Magazine Notes High-Stakes Court Cases

Mother Jones magazine is offering a rundown on five states where electing state supreme court justices has become a high-stakes political battle, complete with spending millions of dollars on attack and counter-attack ads. The piece offers some familiar names for anyone who follows the judicial policy wars, like Texas and North Carolina, and some places where you might not have noticed conflict, like Tennessee.
In particular, the magazine notes that Florida, also home to significant fights over the governor’s office and of course a vital presidential swing state, has seen dramatic increases. Florida, says reporter A.J. Vicens,  “… ranked near the bottom of the list between 2000-09 in terms of judicial candidate contributions, with nominees raising just $7,500 during that entire period. But that changed in the 2011-12 cycle, when three Supreme Court judges were up for retention votes, with candidate fundraising coming in at more than $1.5 million and independent spending topping $3.1 million.”
For court watchers, it may be interesting that the increased spending is happening in some states with “retention” models, which are believed to decrease political efforts in the judiciary. In those states, voters can only decide whether or not to keep or dismiss a judge – as opposed to choosing between candidates. California, for example, uses a retention system for its high court, although a huge majority of lower court judges run unopposed.

ICE Holds Down Under ‘Trust Act’ Policy

Some new numbers are confirming that law enforcement officials are holding fewer immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. The change comes under policies of the Trust Act that went into place earlier this year and follow court decisions on the “holds.” The Associated Press reports that “… immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.”
The AP story explains that “… the Trust Act limits the ability of local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants longer than their scheduled release date to give ICE time to take them into custody.” Immigration issues are nearly always “civil,” not criminal issues.
California’s San Diego County was among the five counties nationwide with the most federal immigration requests declined, according to newly released ICE data. Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Miami-Dade, FL, were the other four. In northern California, the number of detainees transferred to ICE custody fell 53 percent during fiscal year 2014, according to ICE. In the Los Angeles area, the number fell by 15 percent. Similar figures weren’t available for San Diego, but in fiscal year 2013, immigration authorities requested that 3,020 detainees be transferred to ICE custody from San Diego and Imperial counties, reports the AP.
See the story via California public radio here: Immigration Holds Plummet In First Year Of California’s Trust Act

Civil Costs Added To Double-Dip Red Light Ticket

Los Angeles TV station NBC4 is reporting about a “double-dip” situation involving civil assessments and those red light cameras. The problem focuses on what happens when the owner of the car in the photo is not driving the car. One family paid the $500 fine, but also noted that the owner was not driving. On the back, they said who was – and that driver got a second fine.
“… nearly 3 months after paying the ticket [the driver] received a letter from the court stating ‘as a result of your failure to appear’ … a civil assessment of $300 was added. Then this: “The court will refer this citation to a collection agency.”
In response to the NBC4 I-Team’s questions, the station said, the court is re-instating the original citation for Kim, ending the collections process and waiving the $300 fee for failure to appear. The courts are refunding $500 to the Kellys, and they’ve waived $300 in late fees for Kim. For those unable to interest a television news team in helping, there is some advice. If you get one of those tickets, and the owner of the car was not driving, just indicate that and send the document in – leave it to the courts to tell who was driving.

Even China Looks For Civil Court Reform?

For those wondering about transparency in American courts and the demise of our “rule of law” culture, given the rationing of justice in civil courts, there’s a great report in Foreign Policy magazine about China. It seems reform is afoot, and Fordham University Professor Carl Minzner notes that the Chinese “… have made judicial transparency a priority, with some provincial court authorities striving to make all of their verdicts available online. Central authorities have partially revived concepts of judicial professionalism that had gone into eclipse during the later years of Hu Jintao’s administration. One example is the attempt to separate out legal disputes and court cases from the poorly-defined petitioning channels many citizens use in practice to resolve their disputes.”
He also adds that “… authorities are experimenting with insulating judges from interference by local officials. Pilot reforms in six provinces remove control over the funding and appointment of local judges from the hands of county authorities, vesting it instead with provincial courts. This does not mean a repudiation of any core policies. Far from it. Beijing’s commitment to maintaining social stability above all else remains unchanged. But central authorities appear to be gambling that recentralizing control over the court system will help curb social dissatisfaction by combating incestuous relationships between local judges and government officials that are the source of many citizen grievances.”
Compare and contrast here: What Does China Mean By ‘Rule of Law’?

