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Archive for the ‘On Judges’ Category

Clarence Thomas - Caricature | by DonkeyHoteyU.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a meeting of lawyers last week that “unchecked judicial power” means “we leave it for the least accountable branch to decide what newly discovered rights should be appended to our Constitution.” To his point, the role of courts is to interpret constitutions not to make or enforce law. (I won’t repeat that umpire analogy).

Likewise among the states, their supreme courts are supposed to interpret and rule on the constitutionality of statutes not make law from the bench. But when things don’t go precisely like they’re supposed to, you notice.

Which brings me to what happened in Arizona last week. It was the state supreme court decision in the public employee pension case of Honorable Phillip Hall Et Al., v. Elected Officials Retirement Plan/State of Arizona.

Without diving into the weeds, Hall was about retirement benefits and contributions and whether they’re part of an ’employment contract.’ It was also about the Gift Clause in the Arizona Constitution. For an accessibly excellent commentary, see Arizona Republic Columnist Robert Robb’s aptly titled “Pension reform is now impossible in Arizona.”

Yipee! Project 365(3) Day 250 | by Keith Williamson

Pension reform matters because according to a 2013 report by the independent financial research group, Morningstar, most states’ pension plans continue to be underfunded below the 80 percent level considered healthy. As summarized by Ballotpedia, “Decreased funding and increasing liabilities since the 2008 recession continued to put pressure on local and state budgets, in some cases leading to bankruptcy. Higher pension costs can have the following consequences:

  • higher taxes
  • less intergovernmental aid for services
  • lower credit ratings
  • higher interest rates on state borrowing”

I agree completely with Justice Clint Bolick’s dissent in the Hall case. It was well-reasoned and persuasively argued. Most of all, it was refreshingly candid. Reading the majority opinion, you have the sense they didn’t much care for the demurrer.

How bracing, though, to hear a dissenting voice on this state’s high court — so welcome, so invigorating, so rare. Four of the five sitting justices recused themselves because the case would have had a bearing on their own retirement plans. But because Justice Bolick joined the high court after the law was changed, he had no such conflict nor did the four guest justices also deliberating.

Grisham-like legal fiction.

J.C. Hallman 10.06.09 | by kellywritershouse

Bolstered by a sharp wit, Justice Bolick’s keen analysis evoked nods and smiles from the first page. He likened the Court’s 51-year old finding that at-will state employees actually had a contract with the state to “a work of legal fiction to which the likes of John Grisham could only aspire.”

Equally remarkable, too, was that across its 21 pages, the majority failed to mention taxpayers — the poor slobs who’ll face higher taxes or cuts in services to pay promised pension benefits. To be fair, the majority did reference “the State” but in doing so, seemed to gloss over taxpayers who are ultimately the ones saddled with funding shortfalls in the State’s largesse. Indeed, Justice Bolick appeared to chide the majority’s rather cavalier observation that the retirement plan’s “actuarial soundness is within the Legislature’s control” — because it can always hike taxes and court fees — “apparently ad infinitum.”

Judges Gavel“Of the judges, by the judges, and for the judges.”

But the money paragraphs were these from Justice Bolick:
“If  ever  there were a  case in  which  we  should  seriously indulge  the  presumption  of  statutory constitutionality,  this  is  it.   The majority winks  at  that rule,  then  utterly fails  to apply it.   It  repeatedly invokes  the  mantle  of  judicial restraint  while  casually  invalidating  a statute designed  to  preserve  the financial stability  of  a  public  employee pension  plan,  a  purpose  so  important  that  the  voters  made  it  part  of  our state’s organic law.
 
 “The  majority  opinion  portends  a  huge  financial windfall  for the  class  members,  a  burden  the  taxpayers  will  shoulder.   Under  such circumstances,  we  should  act  with  great  restraint,  lest  the  rule  of  law be undermined by  a  public  perception  that  this  decision  is  of  the  judges,  by the  judges,  and  for  the  judges.   On  this  important issue,  the  majority exhibits  no such  restraint,  and we  therefore  respectfully  dissent.”

Outcome-based jurisprudence.

