State legislators are trying to politicize their judiciaries for short-term gain. Courts, their users, and the public must speak up to stop them.
The first weeks of the 2021 legislative session have seen an extraordinary number of proposals to overhaul the selection of judges or otherwise affect the composition of state judiciaries. Among them:
In Montana, Senate Bill 140 would eliminate the state’s judicial nominating commission, giving the governor direct appointment power over district court judges and state supreme court justices. The nominating commission, in place for nearly half a century, was expressly implemented to depoliticize the judicial appointment process. Despite an outpouring of criticism for the proposal, which is widely seen as a partisan gambit by new Governor Greg Gianforte and Republican legislators, the bill passed the legislature last week. If signed by the governor, the bill would make Montana a national outlier in its refusal to use an independent nominating commission.
In Alaska, a very similar bill would eliminate the role of the state’s nominating commission for the appointment of judges on the district courts and state court of appeals. Senate Bill 14 was introduced by Republican senator Mike Shower in late January. As in Montana, the bill has been panned as “a concerted strategy to dismantle Alaska’s system of selecting judges based on merit and replace it with a process that relies primarily on politics.” Alaska’s Chief Justice, Joel Bolger, similarly criticized the bill as undermining a well-established and respected judicial selection process. Continue reading “State courts come under legislative assault”
We have followed the bizarre story of three Indiana state judges who were involved in a violent scuffle outside an Indianapolis White Castle last spring. Two of the judges were shot, and all three were suspended from the bench for their part in the altercation. (All three judges have since been reinstated.)
Now one of the shooters is approaching trial in March. He will apparently argue that he was acting in self-defense.
(Via WDRB.com, with some video featuring still photos of the altercation.)
The three Indiana state judges whose late-night fight outside a White Castle restaurant last May led to two being shot and all being suspended will be back on the job in the coming weeks, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.
Judges Bradley Jacobs and Sabrina Bell received 30-day suspensions in late November, and were reinstated in December 23. Judge Andrew Adams received a 60-day suspension, which will end on January 13. Adams and Jacobs were seriously hurt in the original altercation, which began when after Bell gave a lewd gesture to armed men in the White Castle parking lot in the wee hours of the morning.
Previous coverage here, here, here, and here.
The strange saga of three Indiana judges involved in a shooting outside an Indianapolis White Castle last May has come to an end, at least for now. On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion suspending Judges Andrew Adams, Bradley Jacobs, and Sabrina Bell without pay. The court concluded that Adams and Jacobs had engaged in judicial misconduct “by becoming involved in a physical altercation which Judge Adams was criminally charged and convicted,” and that all three judges engaged in judicial misconduct “by appearing in public in an intoxicated state and acting in an injudicious manner.” (Bell apparently gave an obscene gesture to the judges’ assailants, and Adams got involved in a physical fight in which Adams and Jacobs were seriously shot — more details here and here.)
The story has been worth following, and not only because state judges were shot point-blank in a fast food parking lot. The judges’ drunken and disorderly behavior has brought significant reputational harm to the rest of the state judiciary. After all, they were at a state judicial conference when this drunken encounter took place. This situation is far outside the normal range of damage control for most court public information officers.
And then there is the organizational harm in the form of increased workload for the judges’ coworkers. Jacobs and Bell received a 30-day suspension, and Adams 60 days (some of which has already been served). Someone has to pick up the slack with those judges out, and the courts cannot simply hire new staff to handle the dockets. As it is, the county courts in which the judges work are asking senior judges to take up most of the pending cases until the suspended judges return. A sensible use of resources, to be sure, but it still comes with internal costs.
For their part, the suspended judges appeared contrite. I am sure the entire experience for them has been harrowing, humbling, and literally painful.
Last May, two Indiana state judges were shot in a violent skirmish outside a Indianapolis-area White Castle restaurant. The judges were in town for a state judicial conference, and somehow found themselves on the wrong end of a loaded gun in the early morning hours just outside the restaurant. One judge, Bradley Jacobs, has since returned to work; the other, Andrew Adams, was indicted in the incident and is facing potential judicial discipline. (He is still recovering from his injuries.)
Now more facts have come out about that fateful night. Apparently four judges in all–Adams, Jacobs, Crawford Circuit Judge Sabrina Bell, and Clark County Magistrate William Dawkins–had been involved in a night of heavy drinking, and had made it to the White Castle only after first trying to go to a gentleman’s club and learning it was closed. Dawkins went into the restaurant, and then the scene in the parking lot turned ugly. From the Indianapolis Star:
Adams, Jacobs and Bell were standing outside the restaurant when Alfredo Vazquez and Brandon Kaiser drove past the trio in a blue SUV. Either Kaiser or Vazquez yelled something out the window that prompted Bell, court documents said, to give the middle finger to the men.
Vazquez, according to the charges, then parked his SUV. After he and Kaiser exited the vehicle, a verbal altercation ensued, court documents said. It then turned violent when Adams and Jacobs moved toward Vazquez and Kaiser, the panel said.
