TagState courts

Georgia governor appoints first supreme court justice

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Judge Carla McMillian to the Georgia Supreme Court on March 27, 2020. McMillian succeeded Justice Robert Benham, who retired on March 1. McMillian is Gov. Kemp’s first nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

McMillian was a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 2013 to 2020. She was appointed to the court of appeals by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on January 16, 2013. Before that, she was appointed to the Fayette County State Court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), serving on that court from 2010 to 2013. McMillian was previously an attorney and partner with the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. She began her legal career as a federal law clerk for William O’Kelley, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

McMillian received her bachelor’s degrees in both history and economics from Duke University, where she graduated with high honors, and her J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law. During her legal studies, she served on the Law Review editorial board.

McMillian is the first Asian-American woman in the Southeast to be on the state’s court of last resort. Upon her election to the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2014, she became the first Asian-American to be elected to a statewide office in Georgia.

If a vacancy appears on the Georgia Supreme Court, the position is filled by assisted appointment. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates compiled by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The JNC is an 18-member body that evaluates candidates who apply for a state court vacancy. Members are appointed by the governor.

If appointed, an interim judge must run in the next general election held at least six months after the appointment, and, if confirmed by voters, he or she may finish the rest of the predecessor’s term. Benham’s term was set to expire on December 31, 2020. McMillian will not need to run for election until 2022.

Georgia Supreme Court justices are primarily selected by popular vote in nonpartisan elections. They serve six-year terms, after which they must run for re-election if they wish to retain their seats.

Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. As of McMillian’s appointment, the other eight members of the court were:

  • Charlie Bethel – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in 2018
  • Keith Blackwell – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2012
  • Michael P. Boggs – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2016
  • John Ellington – elected in 2018
  • Harold Melton – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) in 2005
  • David Nahmias – appointed by Gov. Perdue in 2009
  • Nels Peterson – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2016
  • Sarah Warren – appointed by Gov. Deal in 2018

Gov. Kemp is expected to appoint a second justice to the Georgia Supreme Court to succeed Justice Keith Blackwell, who is retiring effective November 18, 2020. The appointment currently faces legal challenges and will be heard by the Georgia Supreme Court. Five of the eight sitting justices recused themselves from the case.

In 2020, there have been 10 supreme court vacancies across eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were all caused by retirements.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Carla W. McMillian
Georgia Supreme Court
Georgia Supreme Court elections, 2020
Judicial selection in Georgia
Georgia Supreme Court justice vacancy (November 2020)

Arizona Supreme Court suspends certain time requirements in response to COVID-19

The Administrative Office of the Arizona Supreme Court issued a directive on Tuesday, March 24th, extending time limits for court-related deadlines.

Administrative Director of the Courts David K. Byers issued Administrative Directive No. 2020-03 as a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Chief Justice Robert Brutinel gave Byers the authority to suspend or alter time limits and court-related deadlines through Administrative Order No. 2020-45, which delegated such power to the administrative director of the courts during a health emergency.

The time limits and deadlines that have been extended include:
  • The suspension of the six-hour live program requirement in the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration.
  • The timeframe for new limited jurisdiction judges to complete New Judge Orientation.
  • The timeframe in which judges are supposed to attend programs both in and out of state.
  • The timeframe for probation officers to complete the Probation Officer Certification Academy and Institute for Intensive Probation Supervision.
  • The timeframe in which chief probation officers and directors of the juvenile court are supposed to attend programs both in and out of state.
  • The timeframe in which judges are to complete the specialized dependency-training program approved by the Committee on Judicial Education and Training.

The court also extended deadlines for the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program and the Legal Document Preparers continuing education requirements.

This is the latest in a string of responses by the Arizona state government to the coronavirus. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) declared a state of emergency in Arizona on March 11, 2020. As of March 20, 2020, Gov. Ducey had ordered all schools closed until April 10, 2020. While courts remain open, they are to avoid in-person proceedings to the greatest possible extent and have rescheduled all petit juries. As of March 24, 2020, the Arizona State Legislature had suspended its session until April 13, 2020.

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Maryland Senate passes Maryland Renaming Court of Appeals Amendment

Maryland and New York are the only states in the nation that do not call its court of last resort the supreme court, but that could change after November 3, 2020.

On March 13, 2020, the Maryland Senate passed Senate Bill 0393 by a vote of 45-1. If the bill is passed by the General Assembly, it will appear on the November 3, 2020, ballot as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment.

