New York City faces few takers for interim judicial appointments

According to this story, a special counsel for Mayor Bill de Blasio has noted the difficulty of finding qualified applicants to fill interim posts on the New York City Civil Court.  It’s not hard to see why.  Candidates are guaranteed only one year on the bench, after which they must stand for election to keep their positions.  But in New York’s byzantine judicial election system, which is largely run by party bosses and was once flatly characterized by Justice Stevens as “stupid,” excellent service on the bench for a year is no guarantee of future employment.

Consider the problem from the perspective of potential applicants.  To move to the bench, those in private practice would have to give up their clients, essentially depleting years or decades of work in developing a book of business.  It would be professionally negligent, if not career suicide, to allow all your clients to move on in return for a one-year gig on the bench.  Potential applicants in the District Attorney’s office or Public Defender’s office might be able to extract themselves a bit more easily, but face similar risks in moving themselves back and forth from the bench.  As a result, the pool of potential applicants is likely to contain near-retirees or lawyers without much business than it is high-quality attorneys in their prime.

New York, like other states, could resolve the problem by moving away from judicial elections altogether.  Appointed judges would have more confidence in their ability to stay on the bench for a while, given good behavior.

Brooklyn court restructures approach to criminal docket

This is an interesting piece on recent administrative changes made at the Criminal Term of the Brooklyn Supreme Court to combat backlog and process cases more efficiently.  Efficiency in case processing is often overemphasized, and can be stressed to the detriment of other important factors of court productivity.  But it is still a very visible part of court operations, and accordingly very important.  Courts should be applauded for seeking out internal ways to handle their duties efficiently.

The judicial workplace

Many workplaces have written and unwritten rules — dress codes, face time requirements, and informal norms about appropriate behavior. Courthouses are no different, and the most fundamental rule for judges is to always maintain the appearance of impartiality.

These rules are so well-engrained that it remains surprising when they are flaunted — as was the case last November when a judge in Ontario appeared on the bench wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Judge Bernd Zabel, a Canadian citizen and Donald Trump supporter, claimed that he was simply joking with his colleagues, who were predominantly supporters of Hillary Clinton.

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Ravid on Tweeting #Justice

Itay Ravid (JSD candidate, Stanford) has posted his new article, Tweeting #Justice: Audio-Visual Coverage of Court Proceedings in a World of Shifting Technology, on SSRN. It should be of significant interest to readers of this blog who follow issues of comparative law and court transparency.  From the abstract:

The debate over whether to allow cameras into courtrooms refuses to fade away. In 2015 alone, U.S. federal courts completed a five-year experiment with cameras in courts, New Zealand published new guidelines for audio-visual coverage, and Scotland completely revised its former broadcast policy. These jurisdictions, and others around the globe, constantly struggle to design model practices that successfully balance freedom of the press, transparency, and public access to information, with rights to a fair trial and privacy. The constant need to rethink coverage policies can be attributed in large part to the advancement of technology, providing the media innovative tools to report from within courtrooms even when formal legal norms bar direct reports. These advancements often result in an unsettling disparity between formal norms and the reality of court coverage.

Drawing on the Israeli example, this Article seeks to address this timely issue, illustrating how social media and technological advancements can push regulators to re-evaluate legal regimes that seem to lag behind the law in action. The Article provides a systematic analysis of both doctrinal arguments and empirical data on the policies adopted by different common law jurisdictions, aiming to devise a policy framework for audio-visual coverage of courts in the age of hyper-technology. By synthesizing lessons from these jurisdictions, the Article first traces the evolution of the doctrine on audio-visual coverage across various jurisdictions, and its constitutional framing. Moreover, the Article exposes the politicization of constitutional law: how courts adopt flexible frameworks with regard to policies on constitutional issues that affect them. Second, the Article suggests that existing empirical data are generally supportive of coverage, showing almost no adverse effects resulting from the presence of cameras in courtrooms. Third, the Article provides practical tools for reaching balanced coverage policies, offering the first analytical framework for the design of coverage policies. The Article utilizes the Israeli case study—a country with currently no audio-visual coverage policy—in order to implement the suggested framework and offers a comprehensive coverage policy within Israeli courts.

European Commission releases 2017 EU Justice Scoreboard

Cribbing from the press release:

Today, the European Commission publishes the 2017 EU Justice Scoreboard which gives a comparative overview of the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems in the EU Member States.

Its aim is to assist national authorities to improve the effectiveness of their justice systems. Compared to previous editions, the 2017 Scoreboard looks into new aspects of the functioning of justice systems, for example, how easily consumers can access justice and which channels they use to submit complaints against companies. For the first time, it also shows the length of criminal court proceedings relating to money laundering offences.

One of the more interesting sets of findings goes to public perception of the member states’ judicial independence.  More after the jump.

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The judges among us — revisited

Yesterday, Judge Raymond Myles was shot and killed outside his home in Chicago’s Far South Side.  Police are still searching for a suspect and a motive, although it appears that his death may have simply been the result of attempted robbery.

We are attuned to stories of judges being threatened or attacked because of their profession.  And such threats, whether explicit or otherwise, are taken very seriously.  But this story, where it appears the victim just happened to be a judge, reminds us that members of the judiciary live among us.  When they take off their robes and leave the courthouse for the day, they are ordinary members of society with the same needs for food, clothing, security, and happiness as the rest of us.

Six years ago, after Judge John Roll was killed in the same Arizona shooting that terribly injured Gabby Giffords, I shared some similar thoughts.

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Judge Myles.

Four things to watch under Justice Gorsuch

With his confirmation by the Senate last Friday, Judge Neil Gorsuch will  be sworn in and take his place on the Supreme Court today.  Many pixels have been spilled in an effort to analyze Gorsuch’s nomination, confirmation, and anticipated jurisprudence. But his addition also changes the internal dynamics of the Supreme Court, with downstream effects on other aspects of the federal court system.  Here are a few things I will be watching for in the coming months: Continue reading “Four things to watch under Justice Gorsuch”