If there’s one thing you learn in law school is that courts sometimes back into their decisions. Adopting what’s called outcome-based jurisprudence, they first decide what the outcome of a case should be and then work backwards to find the reasoning that reaches the desired conclusion. A criticism of this approach was made in March when a split U.S. Supreme Court left mandatory union dues in place in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

In my opinion, the Arizona Supreme Court found the outcome it wanted, which was to shift policy choice burdens away from active employee retirement plan members and place them instead on taxpayers “by freezing employee contribution rates in perpetuity” to quote Justice Bolick. Indeed, he referred to some of the majority’s rationale as “pick-and-choose jurisprudence.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/p/pippalou/03/l/1363479372ipbgy.jpgIn Nevada, I remember its version of “pick-and-choose.” It was the 2003 Nevada Supreme Court case of Guinn v. Legislature, which came about when the Nevada Legislature deadlocked over the state budget. Nevada’s late Governor Kenny Guinn petitioned the Nevada Supreme Court for an Order declaring the Legislature in violation of the Nevada Constitution. More to the point, he wanted the Court to compel the legislature to fulfill its constitutional duty to approve a balanced budget; to ignore the 2/3rd super majority Nevada Constitutional requirement to raise taxes; and to appropriate funds for public education during that fiscal period.

A child's primer of natural history (1899) | by CircaSassyBut there was a fly in the apothecary’s ointment. Notwithstanding the Court’s decision, the Nevada Constitution at Art 4. Sec. 18(2) enacted in 1996 by voter initiative was not to be ignored. The voters and taxpayers enshrined in their state constitution the 2/3 super majority tax hike requirement to make raising taxes difficult. And that was the rub.

It’s clear the Court had the outcome in mind to fund education — a meritorious end to be sure. But to do so, it had to find justifiable means. So it parsed the super majority requirement to pirouette over the voter imposed 2/3 majority prerequisite. It said the requirement was “procedural” while the affirmative constitutional obligation to fund public education was “substantive.”

And so procedural rights were thrown under the bus when the Court decided the substantive right was more important even as Nevada’s Constitution Article 11, Sec. 6 only required that “the Legislature shall enact one or more appropriations to provide the money the Legislature deems to be sufficient, . . . .”

To its credit, Nevada’s high court reversed itself as part of a subsequent 2006 opinion.

But don’t expect a similar reconsideration in Arizona.

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Credits: Clarence Thomas – caricature by DonkeyHotey at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license; Yippee, by Keith Williamson at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license; J.C. Hallman, by kellywritershouse at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license; A child’s primer of natural history, by CircaSassy at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

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Courtroom 93Illinois lawyer Rhonda Crawford used to be a law clerk for the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County — up until she was fired in August for presiding in court wearing a judge’s robe. She did it while real life Judge Valarie Turner favorably looked on. Crawford even ruled in three traffic cases from the bench.

In denying the allegations that she wrongfully impersonated a judge, Crawford said she never claimed to be a judge. Maybe it’s just me but you might wonder if wearing a black robe and ensconcing yourself on the bench might not be just a tad misleading to someone appearing in that courtroom for a hearing? Nonetheless, Crawford went on to explain she was only “shadowing various judges . . . to see what they did and learn about the process of being a judge.”  

Moreover, since Crawford is running for elected judicial office this November her lawyer said the whole thing’s “politically motivated.” Just the same, the traffic cases were subsequently ordered reheard. And her boss, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, disciplined Crawford by job termination and Judge Turner by temporary suspension.

Here comes the judge — not.

Politics Law & Finance 43But despite having lost her $57,000 per year clerk’s job, things may still be looking up for Crawford. She won the primary election in March for Chicago’s 1st Judicial Subcircuit and is running unopposed. So she’s likely to prevail and thereby acquire an even better gig, one that more than triples her former law clerk’s salary with annual pay of $188,000 for a 4-year term.

Dismayed by this turn of events, this past Monday, the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “Keep the fake judge off the bench.” The newspaper’s editorial board asked voters to pay attention and write-in Maryam Ahmad rather than mark the box for Crawford.

Discipline’s creaky wheels.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Attorney Regulation and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) also filed a three count complaint against Crawford for “dishonesty as a result of handling cases on a judge’s call while dressed in judicial robes and seated on the judge’s chair behind the bench.” Other counts included, “Criminal conduct of official misconduct and false personation of public officer” and False statements in a disciplinary investigation.”

Of course if Crawford wins the election, the disciplinary inquiry may change. The matter of the now sitting judge may instead end up before the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board not the ARDC.

However, according to Injustice Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit journalism organization “that conducts in-depth research exposing institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality,” that process could be a protracted one. Based on its own investigation and as posted on its website, that organization concludes, “It commonly takes years to act against judges who violate the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, and the punishment seldom is more than a public reprimand.”

