North Carolina Chief Justice pushes merit selection for state judges

Speaking to the North Carolina Bar Association on Saturday, Chief Justice Mark Martin called for merit selection of all North Carolina judges:

Martin proposed that retention elections for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges be held statewide and voters in individual judicial districts decide on District Court and Superior Court judges. The elections would be held after each term of office, which Martin said could be eight years or some other period.

This is an extraordinary statement, even in light of the ugly tug-of-war between North Carolina’s governor and state legislature over judicial selection in the last few months.  With most state judges ascending to the bench through an electoral process, his call for merit selection would remove the very system that gave him and his colleagues personal and professional success.

But that, of course, is exactly the point.  The North Carolina system is broken, and whatever democratic benefits direct elections of judges may serve now seem overshadowed by concerns that may reduce the judiciary’s public legitimacy.  Chief Justice Martin’s call for merit selection was a brave first step toward a better system of justice in the state.

Irish parliamentary debate over Maire Whelan appointment “extremely heated”

This blog has been closely following the appointment of former Irish Attorney General Maire Whelan to that country’s Court of Appeal last week, which has engendered enough controversy to threaten to bring down the new government.  Whelan accepted her appointment on Monday, but that hardly ended the matter.  On Wednesday night, the Dail (Ireland’s parliament) held a lengthy debate over the propriety of the appointment.  According to one story:

A two-hour debate was held in the Dáil to discuss the appointment last night.

It became extremely heated.

New Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said a new bill was part of the government’s aim of “entirely reforming the judicial appointment system”.

Jim O’Callaghan dismissed the claim that Cabinet confidentiality prevented the answering of essential questions on the matter.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, said that Micheál Martin – who wasn’t present for the debate – had serious questions to answer based on a telephone call he had with the Taoiseach on the matter last Sunday.

She questioned whether Martin attempted to use his influence on the government to prevent Whelan being appointed.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin took aim at the Independent Alliance who, he claimed, “clapped through an appointment that they now oppose”.

Clare Daly said the appointment was legal, but “political”.

Mattie McGrath said “new politics, my foot”.

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien got into a war of words with Minister Flanagan, after asking how many others applied for the role.

Today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked if the situation had affected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply arrangement. “Obviously the week that has gone by I don’t think has been helpful for either party,” he said. “But we have a written agreement.”

We’ll continue to watch how this plays out.

Women’s groups in Israel challenge official divorce statistics

Earlier this week, Israel’s rabbinical courts released their annual statistics on divorces granted in the country, noting a very slight uptick over last year.  The statistics also identified the number of divorces granted to women whose husbands had left the country, as well as the number of “recalcitrant husbands” who were sanctioned by the courts for refusing to grant a divorce to their wives.

The latter statistics are relevant because marriage and divorce in Israel is governed by Jewish law (halacha), and divorces fall purely within the province of the country’s rabbinical courts. To obtain a divorce, both parties to the marriage must agree.  In practice, this often means that a woman who wants a divorce (for any reason, including spousal abuse) cannot obtain one without her husband’s consent.  Courts are authorized to sanction “recalcitrant husbands” who refuse to agree to a divorce, but this process typically takes years of court hearings.

Shortly after the statistics were released, several women’s groups in Israel questioned their validity.  In particular, the groups claimed that the number of sanctioned husbands badly underestimated the number of husbands nationwide who refused to grant a divorce.  The groups also questioned the statistics showing that 211 women were granted divorces in 2016 after their husbands fled the country, noting that the special court unit charged with administering such divorces would have granted almost one per workday–an impossibly high amount.

 

Iowa Supreme Court bans firearms in all state courthouses

In an order issued by Chief Justice Mark Cady, the Iowa Supreme Court yesterday banned firearms from all courthouses and justice centers in the state. The statewide regulation does not extend to law enforcement officials who are on duty in the buildings.

Although about half the counties in Iowa already restrict or ban weapons in courthouses, the Supreme Court rule creates a uniform statewide regulation.

Cady said in the order said that while the weapons policies were implemented to make the courtrooms safer, they have “failed to provide uniform protection across the state and throughout every courthouse.”

He acknowledged implementing a statewide weapons policy and the issue of restricting weapons is difficult, and this becomes more complex because city and county offices are within many court buildings. But he added it’s the court’s “constitutional responsibility” to make these buildings safe “before history records more acts of courthouse violence.”

Update on the Maire Whelan controversy in Ireland

The controversial appointment of former Attorney General Maire Whelan to Ireland’s Court of Appeal last week continues to draw headlines. Minority parties in the government have alleged several improprieties with the appointment, including that Whelan never formally applied for the post through the Judicial Appointment Advisory Board, and that she remained in the Cabinet meeting while her appointment was being debated.

Continue reading “Update on the Maire Whelan controversy in Ireland”

UK to review judicial salaries and working conditions

The Times of London reports that the United Kingdom’s Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) will review the pay and working conditions for the country’s judges, in light of ongoing difficulties in recruiting qualified judicial candidates.  The Times explains:

A judicial attitudes survey has found low morale among existing judges because of the erosion of their pay levels, and in particular their pension, increased administrative workload and poor working conditions.

The review, announced yesterday, will look at three areas: the judicial salary structure and whether this can be simplified; the way in which judicial leadership should be rewarded and incentivised, and judicial recruitment, retention and motivation.

The study findings are expected to be released in June 2018.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb throws her hat into Governor’s race

Sue Bell Cobb, who served as Chief Justice of Alabama from 2007 to 2011, announced last week that she is running for Governor of the state.  She becomes the second Alabama Chief Justice in as many months to seek an elected position in another branch.

Cobb has considerable campaign experience from her days on the judiciary.  In 2006, she was involved in the most expensive judicial race in the nation, spending more than $2.6 million to win the Chief Justiceship.  Since leaving the court, she has spoken out against money in judicial politics, although not against judicial elections themselves.

Two additional observations.  First, Cobb appears to be a deeply religious woman, and her announcement and website are rife with religious themes.  Those same themes came through during her 2006 judicial campaign.

Second, Cobb had this to say about her retirement from the court system in 2011: “My chief obligation as the top administrator of the court system was to secure adequate funding from the legislature for the judiciary. I became very concerned that, because of the partisanship within the legislature, I would be unable to succeed in that most important responsibility.”

It will be interesting to see if, and how, these themes manifest themselves in the upcoming gubernatorial race.