Supreme Court Considering Key Low-Level Drug Deportation Issue

The United States Supreme Court famously likes to use small cases to make big decisions, and thus we have the case of a man deported over a sock. The International Business Times explains that “… Moones Mellouli, an immigrant from Tunisia who has been fighting the grounds of his deportation order since 2012. A high court ruling against him could widen the deportation net for immigrants convicted of low-level drug-related crimes — even if the drugs in question aren’t designated controlled substances under federal law.”
The Times offers the backstory: “Mellouli came to the U.S. in 2004 on a student visa. He completed two master’s degrees, taught mathematics, secured a job as an actuary and received his green card. In 2010, he was stopped and detained in Kansas for driving under the influence, and then charged and convicted with possession of drug paraphernalia — specified under Kansas law as anything used to “store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce a controlled substance into the human body.” In this case, it was a sock containing an unspecified drug… in Kansas, this counted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Under federal law, and in many other states where “drug paraphernalia” has a stricter definition, Mellouli’s behavior wouldn’t have amounted to a crime at all.”
The idea was that his sock, where he had stashed four Adderall pills, was paraphernalia. The Justice Department’s Immigration Court upheld the deportation. Now, says the Times, “… if the Supreme Court agrees, it could open the way for more of these types of low-level drug crimes to become deportable offenses… the case also highlights the degree to which the variability of state laws factors into deportations: If Mellouli had been in California, rather than Kansas, he may not have been convicted in the first place.

Immigration Judges The ‘Cinderellas’ Of Justice System?

San Francisco immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks, who sidesteps a Justice Department gag order on her profession because she is also president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, is continuing to give voice to those who work inside the “border kid” crisis. She tells ABC News that “… we call ourselves ‘the legal Cinderellas’ in the Department of Justice, because we feel that we have been ignored resource-wise.”

She told ABC that, this year, “… $18 billion was spent on immigration law enforcement and only 1.7 perfect of that went to the courts…” Marks also cited non-functioning equipment and understaffed offices as key culprits in the “massive dysfunction” that immigration judges are currently facing. The judges are actually Justice Department employees.

Judge Marks outlined the scope of the problem: “Nationwide there’s more than 375,000 pending cases before 227 immigration judges who are sitting in the field,” Marks said. This works out to more than 1,500 cases per judge, but individual caseloads vary across the country. For example, Marks’ docket in San Francisco has more than 2,400 pending cases. The judge said the administration’s decision to “flip” the docket to move border kids to the front has meant longer delays for others. 

Read the story from the front lines of immigration court here: Immigration Judge Says Court System Has Been Ignored, Underfunded

California Considers Raising Famous Med-Mal Cap

After failing in the Democrat-controlled legislature several times, advocates of raising the California medical malpractice damages from $250,000 to $1 million are going directly to voters. “Proposition 46,” explains public radio station KPVR, which also explains that the proposition “… is actually three measures in one. It would require drug testing of doctors. It would require physicians to check a database before prescribing patients addictive substances. And it would raise the limit on damages awarded in medical malpractice suits…”
The NPR affiliate reports that the current cap “… was set in 1975 under MICRA – The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act.  Prop 46 would raise the cap to over a million dollars. Dr. Haskins says that would make medical liability premiums go up.”
Read both sides of the debate, and what it might mean to medical practice in the Golden State, here: Proposition 46 Has Physicians and Attorneys At Odds

Making A Business Case For Fully Funding Courts

An opinion piece in The Boston Globe is the latest to make the business case for a well-funded justice system. It cites a recent white paper that illustrates how “… inadequate funding of the state court system has an adverse impact on the economy as a whole.” It also notes the oft-cited Los Angeles study documenting billions of dollars in economic losses.
The column argues that “… efforts to quantify the economic harm caused by underfunding have revealed staggering losses. For example, a 2009 Micronomics Group study of the County of Los Angeles revealed that superior court budget deficits of between $79 million and $140 million would result in economic losses greater than $59 billion. Other studies have shown similar results. Given the established correlation between underfunding and economic loss, why would we ever choose not to fully fund and staff our state courts?”

‘Kafka’s’ Immigration Trials Spark State and National Response

CCM’s publisher, Sara Warner, has another post up on Huffington Post regarding the Border Kids legal representation issue. Take a look!

Most ‘Border Kids’ Show Up For Court

It’s been a nagging part of the “border kids” immigration crisis: How many of those children actually show up for court? Especially since many are sent to live with relatives and may have court dates set months into the future – easy enough to miss. A new government report, covered in the Wall Street Journal, says that “… the vast majority of migrants who recently entered the U.S. illegally are showing up for their scheduled deportation hearings, even as the government said most adults who arrived with children have skipped separate required check-ins with immigration offices.”
Reports the WSJ: “Between July 18 and Sept. 30, about 85% of unaccompanied minors showed up for a scheduled first hearing, and about two-thirds of adults with children appeared, according to data obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency that oversees the nation’s immigration courts. The agency said on July 18 that it would expedite deportation hearings for the two groups, following the Obama administration’s decision to prioritize their cases to discourage further illegal immigration.”
About 30,000 unchaperoned children and 40,000 people entering in family units flocked to the U.S. during a surge of such immigrants between May and August this year, the latest month available, said the WSJ, adding that “… that surge has since subsided.” Some states and the federal government have allotted millions of dollars to provide legal representation for the border kids, who are not provided with lawyers because the violations are potentially civil, not criminal.