Delaware works to improve its problem-solving courts

Many states have established “problem-solving courts” over the last two decades.  These are specialized courts whose mission goes beyond the standard determination of guilt  and punishment, and instead seeks to address the causes underlying problematic behaviors.  Across the country, problem-solving courts have been established to deal with (among other things) drug offenses, mental health issues, sex offenses, truancy, and gun violence.

The State of Delaware has recently undertaken its first internal evaluation of its problem-solving courts, and is now looking to streamline and consolidate some of their work.  In particular, the public report describing the evaluation recommends “a unified statewide treatment court.”  Unifying the state’s problem-solving courts, the report suggested, would also allow the judiciary and court administrators to address treatment and training issues more efficiently.

As the state courts continues to expand their reach beyond a traditional, arms-length adjudicative role, these types of analyses will be all the more important.  Delaware is said to be working with the National Center for State Courts and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals on this project, and hopefully the lessons gleaned from the project will work their way to other state court systems as well.

Nevada Supreme Court expands courtroom camera access to reality TV producers

Nevada’s state courts have long allowed access to news cameras, provided that the footage is used for informational or educational purposes.  Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously concluded that footage of a murder trial, which was recorded for a reality TV series about local prosecutors, fell within the “informational or educational” definition.

Used of the video was challenged by Michael Solid, whose murder trial was partially recorded by production company My Entertainment TV for use on “Las Vegas Law,” a cable reality show.  Solid argued that the video footage had a commercial advertising purpose rather than an information or educational one.  But the state supreme court rejected that argument, finding that “under the plain language” of the rule governing courtroom cameras, My Entertainment TV was a “news reporter.”

 

Trial ends in civil rights case challenging Louisiana’s judicial election districts

We previously reported on a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by a local chapter of the NAACP, alleging that the state’s current at-large voting system for state judges disadvantages minority groups.  The plaintiffs are seeking to replace the current system with a system of five single-member districts, one of which would be drawn to include a majority of African-American and other minority groups among its residents.

A bench trial began in mid-March, and both parties rested their cases on Friday.  The Daily Comet, a local Louisiana newspaper, has a good wrap-up of the dramatic testimony on the final day.  The decision now rests with U.S. District Judge James Brady, who has instructed both sides to file post-trial briefs by June 8.  A decision is expected by August.

Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to run for U.S. Senate

Roy Moore, the Alabama judge best known for his position on placing the Ten Commandments inside state courthouses, abruptly resigned his position as Chief Justice yesterday in order to run for the United States Senate.  Moore’s resignation was essentially a technicality; he was suspended from his judgeship last year for a variety of ethics violations, and has not served on the state supreme court for months.

Moore is seeking the Senate seat currently held on an interim basis by former state attorney general Luther Strange.  Strange was appointed to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.  In yet another twist, Strange was appointed by then-Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in scandal just weeks ago.

Beyond the head-spinning number of scandals and vacancies, Moore’s decision to enter the race highlights a sometimes-overlooked aspect of judicial interdependence: many judges begin their careers as legislators, and many legislators begin their careers as judges.

Continue reading “Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to run for U.S. Senate”

New Chicago judge seeks to choose his own path

Like many organizations, court systems have deliberate processes for acculturating and training new members — a process sometimes referred to as “socialization.”  Forms of court socialization include formal processes like “baby judge” schools to provide training on opinion writing and docket management, as well as informal processes of acclimating new judges to the ins and outs of their jobs.

In Cook County, Illinois, part of the socialization and acclimation process involves assigning new judges to traffic court.  But Judge Richard Cooke, a former private practitioner who won an unopposed judicial election last November, rejected his traffic court assignment and apparently never reported for duty.  Judge Cooke claims a conflict of interest, alleging that he has financial stake in a car wash that cleans city-owned vehicles.  Other are not buying it:

Critics say the tempest is an illustration of all that’s wrong with selecting judges in Cook County — where cash and political connections at times carry more weight than temperament and ability. Daley Center judges say traffic court is the best place for a new judge to learn how to manage a courtroom, master a new area of law and do their job in a setting where the possible damage they can inflict is relatively minimal.

Former top federal prosecutor Carrie Hamilton, who helped prosecute ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, and former Winston & Strawn partner Raymond Mitchell both spent time in traffic court before moving into other assignments.

The court administration initially responded by assigning Judge Cooke only to conduct marriage ceremonies.  With the outcry continuing, however, this week the circuit court’s executive committee sent the issue to the state Judicial Inquiry Board.  This is the first step in a possible disciplinary action against Judge Cooke.  We will follow the story as it develops.

North Carolina court struggle heats up

That escalated quickly.

In light of the North Carolina legislature’s proposal to reduce the size of the state court of appeals from 15 to 12, Judge Douglas McCollough resigned from the court yesterday.  Judge McCullough was due to leave the court next month under the state’s mandatory retirement laws (he is nearing age 72), but chose to leave early so that Governor Roy Cooper could fill his position immediately.

And immediately he did.  Fifteen minutes after Judge McCollough tendered his resignation, the governor nominated John Arrowood to fill the open seat.

Judge McCollough stated that he resigned now — before the legislation could be passed — to increase the likelihood that the court would maintain its current 15 member composition.  “I didn’t want my legacy to be the elimination of the seat,” he said.  But his decision to leave early, which emphasized the institutional health of the court, was still shrouded in political intrigue. Continue reading “North Carolina court struggle heats up”

Legislators and bar association weigh in on Indiana merit selection plan

We previously reported that Indiana legislators are considering a merit selection plan for the judges of Marion County (the Indianapolis area), in light of a Seventh Circuit decision holding the previous election slating process unconstitutional.  Recently, both state legislators and the Indianapolis Bar Association have offered their own opinions of the proposed legislation.