The Fair Courts E-Lert: WV Supreme Court Justice Suspended; MS Supreme Court Finds Lower Court Unconstitutionally Banned Guns in Courthouses

June 15, 2018



West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Suspended

The Associated Press reports that last week, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry “was suspended from the bench…over allegations that he repeatedly lied and used his public office for personal gain.” After the rest of the Court recused itself from hearing the charges, five temporary justices were appointed. They ordered Loughry suspended without pay.

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission last week filed a 32-count complaint alleging Loughry made “false statements with the deliberate intent to deceive, engaged in sophism, and gave disinformation with the intent to harm another person.” The charges pertained to Loughry’s involvement in renovations of his office, his failing “to tell other justices about a federal subpoena,” and having “furniture moved from his Capitol office to his home,” among other alleged misconduct.

West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead commented, “If the charges are accurate, I would urge Justice Loughry to resign and spare the court and state any further embarrassment.” Armstead also noted, “This situation has cast a pall over our state’s highest court and undermined the public’s confidence in our judicial system. It’s time to begin repairing that damage.”





Mississippi Supreme Court Finds Lower Court Unconstitutionally Banned Guns in Courthouses

Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a lower court had unconstitutionally banned residents with enhanced concealed-carry licenses from bringing their weapons into courthouses.

A 2011 amendment allowed “enhanced concealed-carry licensees the privilege of carrying a concealed firearm in the courthouses of this state, save for courtrooms, which the Legislature left within the province of judges.” However, local judges “issued a court order prohibiting enhanced concealed carry licensees from possessing a firearm in and around courthouse buildings.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court found that “The Mississippi Constitution vests only the Legislature with the authority to regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons. The orders at issue usurp that power.” While the court acknowledged that the judges’ fear for their safety was “well-founded,” the majority concluded that the judges’ “personal fears and opinions do not trump, and cannot negate, constitutional guarantees.”

Two justices dissented, finding the ban constitutional, and two justices dissented in part, finding that a more narrow order could be constitutional.





Florida Supreme Court Considers Whether Judge Can Be Facebook Friends with Attorneys with Matter(s) Before the Court

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case about whether a local circuit judge “should be disqualified from hearing a case because she is a Facebook friend with a lawyer for one of the parties.” In the original case, after one party sought the disqualification of the presiding judge because she was Facebook friends with the attorney hired to represent the other party in the case, the judge refused to recuse herself.

The party seeking recusal petitioned the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which rejected the recusal request, finding that “a ‘friend’ on a social networking website is not necessarily a friend in the traditional sense.” The court concluded, “An assumption that all Facebook `friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.”

The case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. The party that sought the judge’s disqualification argued in a brief to the court that the judge’s actions violated judicial ethics canons in “presenting the appearance of impropriety, particularly where opposing counsel is not similarly sharing the same ‘special position’ or status of being a Facebook ‘friend’ of the trial judge.”


Hawaii Grows Interpreter Pool to Expand Access to Justice

Last week, the Hawaii Judiciary’s Office on Equality and Access to the Courts (OEAC) announced a workshop for bilingual individuals who want to become paid interpreters in Hawaii state courts. The workshop is part of an effort to allow individuals to speak in their native tongue in the courtroom, and follows a controversial incident in which a judge issued an arrest warrant for a professor for insisting on speaking Hawaiian in court. In January, the Hawaii Judiciary announced a new policy providing for Hawaiian interpreters.

The new program “aims to expand and improve the Judiciary’s pool of qualified interpreters by establishing a minimum standard for court interpreter certification and coordinating the screening, training, and testing necessary to assist interpreters in meeting and surpassing this standard.”

In addition to responding to the January case, the OEAC notes that interpreters help persons “have equal access to justice and help court proceedings function efficiently and effectively.”