Maryland’s court of last resort is currently called the Maryland Court of Appeals. The bill seeks to make the following changes:

  1. Rename the Maryland Appellate Court to be the Supreme Court of Maryland,
  2. Rename the Court of Special Appeals to be the Maryland Appellate Court,
  3. Change the title of a Judge of the Court of Appeals to be a Justice of the Supreme Court of Maryland, and
  4. Change the name of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Maryland.

In order to add a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to the ballot in Maryland, it must be approved by at least 60% of both houses of the legislature.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Douglas Peters (D), Sen. Jill Carter (D), Sen. Brian Feldman (D), Sen. Guy Guzzone (D), Sen. Nancy King (D), Sen. Susan Lee (D), Sen. William Smith (D), Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), and Sen. Chris West (R).

Majority of states have suspended certain court operations and jury trials

On March 22, the West Virginia Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency and suspended jury trials and all in-person proceedings, with a few exceptions, through April 10, 2020.

West Virginia joined the majority of states whose judicial branches have decided to suspend certain court operations and jury trials due to the coronavirus pandemic. Through March 23, 2020, 33 states had suspended in-person proceedings on a statewide level, including West Virginia, Colorado and Connecticut.

Sixteen states, including Georgia and South Carolina, empowered judges to decide how to handle courtroom restrictions on the local level. In Nevada, while there are no statewide restrictions, courthouses in Carson City and Las Vegas are limiting public access in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

One state, Wyoming, had not issued any orders on the state or local level due to coronavirus.

Florida governor delays state supreme court selection due to coronavirus

On March 19, 2020, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced he would delay nominating individuals to two Florida Supreme Court vacancies until at least May 1. The governor said he had not had time to review the candidates’ application materials because of the coronavirus pandemic. Normally under state law, DeSantis would have needed to select the two new justices by March 23.

Two seats on the Florida Supreme Court became vacant after Justices Robert J. Luck and Barbara Lagoa were confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on November 19 and November 20, 2019, respectively. President Donald Trump (R) nominated both judges to the 11th Circuit on October 15, 2019.

Under Florida law, state supreme court justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment, where the governor chooses a nominee from a list of potential candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission (JNC). On January 23, the JNC submitted nine nominees to the governor. Lagoa’s and Luck’s replacements will be Gov. DeSantis’ fourth and fifth nominees to the seven-member supreme court.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency on March 9 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time of the emergency declaration, the Florida Department of Health confirmed that 13 residents tested positive for the virus.


Additional reading:
Florida Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Florida
Florida Supreme Court elections, 2020
Florida judicial elections

Rhode Island Supreme Court selection of justices

The Rhode Island Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has five judgeships. The current chief of the court is Paul Suttell.

The selection of supreme court justices begins with the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission is composed of nine members. Five of the members must be attorneys. Various elected officials must submit lists of nominations for commission members. The governor receives those lists and then makes his or her selection for the commission seat. The governor picks one name from each of five lists compiled by the speaker of the Rhode Island House, the president of the Rhode Island Senate, the speaker and the president together, and the minority leaders of both houses respectively. The governor selects the final four members of the commission, but without any requirement that he do so from a previously prepared list.

This governor controlled commission submits three to five names to the Governor of Rhode Island, and upon receiving the names, the governor selects and appoints one. The appointed justice must then be approved by both the state senate and house of representatives.

Justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court hold office for life. The seat of one Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, Justice Gilbert Indeglia, will be open upon Indeglia’s retirement on June 30.

Indeglia was a Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1985 to 1991. From 1989 to 2000, he served on the Rhode Island District Court. He joined the Rhode Island Superior Court in 2000 and served there until his appointment to the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 2010.

As of March 2020, all five justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor. This will be Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo’s first appointment to Rhode Island’s highest court. She assumed office on January 6, 2015. Her current term ends on January 3, 2023.

Additional Reading:
Rhode Island Supreme Court
Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Commission
Gilbert v. Indeglia

Georgia Supreme Court to review canceled supreme court election

Two candidates are challenging the cancelation of an election to fill a Georgia Supreme Court vacancy. The election was previously scheduled for May 19, 2020, to fill Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat, but it was canceled after Blackwell announced he was retiring, effective November 18, 2020. A statement from the Georgia Supreme Court said the governor would appoint Blackwell’s replacement. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) subsequently canceled the election.