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“They should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa” a Florida judge allegedly observed about African-Americans to a Staff Attorney. She was reporting on the status of an order at the time. The upshot is the Hon. Mark Hulsey III, Circuit Court Judge for Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit, presently finds himself under judicial ethics inquiry by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.

A majority vote of the Commission determined there was probable cause to investigate allegations of discourtesy and condescension to staff; inappropriate language, including beratement of Staff Attorneys and purported violations of 14 canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

Entitled to the presumption of innocence, Judge Hulsey denies all the allegations. Up for reelection, the judge also says the charges are politically motivated. Meantime, he’s been reassigned to probate court. See “Jacksonville circuit judge reassigned after complaint of racial comments, foul language” at the Florida Times-Union.

Too many expletives to count.

With respect to inappropriate language, readers with tender sensibilities might want to skip this second news item concerning the crude, obscene exchange between Georgia Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham and defendant Denver Fenton Allen. 

The back-and-forth between the judge and the defendant escalated into exchanges about parts of the anatomy, sex, threats and homophobia. The court transcript shared by law blogger Keith Lee is long, lurid and lewd. In its June 24, 2016 report, the Washington Post referred to the courtroom incident as “an extraordinary display of vulgarity — between a defendant and judge.”  See ‘You’ll find out how nasty I really am’: A judge’s seething response to a hostile defendant”

Teaching “courtroom etiquette.”

Meanwhile, in Nevada, a judge’s attempt to teach “courtroom etiquette” lost any subtlety of meaning when ‘the lesson’ entailed handcuffing Clark County public defender Zohra Bakhtary at a sentencing hearing for a defendant charged with a probation violation.

Although the judge in question lost reelection last month, the now former Las Vegas, NV Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen remains under investigation for his alleged unorthodox approach to cultivating courtly manners. See the transcript and courtroom video here.

According to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the 150-member Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice filed a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline seeking sanctions. The complaint further mentioned two other cases besides that of the handcuffed public defender that they claimed demonstrated Judge Hafen’s “complete disregard for the law.” SeeDefense lawyers say Las Vegas judge ‘was wrong’ to handcuff attorney.”

CCDU Open LetterAnd also weighing in was the Clark County Defenders Union via open letter. The letter stated, in part,

“Every person accused of a crime has a constitutional right to have an attorney speak on his behalf. Public defenders exclusively represent people with little or no money: the poor. Judge Hafen silenced an attorney who was merely attempting to speak on her client’s behalf.

He violated one of our most sacred, fundamental, and constitutionally protected rights. Judge Hafen claims he handcuffed our colleague to “teach the lawyer about courtroom etiquette.” Handcuffing an attorney who is merely doing her job to teach her a lesson is simply improper and has never been done in the history of Nevada. This misguided “lesson” runs contrary to the fundamental right to counsel. That right entitles Americans to have an attorney at their side, speaking on their behalf, especially when they are facing jail. We will continue to take our lessons from the Constitution and our solemn Oath of Attorney.”

More shackled speech.

Two close-in-time occurrences don’t make a trend. But just the same, in Ohio there was another incident of shackled attorney speech. Criminal defense lawyer Andrea Burton was handcuffed, removed from an Ohio courtroom, and sentenced to 5 days in jail for refusing Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich’s order that she remove a Black Lives Matter pin she wore to court.

Courtrooms are supposed to be viewpoint neutral according to Judge Milich who gave Burton several chances to comply before issuing his contempt order. “A judge doesn’t support either side,” Judge Milich said. “A judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law.”

For her part, Burton explained, “He indicated to me he didn’t know if I was trying to seek attention from the news or whatever the case was, but that legally I wasn’t allowed to wear it and I deferred and said that I’m respecting my First Amendment right. That I’m not neutral in injustice, and to remain neutral becomes an accomplice to oppression.” She  is appealing her sentence. See “Youngstown attorney arrested for wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ button in court.”

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Credits: Photos via Morguefile license, no attribution required.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/ErieRingBlindman%27sBluff.gifIf you’re in Nebraska family court, you might wonder why child custody and parenting time outcomes are so seemingly different throughout your state. But if you’re a shared parenting advocate like Les Veskrna, you want answers. Veskrna is a Lincoln family physician and executive director of the Children’s Rights Council of Iowa and Nebraska.