Adams and Vazquez both hit and kicked each other, according to court documents, while Jacobs and Kaiser mostly wrestled on the ground. “At one point, Judge Jacobs was on top of Kaiser and had him contained on the ground,” the charging documents said.
Vazquez then tried to get Jacobs off of Kaiser, the panel said. As Jacobs began to get up, Vazquez started fighting him, court documents said.
After Kaiser began to sit up, Adams kicked him in the back, the panel said. Kaiser then pulled out a gun and shot Adams in the stomach, according to court documents. The panel says Kaiser then “went over to Judge Jacobs and Vazquez and fired two more shots at Judge Jacobs in the chest.” Kaiser and Vazquez then allegedly fled the scene.
When medics arrived to treat Adams and Jacobs, Adams told them he drank “a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon” that night, the panel said, adding that Adams’ blood alcohol level was .213.
Judge Bradley Jacobs, who presides in the Clark County (Ind.) Circuit Court, will return to the bench after spending three months recovering from a gunshot wound. Judge Jacobs and a colleague, Drew Adams, were shot outside a White Castle restaurant in Indianapolis in the wee hours of the morning on May 1. They were in town for a judicial conference.
Judge Adams, the gunman, and one other man have been charged in the incident. Judge Adams has since been suspended from the bench for his role in the fight. Judge Jacobs was not charged.
In early May, a thoroughly bizarre and tragic story came out of Indianapolis. Two Indiana state judges, in town for a statewide judicial conference, had been shot outside a White Castle restaurant in the wee hours of the morning. Both men survived the shooting, and police concluded early on that they had not been targeted because they were judges, but the incident left the entire state judiciary shaken.
Now another strange turn: one of the injured judges, Andrew Adams, has been indicted by a grand jury for his role in the incident. He faces seven counts of low-level felony and misdemeanor charges.
The prosecutor has been very careful to stress the complicated nature of the investigation, which involved two grand juries and everyone claiming self defense. In the meantime, the Indiana Supreme Court has suspended Adams without pay, pending the outcome of the criminal charges and any related disciplinary proceeding.
I did not post about the shooting when it happened because the facts seemed so uncertain. But moving forward, the story certainly bears watching.
The Indianapolis Star has published an interesting op-ed from Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Tennessee State Court Administrator Deborah Taylor Tate, exploring (at a high level) how the national opioid epidemic has affected state courts. A snippet:
[O]ne fact remains: the state court justice system is now the primary referral source for addiction treatment in the country.
This reality has put enormous strain on our nation’s state courts, many of which have been overwhelmed by growing dockets and shrinking resources. In a recent survey of chief justices and state court administrators, 55 percent ranked the opioid epidemic’s impact on the courts as severe. The survey results are unsurprising, given the complexity of opioid cases: it takes an enormous amount of time to figure out what’s best for people who are addicted, how to care for their children, and what resources are available for them. And those who are placed in a treatment program with court oversight may remain involved with the court for years.
The courts are often the place of last resort for problems facing society, and have no choice but to address those problems creatively and (usually) with limited budgets. The opioid crisis is certainly playing out that way.
It’s the time of year for State of the Judiciary addresses in many states, an opportunity for the Chief Justice of the state to provide the new state legislature with an update on the court system, including its strategic plans and ongoing resource needs. Several State of the Judiciary speeches have been reported in the news, allowing us to get a broad sense of what state courts are planning/hoping for in the coming year. More after the jump. Continue reading “The state of state judiciaries”
Those interested in the operations of problem-solving courts might want to skim through various rule changes proposed by the Indiana Problem Solving Courts Committee. Among the most notable changes, any judge appointed to a problem-solving court bench would be required to participate in an approved orientation program within a year of appointment. The new rules also clarify the importance of the entire “problem-solving court team” — a group that may include the judge, case managers, attorneys, probation or parole officers, and representatives of addiction treatment, child services, or Veteran’s Administration groups.
Such teams are an expansion of what Herbert Jacob identified as “courtroom workgroups” in the 1980’s. Jacob and his colleagues observed that in the crucible of the courtroom (especially the criminal courtroom), the D.A., defense counsel, and judge had much more in common with each other than might be anticipated. They worked together to process hundreds of criminal cases, and developed their own courtroom culture that was not known or understood to those who did not frequent the courtroom. In particular, criminal defense lawyers found themselves in two worlds — as advocates for their clients, as as friends and colleagues of the judge and prosecutor. The interests of the specific defendants became almost secondary to the “work” that needed to be done in processing cases. (Coincidentally, the courtroom workgroup was often clearly, if absurdly, illustrated by the contemporaneous sitcom Night Court.)
Indiana’s problem solving courts appear to embrace the courtroom workgroup in a healthy way, allowing a team of advocates and decisionmakers to help defendants reach productive resolutions. Any Indiana resident or attorney is invited to comment on the proposed changes.