her confidential juror information has been improperly used by a district court judge seeking re-election, writes Catherine Dominguez for The Villager. Darin Bailey said she received a campaign letter from Judge Mike Seiler that read: “I am sending you this letter because, once, you were a juror in the 435th District Court of Montgomery County” and “this is a sincere ‘thank you’ from me, Mike Seiler, the judge who presided over the case you were involved in.” The letter “does not ask for donations” but does invite recipients to a “meet and greet,” according to Dominguez. Seiler “maintains he has not violated any statute” because “[the statute] just says I can’t disclose juror information.” Last week, Bailey had a meeting with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Department “and provided a sworn statement regarding the letter.”