Hypothesizing that training might account for the dissimilar results, Veskrna asked Nebraska State Court Administrator Corey Steel for information about the training judges receive on custody and parenting matters. Specifically, Veskrna requested access to related judicial continuing education documents. “Looking at disparate outcomes for child custody and parenting time throughout Nebraska, it appears judicial practices are not consistent with the literature,” Veskrna explained. And he added, “A growing body of research suggests that children in divorce do best emotionally and in school when they spend meaningful time with both parents.”

Steel, however, denied the request. He contended that training information wasn’t subject to disclosure under state public records law. Moreover, he said that the records were entwined with a judge’s deliberative process and therefore, privileged. Veskrna disagreed. The Nebraska Constitution at I-13 says that “All courts must be open.” And the explicit purpose of Nebraska’s Public Records Statutes is to “guarantee that public government records are public.” Under the law, Nebraskans have “the right to obtain access to, and copies of, public records in the custody of public agencies in the state.” So in 2015, Veskrna went to court to seek an order that Steel turn over those records.

In January of this year, a Lancaster County, Nebraska District Court agreed with Veskrna and ordered the Nebraska Judicial Branch to release training documents disclosing how judges learn to adjudicate child custody disputes.

The First Amendment and public access.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9b/%E4%BF%9D%E9%9A%9C%E8%A8%80%E8%AB%96%E8%87%AA%E7%94%B1%E7%9A%84%E7%BE%8E%E5%9C%8B%E6%86%B2%E6%B3%95%E7%AC%AC%E4%B8%80%E4%BF%AE%E6%AD%A3%E6%A1%88%E7%B4%80%E5%BF%B5%E7%A2%91_%22The_First_Amendment_to_The_U.S._Constitution%22_Monument_in_Independence_National_Historic_Park_in_Philadelphia%2C_Pennsylvania%2C.jpg/320px-thumbnail.jpg

Admittedly, the First Amendment does not expressly address public access. It fosters “individual self-expression.” But at the same time, it affords “the public access to discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas.” The First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783, 98 (1978).

Arizona transparency.

Presume an interested Arizonan wants to emulate Les Veskrna and ask for judicial continuing education training records on custody and parenting matters or on any other area of law such as, for instance, handling capital cases. In Arizona, that person would discover that Evaluation materials and records generated by participants in judicial education programs such as test scores, educational assessments, practical exercise worksheets, and similar materials are closed” in accord with Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123, (13) Judicial Branch Training Materials and Records. Does this rule mean that information about how and what training judges acquire directly related to their tax-payer paid work is closed to public access? It depends — on the Court.

Politics Law & Finance 43The Court has its own public access rules to govern the maintenance and disclosure of judicial records. Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123, “Access to the Judicial Records of the State of Arizona,” controls — not Arizona Public Records Law. See London v. Broderick and Arpaio v. Davis.

And no matter that Arizona’s Constitution at Article II, Declaration of Rights, makes a similar — but not quite the same — declaration as Nebraska’s Constitution about court openness. Justice in all cases shall be administered openly,” says Section 11.

The plain meaning of a “public body” under Arizona Public Records Law should deem that state courts statutorily meet the definition as “any branch, department, board, bureau, commission, council or committee of the foregoing, and any public organization or agency, supported in whole or in part by monies from this state or any political subdivision of this state, or expending monies provided by this state or any political subdivision of this state.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4a/Freedom_of_Information_Act_%28FOIA%29_Document_Processing_%2814189201882%29.jpg/387px-Freedom_of_Information_Act_%28FOIA%29_Document_Processing_%2814189201882%29.jpg

But in Arizona, the Court decides public access for itself and it decided to exempt itself from state public records law. Not that this is unusual. The view of state supreme courts elsewhere aligns with Arizona. The state supreme courts in Washington and Nevada, for example, have likewise expansively interpreted their state constitutions to declare state public records laws off-limits to their courts.

In City of Federal Way v. David Koenig, 167 Wn.2d 341(Washington 2009), the Washington Supreme Court held the state public records act does not apply to the judiciary and judicial records.

And in Nevada in Civil Rights for Seniors v. Admin. Office of the Courts, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 80 (Nevada 2013), the Nevada Supreme Court held that considering the judiciary’s authority to manage its own affairs, it would limit the scope of the public’s access to the records maintained by the Administration of the Courts (AOC).

