Iowa courthouse break-ins were arranged by … the Iowa courts?

“This has been quite an odd case,” said one state senator.

Last month, two men were arrested for breaking into the courthouse in Dallas County, Iowa. The same men were charged with burglarizing the Polk County courthouse around the same time. Now it has come to light that they were hired by the state court administration in order to test courthouse security.

The men apparently broke into the Polk County courthouse after hours on one occasion, then had to break back in after they realized they had left some things behind. They were not caught until the third break-in in Dallas County. Last week, Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady admitted that they had been hired by the court system itself, which had proceeded without notifying law enforcement or any other governmental branch.

Chief Justice Cady apologized for the snafu, and stated that the court system and the security company had “differences in interpretations” of the security company’s contract.

Committee work — it’s not just for academics

With the start of its new fiscal year today, the Judicial Conference of the United States announced the chairs of several of its internal committees. Some of the chairs are new, and others are current leaders who will be retained for another year. The full press release is here.

Although the announcement is relatively pedestrian, it provides a wonderful insight into the inner workings of the federal court system. The names of the committees themselves are suggestive of the range of work that takes place outside of the eye of the general public: The Committee on Information Technology, the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction, The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, and the Committee on Space and Facilities, among others.

The Committees are headed by, and mostly populated by, federal judges — the same judges that are managing complex dockets, holding trials and hearings, handling emergency motions, drafting detailed opinions, sentencing convicted felons, and otherwise addressing the judicial work that flows into their chambers daily. The Chief Justice hand-picks each member of each Committee — not just the chairs — and asks each member to take on additional administrative duties for the good of the overall court system. And like all committee work, it seems, the most effective and efficient members are asked to stay longer and do more.

Professors notoriously complain about their own committee work, which takes them away from class preparation, research, and writing (not to mention family). But most still take on the work cheerfully for the good of their respective schools. Judges are no different, and their service in this area is commendable.

Congratulations to all the new chairs.

The Illinois courts — we’re not dysfunctional!

There is something odd about the tone of this e-newsletter from Illinois Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier. It is ostensibly announcing good news about a significant funding increase for the Illinois state court system in 2020. But Karmeier takes a weird stab at his colleagues on other, “dysfunctional” state courts, as well as lamenting the same “dysfunction” of the other branches of government in his own state. The article itself is a fairly benign piece praising the court system’s new “workable” budget, but it is written with a bit more color than one might expect from a state chief justice.

Karmeier’s election to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2004 was rife with political intrigue, and I do not follow the Illinois courts enough to speak to his professional mannerisms or various political pressures on the courts of that state. Readers can judge for themselves whether I am reading too much into this.

Federal courts will still operate during shutdown

The United States Courts will use court fees and reserve resources to operate during the current government shutdown. The Courts can continue to operate for about three weeks, until January 11, 2019.

More internal strife within India’s court system — UPDATED WITH DOCUMENTATION

Two stories coming out of India caught my eye this past week. The first was an op-ed discussing the ongoing debate about the use of MBA-qualified court managers to gain better control over the administration of the court system. Given the shocking backlog and delay in many of India’s courts, appointing special managers to help streamline the case management process makes good sense. But as is the case with most organizations, the introduction of “outsiders” to clean up an internal mess poses a threat to those already working within the system. Fixing this will require a cultural shift within the Indian court system, probably from the top down. But it will not be easy.

In an unrelated story, but one reflecting some of the same difficulties, an attorney was held in contempt of court and jailed for one month for making disparaging remarks about the court on Facebook. The court referred to the “judge bashing” as a form of browbeating, terrorizing, or intimidating judges.

I cannot find the exact social media post that instigated the contempt charge, so I cannot tell whether the lawyer’s actions were an anomaly or something more pervasive. But the whole story suggests an unhealthy relationship between court and counsel. Attacking the courts on Facebook is childish and unprofessional. But jailing a lawyer for a social media post is (at least seemingly) thin-skinned and cowardly. Unless the post called for violence against judges or the court system, a contempt proceeding would seem to do more harm to the courts than a Facebook post ever would.

UPDATE: The entire contempt order can be found here. It does appear that the lawyer’s Facebook comments were pretty obnoxious (although I am not culturally suave enough to decode them entirely). But the court’s 45-page defense of judicial independence and the “majesty of the law” also seems very over the top. Quoting Othello is a particularly odd, cloying touch. A shorter, sterner statement could have addressed the court’s concerns without making the judges appear so professionally and emotionally fragile.

 

John Cooke chosen to lead Federal Judicial Center

I missed the press release from late July, but it’s worth noting that John Cooke, currently the Deputy Director of the Federal Judicial Center, will be promoted to be the Center’s eleventh director next month. He will replace Judge Jeremy Fogel, who is leaving the FJC to lead the new Berkeley Judicial Institute.

From the press release:

John Cooke joined the Federal Judicial Center in 1998 as its director of judicial education programs, and he later headed the Center’s Education Division. The Board selected Mr. Cooke as Deputy Director in 2005. Before his 20-year career at the Center, Mr. Cooke was a commissioned officer in the United States Judge Advocate General’s Corps, achieving the rank of brigadier general. In the course of his military career, he served as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army in Europe, Academic Director of the Judge Advocate General’s School, and as a military trial judge. Mr. Cooke received a B.A. degree from Carleton College, a J.D. from the University of Southern California, and an LL.M degree from the University of Virginia.

Best wishes to the new Director!

On transferring judges within a court system

Two remarkable, parallel stories broke this week, each involving the transfer of a state judge to another division within the court system. In Pennsylvania, Judge Lyris Younge was transferred from her longstanding seat in Philadelphia Family Court to the Court of Common Pleas Civil Division. It’s an odd move, given that Younge has almost no civil experience, and that the Civil Division is typically a landing spot for the state’s most highly competent judges. Insiders speculate that the transfer was an administrative effort to “hide” Younge in the Civil Division until an ethics probe related to her (apparently obnoxious) behavior in the Family Court is resolved.

In an eerily similar move in New York, Judge Armando Montano was reassigned from his longstanding seat on the Bronx Criminal Part to the Bronx Domestic Violence Part–a change that Judge Montano has characterized as a “disguised punishment.” Montano argues that moving him from felony cases to domestic violence cases is essentially a demotion. The court administrator disagreed, claiming that it was a “routine administrative reassignment” and that the domestic violence cases that Montano would be handling are “complex.”

The players in both stories seem to be hiding key facts here. Surely there was something specific motivating the transfer to Judge Montano, who is nearing retirement, to an entirely different division. And surely there is some internal reason for transferring Judge Younge to a division in which she has virtually no experience. And those reasons must be significant, since the outcome in both cases is worse for the litigants who are now slated to appear before the judge. Bronx DV litigants can look forward to a disgruntled Judge Montano, who believes that he is above having to rule on their cases. And Philadelphia litigants can hold their breath over Judge Younge’s competence to decide their matters–not to mention her own anger over reassignment. The judges, of course, are keeping mum about their respective behaviors that led to the reassignments.

These incidents keenly demonstrate the complexity of organizational management within a court system. Unable to completely remove judges (who, for reasons of competence, ethics, temperament, or some combination of the three) should not be on the bench, court administrators have to resort to reassignment mechanisms to reduce ongoing problems. When the issues are made public, there is often little they can say. But we can surely read between the lines.