Civil Court Watchers Turn Attention To Kansas

In what is shaping up as an historic political showdown, civil court watchers are looking toward Kansas. That’s where Gov. Sam Brownback is, in effect, saying that if a state court strikes down a 2014 law that removed some judicial powers, he will halt court funding.
The New York Times explains that “… the 2014 law took the authority to appoint chief judges for the district courts away from the Supreme Court and gave it to the district courts themselves. It also deprived the state’s highest court of the right to set district court budgets. Critics said the law was an attempt by Mr. Brownback, a Republican, to stack the district courts with judges who may be more favorable to his policies.”
It’s getting uglier by the day. Check out the NYT coverage here.

Civil Court Rationing Reaches Vermont

You can add Vermont to the list of states feeling the rationing pinch for court budgets, and like California two years ago and the rest of the country over time the civil courts are feeling the most pressure. The Vermont Association of Justice, a stakeholder group, wrote a letter to lawmakers outlining the challenge and noting that”… while abuse and other cases take priority, civil cases remain unresolved. Under the current conditions, attorneys warn clients that it will likely take 18 to 26 months before a judge hears a two-day civil jury trial. It may take as long as four months to schedule a three-hour-long case.”

A courts advocate offered this example: If an injured person is pursuing a case against a national insurance company, the insurance company can afford to wait. The injured person, however, is more likely to need the money sooner to pay for medical bills or other expenses. Instead of waiting for a court time, the insured person may agree to settle for less than their claim is worth.

Meanwhile, civil court delays are expected to get worse.

Read more here.

In Ferguson, Reform Begins With Courts

Confronting racial issues in Ferguson, Missouri – where the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer sparked demonstrations – apparently begins with the courts system. Reports the Guardian newspaper “… some residents have described the courts regime as ‘taxation without representation’ and complained of a cycle of punishment in which they were fined for not making it to court appearances set during working hours that they tried unsuccessfully to reschedule.”
Actually, the newspaper reports that the offence of “failure to appear” is to be abolished under the new rules, along with a $50 ‘warrant recall’ fine and $15 in other fees imposed on people who can not make court dates. The city council says it wants to stop using the fines as a “source of general revenue” for the city, but critics say a plan to cap such fees to “15 percent of the city budget” would actually allow for increasing the payments. 

The report also noted that “… many people in the city, which has a two-thirds black population and a police force that is 94% white, complain that the law enforcement system disproportionately targets black residents. Figures published in 2013 by Missouri’s attorney general showed that seven black drivers were stopped by police in the city for every white driver.”

Read the story here:  Ferguson reform to courts system could leave residents paying more