Unfortunately, despite constitutional, statutory and common law presumptions favoring public access, the legal establishment inclines toward reticence — if not outright opacity. Just a few months ago, for example, UCLA Professor Richard Sander’s decade-long fight to obtain test score, grade and bar exam passage information from the California State Bar was finally allowed to proceed to trial over the Bar’s ongoing objections.

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Credits: Tweed and Erie Rings play blind man’s bluff with justice, Harper’s Weekly, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; FOIA via Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, Constitution monument, posted to Flickr by euthman, Wikimedia Commons, attribution generic license.

 

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It's A Dry Heave | by cogdogblog

This is the time of year where anywhere is better than being trapped in Satan’s boxers. Sure, we missed the 120 weather forecast on June 19th. Just the same Phoenix spent the month breaking infernal records.

And now we’re bedeviled with the glistening humidity and demonic heat of monsoon season. What a combination. But how fitting for filing the following under WHAT. THE. HELL.

  1. Utah v. Strieff: The erosion of fundamental Constitutional freedoms continues.

On Monday, June 20, 2016, a 48-year Phoenix temperature record was broken when the thermometer hit 116 by 3 pm. On the same day, the nation’s highest court further undermined the part of the Fourth Amendment that safeguards individuals from unreasonable government searches and seizures. In Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the “exclusionary rule.” It’s the rule that excludes evidence from trial obtained by unconstitutional police conduct.

Bill of Rights | by GruenemannThe case involved police officer Douglas Fackrell who without probable cause stopped Edward Strieff after Strieff left a South Salt Lake City house under police surveillance thanks to an anonymous drug tip. Strieff was arrested after Officer Fackrell discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for a minor traffic violation. A search of Strieff turned up methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.

But if the stop was unlawful, shouldn’t the drugs have been excluded? Or did the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant weaken or attenuate the connection between the government’s misconduct and the discovery of the evidence?

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the evidence obtained was admissible “because the officer’s discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.”

In spirited dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor declared:

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Justice Sotomayor particularly warned about the risk of “treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”

“It is no secret,” she wrote, “that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” And she added, “. . . this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Just 5 years ago, criminal defense lawyer Michael Cicchini deconstructed the ongoing erosion of our fundamental rights in Tried and Convicted. On the heels of Strieff, the bad news is that our individual rights continue being “hammered and softened by high court judicial decisions.” These rights are “intended to protect us from the vagaries of the criminal justice system” and from the “government agents” who “are easily able to bypass, and in fact destroy, our constitutional protections.” 

           2.   Brock Turner and Raul Ramirez: Racial and ethnic disparity in sentencing persists.

Unequal Justice in America | by DonkeyHotey

As though Judge Aaron Persky wasn’t facing enough opprobrium for sentencing Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in county jail for rape, The Guardian reported last month that the same Judge Persky had approved a much harsher three-year prison sentence for Salvadoran immigrant Raul Ramirez for committing a similar crime. And unlike Turner, Ramirez expressed genuine remorse and plead guilty, which should have mitigated his sentence. See “Stanford sexual assault case revealed racial bias.”

By itself the disparity in Ramirez’s sentencing is nothing unusual. It’s commonplace. It’s only newsworthy because of the light touch administered on Turner.

According to Census and Dept. of Justice analyses by the Sentencing Project, racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration is real. Indeed, research by Dr. Ashley Nellis bears out that prosecutors and judges often treat blacks and Hispanics more harshly in their charging and sentencing decisions.

“Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.”

WHAT. THE. HELL.

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Credits: “It’s A Dry Heave,” by Alan Levine at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “Bill of Rights,” by John W. Schulze at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;”Unequal Justice in America,” by DonkeyHotey at Flickr Creative Commons Attibution.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bc/Grombecki_Bart%C5%82omiej_Sztosik.jpg/193px-Grombecki_Bart%C5%82omiej_Sztosik.jpg

Sure I thought it was grand the California State Auditor again stepped on the State Bar of California last week. My praise, though, is restrained. The California Bar has sustained plenty of hits and fault-finding the past 30 years.1 And still it has resisted genuine reforms. Apart from that, the Cal Bar getting stomped on is such old hat that even the beaver and muskrat’s come off.

Indeed, just last June the state auditor alleged the Cal Bar may have put the public at risk by going soft on discipline by rushing settlements to reduce a festering 5,000+ lawyer disciplinary case backlog. The auditor also berated the Bar for going $50 million over-budget on a building renovation. In sum, the report declared the Cal Bar “has not consistently protected the public through its attorney discipline process and lacks accountability.”

