Fair Courts E-lert: Tennessee Fails to Renew Nominating Commission

April 30, 2013
JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSIONS

Tennessee Fails to Renew Nominating Commission
An editorial by the News-Sentinel criticizes the Tennessee legislature for adjourning without renewing the state’s judicial nominating commission. “It seems incredible that Tennessee lawmakers can’t make a priority out of doing the state’s basic business,” the editorial states “What is at issue is the Legislature’s adjournment earlier this month without renewing the Judicial Nominating Commission: It will cease to exist on July 1. The panel interviews applicants for the state’s Appeals Court and Court of Criminal Appeals as well the state Supreme Court. It then recommends three names to the governor, who selects one for appointment…. The July 1 termination deadline means there is no constitutional way to replace a judge or justice who resigns, retires or dies in office, said Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association.” The editorial concludes, “An independent judiciary is vital to the freedom and well-being of this state and this nation. Keeping it that way in Tennessee should be a priority. And making sure the process is not interrupted is simply doing the state’s business at a basic civic-minded level.”
Source: Editorial, Legislators Shirk Duty To State's Judicial Branch, Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 26, 2013.

New Hampshire Governor Creates Selection Commission
According to the Union Leader, “Gov. Maggie Hassan on Tuesday created a new Judicial Selection Commission whose first task will be to recommend to her nominees for three state circuit court posts soon to be open as a result of pending retirements. According to the governor’s office, the commission, created by executive order, ‘will broadly seek judicial candidates, evaluate all potential applicants and recommend qualified applicants based on experience, good character and judicial temperament.’” The press release from the governor’s office states, “Stating that highly qualified judges are essential for a fair, just and effective judicial system, Governor Maggie Hassan issued an Executive Order today establishing a Judicial Selection Commission to advise the Governor on judicial nominations… ‘Ensuring an effective and fair judicial system in New Hampshire requires rising above partisanship and identifying individuals with utmost character, experience and integrity to serve as judges…’” The press release goes on to explain, “All judicial nominations are subject to confirmation by the Executive Council, and the Governor's Judicial Selection Committee includes members with a wide range of experience in New Hampshire's system of justice representing each of the state's five Executive Council districts.”
Sources: Hassan Names New Panel To Recommend Judicial Nominees, Union Leader, April 23, 2013; Press Release, Governor Hassan Issues Executive Order Creating Judicial Selection Commission, Office of Governor Maggie Hassan, April 22, 2013.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE     

Pay Cut Proposal for Iowa Justices Involved in Marriage Equality Decision
According to the Associated Press, “Five Republicans filed an amendment to the state House's judicial branch budget Tuesday that would reduce the salaries of the remaining four justices who joined in the [unanimous] 2009 ruling” legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa.  Three other justices who participated in the decision were removed by voters in retention elections in 2010.  The law would reduce the salary of the four remaining justices from about $163,000 annually to $25,000, equivalent to the pay of legislators, who also receive money for expenses. The article continues, “[Republican Rep. Larry] Sheets said the justices ‘overstepped their constitutional boundaries’ in making a decision that should have been left up to the Legislature. If the justices are going to behave like legislators, they ought to receive lawmakers' pay, he said.” The amendment was added to House File 120. “Sheets acknowledged the proposal is a longshot that wouldn't clear the Senate. Besides having to pass the Legislature, the amendment wouldn't implement the pay cut until voters approved a constitutional amendment stating that marriage was between a man and a woman. It would take approval of two legislative assemblies elected in consecutive elections before a measure could be referred to voters.”
Source: GOP Lawmakers Target Justice Pay Over Gay Marriage, Associated Press via Quad City Times, April 24, 2013.

COURT FUNDING

California Considers Redistributing Court Funding
According to the Mercury News, “In a bit of a Robin Hood scenario for California's 58 trial courts, the state's judicial leaders are planning a new formula for distributing more than $1 billion in annual state funding that would take tens of millions of dollars from Northern California courts over the next five years and send it elsewhere.” The article highlighted the impact of the plan on the Bay Area. “Coupled with recent statewide cutbacks, the funding shift could further diminish the courts' ability to serve the public, for example causing much longer waits for divorce and child custody cases, as well as for resolving civil feuds between businesses. There likely would be shorter hours to file and obtain court records and fewer resources for treatment-related programs in drug and dependency courts.” The article continues, “The state Judicial Council, the policymaking arm of the judiciary, will consider the reforms on Friday. But there appears little doubt the new funding approach will move forward. A committee of judges and court officials crafted the funding shift over the past four months, hoping to address one of the Brown administration's chief complaints about the judiciary's budget — that it bases local trial court funding on an outdated formula set in 1997, when financial responsibility for courts shifted from counties to the state.”
Source: Howard Mintz, State Court Budget Plan Could Slow Legal Matters For Bay Area Public, San Jose Mercury News, April 25, 2013.

Florida Proposes Court Funding Changes
Florida may introduce a court funding plan similar to the one that existed before 2009. According to the Palm Beach Post, “Before 2009, the fees and other court revenue that clerks collected flowed first to the clerks for their budgets, with the excess going to the state’s general revenue for the Legislature to distribute to other areas, including the judges, state attorneys and public defenders of the state’s 20 judicial circuits. In 2009, in an effort to grab a surplus of court funding resulting from an increase in foreclosure filings, the Legislature required the clerks to submit their budgets to the Legislature for approval and to send the fees they collected to the state first, with the first $80 of each filing fee being redirected to general revenue.” The article notes, “Senate negotiators said the two chambers are still working out details, including how much of the filing fees clerks would get to keep and how much oversight the Legislature would retain over the clerks’ budgets.”  Court funding has been a constant struggle in Florida since the 2009 law was implemented. “‘The last three years have been dreadful, absolutely dreadful,’ said Sarasota County Clerk of Courts Karen Rushing, legislative chairwoman of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers. ‘We never know when the money’s coming in. You don’t know if you can make payroll but you have all of these statutory mandates you have to meet. It’s not a way to run a business. It is a total micromanagement on a projected basis that is not reliable and predictable. And look at the results after three years of micromanagement: layoffs, closing of offices, reducing hours, backlog.’”
Source: Dara Kam, Bock Warns Senate Clerks-Of-Court Funding Plan Would Mean Closures, Layoffs, Palm Beach Post, April 24, 2013.