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.
Wyoming raises court fees to pay for technology upgrades
The technology in Wyoming’s state courts is reportedly in terrible shape, ranging from extremely outdated to nonexistent. Half the courtrooms lack adequate power, and 80 percent lack digital capacity for video and videoconferencing. In response, the state legislature has approved an increase in court fees to fund technological improvements. The affected fees are primarily “automation fees” associated with filing a case, and moderately increased monetary penalties for a felony conviction.
A curious string of recusals in a New Mexico corruption case
One by one, eight state trial judges have recused themselves from presiding over a criminal case against a former New Mexico state senator. Phil Griego was indicted in June on 22 counts, including perjury and embezzlement. Among other things, Griego is alleged to have spent funds from his re-election account after resigning from the state senate in March 2015.
None of the eight judges identified a specific reason for recusing themselves from the case, with each indicating only “good cause” for the recusal. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:
Former state Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna said one factor in the decision by so many Santa Fe judges to recuse themselves from Griego’s case might have been their role lobbying legislators for court funding.
If the need to obtain court funds from the legislature compromises judges to this extent, interdependence can become a danger to the administration of justice.
Unpacking the latest in the Maire Whelan controversy: proposed judicial appointments bill panned, government at risk
The controversial appointment of Maire Whelan to Ireland’s Court of Appeal continues to ruffle the country’s new government. This week, Transport Minister Shane Ross proposed a bill to create a new Judicial Appointments Commission. The new commission would have a majority of non-lawyer members, and would be chaired by a non-lawyer. The commission would select final nominees, who would then be chosen by the government.
The bill immediately came under fire from Fianna Fail, the political party whose support is necessary to uphold the government’s confidence and supply agreement. The proposal was also publicly criticized by prominent members of the judiciary.
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Courts dropping bail requirements; bail bondsmen hardest hit
To say that courts are interdependent is to say they are a part of a larger system. Courts rely on key resources–including funding, staffing, and a steady flow of cases–from external actors. And many people outside the courts rely on the court system itself for legal stability, safety, and sometimes their livelihoods.
A good example of the latter interdependence is the work of bail bondsmen. The Wall Street Journal reports today that many state courts have dropped or are radically revising the cash bail system for criminal defendants that has been in place since the late 1800s. With fewer defendants needing to post bail, there has been less of a need for bail bonds, and the bail bond industry is suffering more than at any point in the last four decades.
A very interesting story on a complex interdependency, and a good reminder as to why there are few easy, painless fixes in interdependent systems.
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Interdependence classics: Justin Crowe, The Forging of Judicial Autonomy: Political Entrepreneurship and the Reforms of William Howard Taft
I have recently become fascinated with the work of William Howard Taft, a man who approached the Presidency like a judge and the Chief Justiceship like an executive. Taft was an extraordinary judicial reformer, not because of his judicial opinions (although he authored hundreds during his time on the Court) but because of the “executive principle” he brought to managing the federal court system. In just nine years as Chief Justice, Taft personally lobbied for and secured legislation increasing the number of federal judges, dramatically reducing the Supreme Court’s mandatory caseload, and authorizing the courts to developing internal administration through what would become the Judicial Conference of the United States. Taft also set the groundwork for the Rules Enabling Act (allowing the federal courts to develop their own uniform procedural and evidentiary rules).
Professor Justin Crowe’s article, The Forging of Judicial Autonomy, vividly and concisely describes how Taft turned a highly dependent, decentralized federal court system into a modern organization in less than a decade. Crowe focuses his article around two major pieces of legislation: a 1922 Act which added 24 new federal judges and created the Judicial Conference’s predecessor, the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges; and the Judiciary Act of 1925, which eliminated most of the Supreme Court’s obligatory caseload. These Acts were not, Crowe argues, inevitable — or even desired — by Congress. Rather, they were the result of a “judicial autonomy” forged by Taft, who combined relentless entrepreneurship with existing social networks and willingness to embrace modern management theories.
Continue reading “Interdependence classics: Justin Crowe, The Forging of Judicial Autonomy: Political Entrepreneurship and the Reforms of William Howard Taft”
Intra-court feud brewing in Texas over online records access
For the past five years, Texas’s Office of Court Administration has worked to develop a statewide online database of court filings. The database, called re:SearchTX, covers all 254 counties in the state and is intended to provide a unified, centralized system for access to court filings, similar to the PACER system used by the federal courts. Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has advocated for the new system, noting in particular its ability more quickly and inexpensively to self-represented litigants.
But a smooth launch of re:SearchTX has been stymied by the local courts themselves. And now a bill has been filed in the state House that would allow individual counties to opt out of the system, radically weakening its utility.
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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.
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Extreme vacancy crisis in the Gambia
Interdependence Classics: Deanelle Reece Tacha, Independence of the Judiciary for the Third Century
This is the first in a series of occasional posts, highlighting scholarship and writings on the relationship between the court system and its external environment.
Tenth Circuit Judge Deanelle Reece Tacha’s 1995 article, Independence of the Judiciary in the Third Century, offers a short and engaging summary of the dependency issues that the federal courts faced at the end of the twentieth century. Much of her description and analysis is equally relevant today.
Judge Tacha notes from the outset that “[e]xamining the independence of the judiciary and perceptions about its erosion requires that one see the issue in both the institutional and the individual sense.” It is natural, and in a sense traditional, to think of independence in terms of tenure protection. But while life tenure protects individual judges from the vagaries of the political climate, it does not protect the judiciary as a whole from resource-related strains.
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