On the heels of that, last July I criticized the Arizona Supreme Court’s on State Bar Mission and Governance for inexplicably consulting the California Bar about its governance reforms — as though the Cal Bar’s done such a good job of that. “That’s like asking Kim Kardashian about modesty or Donald Trump about hairdos,” I quipped.

Today, I still wonder, ‘What’s next?’ Consult Trump on Hispanic outreach?

State audit rips Cal Bar.

Calif State Auditor May 12 2016 Cover Letter Re. State Bar of California Audit Report

The 62-page audit report concerning the Cal Bar’s financial operations and management practices was released last Thursday. It decried the Bar’s lack of transparency, the excessive salaries paid its executives and its massive budget shortfall to repay victims of attorney misconduct. When I saw the headlines about non-transparency and inflated executive compensation, for a moment I thought the story was about the State Bar of Arizona.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/Opie_Read_in_the_Ozarks%2C_including_many_of_the_rich%2C_rare%2C_quaint%2C_eccentric%2C_ignorant_and_superstitious_sayings_of_the_natives_of_Missouri_and_Arkansaw_%281905%29_%2814766331541%29.jpg/240px-thumbnail.jpgBut no, it was the California Bar. Also see “Audit rips California’s state bar for shady finances and bloated salaries.”

About those so-called inflated salaries, the auditor recommended that “to ensure that the compensation it provides its executives is reasonable, the State Bar should include in the comprehensive salary and benefits study it plans to complete by October 2016 the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch.” 

According to Table 8 of the auditor’s report, the Bar’s Executive Director earns $267,500 per year while the Governor of California makes $182,784 annually. At 146% of what the governor makes, the value of presiding over the world’s 8th largest economy clearly pales in comparison to running the nation’s largest bar association. Meanwhile, at 18,250 active members, the State Bar of Arizona is one-tenth the size of the Cal Bar’s 186, 346 active members. And at $65M, the Cal Bar’s budget is more than 4 times the size of Arizona’s. All the same, the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director also makes more than the California Governor.

Sunshine | by nateOne

Several months ago, a local Arizona Bar apologist took exception to my comparing the Arizona Bar Executive Director’s annual compensation with that of Arizona’s Governor. He told me comparing the executive director’s salary with Arizona government employees was “meaningless.” Arizona state employees are “underpaid,” he scolded. And in any case, the governor gets a lot of non-salary perks. If you look at the table below obtained via Ballotpedia, he’s right. The Arizona Governor is indeed underpaid along with everyone else in state government — not just the executive branch.

State executive officials
Office and current official Salary
Governor of Arizona Doug Ducey $95,000
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan $70,000
Attorney General of Arizona Mark Brnovich $90,000
Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit $70,000

A Bed | by CarbonNYC [in SF!]Just the same, the Cal auditor’s advice remains sound, to ensure reasonableness, “the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch” ought to be included in any state bar salary review.

Per the federally mandated IRS Form 990 disclosures on the State Bar of Arizona’s website, the most recently available 2014 IRS Form 990 reveals the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director makes 2 times the Arizona governor’s salary. The data, though, is two years old. As a matter of fact, buried in the May 2016 issue of the bar’s monthly magazine, was a brief mention that in February the Board unanimously approved the Executive Compensation Committee’s recommendation to give the Executive Director another raise.

What it all means for transparency.

The real implications from the Cal audit report are what they mean for transparency. The legal establishment isn’t known for transparency — their disingenuous exhortations notwithstanding. That’s why I believe transparency suffers where public records access and disclosure mandates aren’t overseen by independent non-legal establishment third parties.

In Texas, for example, the Texas State Bar discloses a lot. Admittedly, that’s not necessarily because it wants to — but because it has to. The Texas Bar is subject to State Sunset Law review of its mission, continued viability, fiscal management and performance by the Texas Sunset Commission. This review by legislators and public members is required by the Texas Sunset Act.

Open Kimono Management | by standardpixelYears ago, Arizona had a Sunset Law that likewise applied to the State Bar of Arizona. But that ended in 1985 when the State Bar Act sunsetted over a dispute between the Bar and the Arizona Legislature and before the State Bar could or would open its management and financial kimono. So when the Texas Bar opens its books, it does so not as much by choice but as by statute.