Former Congressman John Barrow (D) and former state Representative Beth Beskin (R) filed separate legal challenges in Fulton County Superior Court, asking the judge to order Raffensperger to put the election back on the calendar. On March 16, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson denied the petitions, saying Barrow and Beskin did not show they had “a clear right” to require the secretary of state to hold an election.

Barrow and Beskin both appealed Judge Richardson’s decision. The Georgia Court of Appeals transferred Barrow’s case to the state supreme court, and Beskin appealed to the high court directly.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued an order consolidating and ordering an expedited review of the two cases. Five of the eight sitting justices recused themselves from the case. They were replaced by substitute justices. Chief Justice Harold Melton, Presiding Justice David Nahmias, and Justice Sarah Warren did not recuse themselves.

The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) received 29 applications to succeed Blackwell. When a vacancy appears on a state court, the JNC solicits applications and interviews candidates. The commission then submits a list of five names to the governor for consideration. The governor is not required to select an individual from that list.

Additional reading:
Georgia Supreme Court elections, 2020
Georgia Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Georgia
Georgia judicial elections
Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission

Alaska Rep. LeDoux charged with voter misconduct

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson (R) announced on March 13 that three charges of voter misconduct and seven counts of second-degree unlawful interference with voting were filed against Alaska state representative Gabrielle LeDoux (R). LeDoux’s former aide Lisa Simpson faces charges of voter misconduct as well.

LeDoux responded to these allegations stating, “because this is a pending legal matter, I cannot comment about the details other than to state that I am innocent of all charges and look forward to clearing my name in a court of law.”

The charges are the result of a 2018 Alaska Division of Elections investigation into irregularities in the House District 15 primary election. LeDoux won the Republican primary by 117 votes against challenger Aaron Weaver (R).

All 40 seats in the Alaska House of Representatives are up for election in 2020. LeDoux has represented Alaska House District 15 since 2012 and faces Republican David Nelson (R) in the August 18 primary. On February 17, 2020, the District 15 Republican Convention formally withdrew their support for LeDoux and stated they would support Nelson’s campaign for the seat. The filing deadline for these offices is June 1, 2020.

Ballotpedia is covering the Alaska House of Representatives elections here.

Additional Reading:
David Nelson (Alaska)
Alaska House of Representatives District 15
Alaska House of Representatives elections, 2020

Kansas governor announces supreme court appointment

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) appointed Judge Kenyen Wall to succeed Justice Lawton Nuss on the Kansas Supreme Court. Nuss retired on December 17, 2019. Wall is Kelly’s second nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Kenyen J. “K.J.” Wall was a partner at the Forbes Law Group when he was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court. He previously worked as deputy general counsel for Chief Justice Lawton Nuss (2013-2015), as senior legal counsel at Federated Insurance (2008-2013), as an attorney in private practice (2004-2008), and as a law clerk to Judge John Lungstrum of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (2002-2004). Wall received his undergraduate degree in communications from Kansas State University in 1993 and a master’s degree in rhetoric from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He earned his J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law in 2001.

In the event of a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court, the governor selects a replacement from a list of three individuals submitted by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Newly appointed justices serve for at least one year, after which they must run for retention in the next general election. Subsequent terms last for six years.

The Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission is a nine-member independent body created by the Kansas Constitution. The commission has nine members: four non-attorneys appointed by the governor and four attorneys selected by members of the bar in each of the state’s four congressional districts. The chair of the commission, the ninth member, is a lawyer chosen in a statewide vote of attorneys who are members of the Kansas Bar Association.

Founded in 1861, the Kansas Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. As of March 2020, five judges on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor and three judges were appointed by a Republican governor. There are no vacancies on the court.

In 2020, there have been nine supreme court vacancies in eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements.

Additional reading:

Stitt appoints Hixon to Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Stacie Hixon on March 10 to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Hixon, a Tulsa-area attorney, replaces former judge Jerry Goodman, who retired in August 2019.

At the time of her appointment, Hixon was a partner at the Tulsa law firm Steadley & Neal. Goodman had served on the court since 1994 and would have been up for a retention election in 2020.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals is an intermediate state appellate court composed of 12 judges in four divisions. Of the current judges on the court, six were nominated by a Democratic governor and six were nominated by a Republican governor.

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