Fair Courts E-lert: KS Lawmakers Repeal Risk to Court Funding; D.C. Delegate Introduces Disclosure Reform

February 5, 2016


KS Legislature Repeals Bill That Would Defund the Judiciary

The Kansas Legislature voted on Thursday, January 28, to repeal the 2015 law that tied court funding to a 2014 law recently declared unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court.  The 2015 judicial funding bill “stipulated that the entire Kansas court system would lose funding if any court struck down language in [the] bill from 2014,” according to a press release issued by the Brennan Center for Justice.  John Hanna writes for The Associated Press that “[t]he Supreme Court struck down the 2014 policy change” in their December ruling in Solomon v. Kansas. The Brennan Center and co-counsel provided representation for plaintiff Chief Judge Larry Solomon in that case. Thursday’s vote “end[ed] the threat of the state’s courts shutting down.” Hanna adds: “Top Republicans said they never intended to shut down the courts. But Democrats chastised GOP lawmakers Thursday for creating a potential crisis.” The Brennan Center and co-counsel also represent Chief Judge Solomon and other trial judges challenging the 2015 judicial funding bill in the case Fairchild v. Kansas. According to the release, “[i]f Brownback signs the bill restoring judicial funding, the case…will be moot.”

D.C. Delegate to Introduce Financial Disclosure Reform

District of Columbia Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation that would increase financial disclosure requirements for D.C. court judges, writes Kytja Weir of the Center for Public Integrity. In 2013, the Center “gave the District an ‘F’ for its poor judicial disclosure.” Norton’s bill “would put the financial disclosure requirements of D.C. court judges closer in line with those of federal judges,” Weir says. District of Columbia judges are also paid by the federal government but “currently aren’t held to the same standard as federal judges when it comes to publicly disclosing where they invest that money.” The bill “calls for making the D.C. judges’ reports available for public inspection, with provisions for information to be redacted if specific personal details could endanger a judge or a family member.” She also “plans to ask the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, which collects the reports, to make them available online.”

WI Supreme Court Candidates Discuss Judicial Ethics Reform

The three candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court—Justice Rebecca Bradley, Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, and Judge Joe Donald—shared their opinions on judicial ethics at a Milwaukee Bar Association-sponsored event last week, writes Lisa Kaiser for the Shepherd Express. According to Kaiser, “[t]he candidates addressed concerns about ethics on the state’s top court, as three of the current state Supreme Court justices…have faced serious concerns about their integrity and the court has done little to change the way justices are disciplined.” Justice Bradley said she would “like to get more information before changing the way that ethics complaints about justices are handled.” Judge Donald “said he’d be open to allowing a panel of appeals court judges to review complaints about Supreme Court justices.” Judge Kloppenburg stated: “We need more transparency, not less, in the administrative and operational proceedings before the court and an open process for reviewing the judicial code of conduct is a step in the right direction.”


PA Voters to Consider Increase to Mandatory Retirement Age for Judges

During the April 26 primary election, Pennsylvania will ask voters to consider a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices from 70 years old to 75, writes Jennifer Learn-Andes for the Times Leader. According to Learn-Andes, supporters of the amendment “say courts will benefit from keeping more experienced judges on the bench full-time.” However, critics argue that “a retirement age of 70 promotes the election of new judges and reduces the possibility an unfit judge will remain on the bench too long.” Luzerne County Judge Thomas Burke, who turns 70 this year, said “he would ‘very much like’ to complete his current 10-year term, slated to run through 2020, but will respect the will of the people.” He added, “[e]xperience counts.” Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said, “[r]aising the age to 75 allows Pennsylvanians to preserve some of the knowledge and skills that come with experience that are important for our justice system as well as creating opportunities for younger, qualified individuals to bring new ideas and energy to the bench.”