The California Bar must likewise open its financial operations and management practices not by dint of munificence for open government but as required by the State Bar Act under Business and Professions Code §6145.

The lesson in Arizona, then, is that to ensure free and open governance and preserve the public’s unfettered access to financial and management information, the State Bar of Arizona needs to be treated like every other state regulator. This means being subject to Arizona Public Records Law, A.R.S. §§ 39-101 to -161 not Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123.

Gustaf Dalén 1926.jpgAlthough Arizona Courts meet the plain meaning of a “public body” supported by state monies, the high court has deemed that Arizona courts are not subject to Arizona’s public records laws. Instead, the Court says it alone under its own Rule 123 constitutionally dictates the breadth of what governs the maintenance and disclosure of its records.2

Not that the Arizona Supreme Court is alone in that thinking. In 2009, the Washington State Supreme Court expanded on that view in City of Federal Way v. Koenig. And in 2013, the Nevada Supreme Court followed in the same general direction in Civil Rights for Seniors, v. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Under Arizona public records law, most documents in a public officer’s possession are public records — except for documents that relate solely to personal matters with no relation to official duties. Rule 123(e), on the other hand, restricts access to certain administrative records including employee records, judicial case assignments, and what it alone determines is attorney and judicial work product. Ariz. R. Sup.Ct. 123(e)(1)(11)

The State Bar Mission and Governance task force has proposed the Arizona Bar not fall under Arizona Public Records Law. Rather it recommends the Bar “conduct meetings and maintain records pursuant to public access policies adopted by the Supreme Court.” How much transparency will that entail? What judicial records does the Bar create that have relation to Rule 123?

And besides, as I recently posted, the Arizona Bar already thinks “our organization has worked to be exceptionally transparent.”

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1 For more Golden State Bar dysfunction, see “California State Bar in Turmoil After Shake-up Triggers Whistleblower Claim.”

2 In Arpaio v. Davis, the Court of Appeals explained:

“Arizona’s constitution provides that “[t]he Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all the courts of the State.” Ariz. Const., art. 6, § 3. This administrative power “is a function of its responsibility to administer an integrated judiciary.” Scheehle v. Justices of the Ariz. Supreme Court, 211 Ariz. 282, 289, ¶ 27, 120 P.3d 1092, 1100 (2005). The Supreme Court fulfills its administrative responsibilities by promulgating rules. Id. at ¶ 23, 120 P.3d at 1099. “Such rules are valid even if they are not completely cohesive with related legislation, so long as they are an appropriate exercise of the court’s constitutional authority.” Id. at ¶ 24, 120 P.3d at 1099. Accordingly, Rule 123—not the Arizona Public Records Law—controls requests for judicial records.”

Credits: Portrait of Bartłomiej Sztosik,Creator:Henryk Grombecki, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Opie Read in the Ozarks, by Opie Percival, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Sunshine, by Nate Grigg at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; A Bed, by David Goehring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Two women wearing funny glasses . . . ., by Yuko Honda at Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License; Open Kimono, by Eric Gélinas at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; Gustaf Dalén, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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In some parts of the world, the first day of May is May Day or International Workers Day. But thanks to a proclamation during President Eisenhower’s administration, May 1st in the U.S. is Law Day. It’s meant as the day each year to celebrate the rule of law in society. So quite appropriately comes a timely news story to momentarily ease the otherwise burdened cynical heart.

The salutary tonic is administered through the story of Judge Lou Olivera, a North Carolina District Court jurist, whose extraordinary compassion provides the welcome antidote. This past April 13th, Judge Olivera sentenced former Green Beret Joseph Serna to spend 24 hours in jail for a probation violation. Serna is a retired Army veteran who served almost 20 years. Deployed four times to Afghanistan, he earned three Purple Hearts and was almost killed three times. But since leaving the service, Serna has struggled with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To cope, Serna has self-medicated with alcohol. As a consequence, he has run afoul of the law. Having violated his probation with a DUI, he appeared in Judge Olivera’s courtroom last month. Judge Olivera, himself a Gulf War veteran, runs the county’s Veterans Treatment Court.

“I gave Joe a night in jail because he had to be held accountable,” the judge later explained. But concerned that sentencing Serna in isolation for a night would trigger his PTSD, Judge Olivera did something truly remarkable. He decided to spend the night with Serna in the one-man cell. They spent the time talking about their military experiences. Serna said it felt like “a father-son conversation.”

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