IAALS unveils updated blueprint for judicial performance evaluation

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) has published Transparent Courthouse Revisited: An Updated Blueprint for Judicial Performance Evaluation.  The document significantly updates a 2006 edition of the same publication.  It draws on best practices from around the country on evaluation commissions, the evaluation process, reaching recommendations, funding, and disseminating results.  It’s an important read for anyone interested in state courts and judicial performance evaluation (JPE).

More on the IAALS Quality Judges Initiative here.

Bill to restore partisan judicial elections passes North Carolina Senate

North Carolina used to select all of its state judges through partisan election.  Judicial candidates would have to win a party primary, and would appear on the ballot with a party designation.  In 1996, the state legislature eliminated the partisan designations for state superior court races, and in 2001 did the same for district courts.  Judges still face contested popular elections, but do not run under any party affiliation.

North Carolina’s move put it in good company.  While a handful of states still have partisan races, most states that still elect their judges long ago moved to a nonpartisan system.  Nonpartisan elections are certainly not foolproof, but deliberately omitting party affiliation from the ballot at least reinforces the message that voters should expect their judges to be impartial in performing their official duties.

This week, however, the North Carolina Senate chose to revert to partisan judicial elections.  The state House of Representatives passed a similar (but not identical) bill earlier in the session.  There is speculation that the Governor may veto the bill.  Stay tuned.

 

Former West Virginia judge appointed state court administrator after bizarre election campaign

A recent court appointment in West Virginia highlights the interplay between a court system’s internal management and its external environment.  Gary Johnson served as a state circuit court judge for 24 years before losing his reelection bid last year by 220 votes.  Last month, his opponent, Stephen Callaghan, was suspended from his judicial duties for two years for improper conduct during he campaign.  (Callaghan’s campaign apparently issued a flyer implying that Judge Johnson partied at the White House with Barack Obama, an action deemed to be a violation of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Judge Johnson could not undo the election results, but he landed on his feet quickly.  In January, he was appointed interim Administrative Director of the West Virginia courts.  Yesterday, the state supreme court gave him the job permanently.

Continue reading “Former West Virginia judge appointed state court administrator after bizarre election campaign”

Legality of Oklahoma Supreme Court Appointment Goes Before … Oklahoma Supreme Court

When Justice Steven Taylor recently retired from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Governor Mary Fallin tapped 35-year-old Patrick Wyrick to fill his seat.  Seats on the court are geographically distributed, and Wyrick was among three finalists from the state’s Second Judicial District whose names were submitted to the Governor for final consideration.  The final nominees were chosen by the state’s Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC).

But now Justice Wyrick’s appointment is being challenged by the Oklahoma Chapter of the ACLU, on the grounds that he does not actually reside in the Second Judicial District.  In preliminary arguments last week, Wyrick’s lawyer dismissed the challenge, asserting that the JNC’s selection of the three finalists is effectively unreviewable.  The ACLU countered that no state entity, including the JNC, has all-powerful status.

The decision is now before the state supreme court itself, leaving the eight remaining justices to decide the fate of a potential colleague.  The ACLU has further requested that any sitting justice who recommended Wyrick for a judicial position be recused from considering the case.

Certainly a fascinating example of court interdependence that bears watching.

 

 

 

Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials

Starting today.  This is a very interesting development for a few reasons.  First, it appears to apply to both criminal and civil cases, with exceptions made only for highly sensitive proceedings like juvenile and family cases, criminal pretrial motions, grand jury hearings, probate matters, and trade secret disputes.  Second, it is being permitted by state supreme court rule rather than legislation.  Third, the cameras will be operated by  external media outlets, who may edit the materials as they see fit (although they are cautioned to edit wisely).

I have long been an advocate of the educational and cognitive benefits of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, and was disappointed when the federal pilot project for recording selected civil proceedings was terminated in 2015.  Nebraska’s new policy is much more expansive than the federal pilot, and does pose a certain risk that courtroom events will be unfairly or improperly presented, that off-limits personnel (like jurors) will be shown, or that witnesses or lawyers will play to the cameras.  But I think the risk is minimal.  Continue reading “Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials”

Kentucky Senate passes bill to reallocate judgeships

The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would remove some general trial court judges from existing judicial districts and circuits, and add a roughly equal number of family court judges across the state.  The proposed reallocation of judicial resources would be the first in 124 years.  If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect in 2020.

The proposed reallocation is based on a weighted caseload study, a tool used by the federal courts (among others) for more than a decade to account for the complexity and expected resource consumption of particular case types.  Murder cases and complex commercial disputes tend to consumer more judicial resources than, for example, misdeameanors or garden-variety contract disputes.  Weighted caseloads try to account for these differences, and seek to allocate judges in a way that balances out the court system’s overall resources.  The National Center for State Courts assisted with the study.

 

Judicial pay linked to the salaries of top elected officials in Colorado

As reported here.  The legislation dates to 2015, but it has become freshly salient in light of the Chief Justice’s push for judicial pay hikes and the Governor’s request for across-the-board pay hikes for top elected officials.  Key graf:

One downside to Colorado’s approach: It could make it harder for lawmakers to consider judicial pay increases on their own merits. What happens, for instance, if a lawmaker believes judges are underpaid, but feels that lawmaker pay shouldn’t be increased?