Category Archives: Judges

Is a Fourth Branch in the horizon?

The Washington Post has a very interesting article, which highlights the increased deferment of cases to government agencies.  Instead of going through the court system, many cases are increasingly going through administrative agencies instead.

The question posed here is whether the right for court accessibility being challenged?  The Washington Post raises its concerns:

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is just not bigger, it is dangerously off kilter.  Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

The Washington Post reports that the vast majority of laws governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations.  A study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

The Washington Post also reports that a citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency instead of an actual court.  While federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings (including trials), federal agencies complete more than 939,000.

However, there are several items the Washington Post fails to mention.  The increasingly use of administrative agencies does not only fall upon the agency.

Take for example the individual’s decision to file a charge/claim.  Going through administrative agencies is more cost-effective.  Lawsuits in court have become more expensive.  Technology, electronic evidence, growth in documents and companies, among others, lead to a higher volume of issues and motions that increase the cost of litigation.  Given both alternatives, it makes sense that an individual might choose to go through an administrative agency.

For example, an individual going through the EEOC for a discrimination charge does not have to pay anything.  While an individual going through the court system may have to pay attorney fees and might be responsible for attorney fees.

 

 

Saying that, however, the issue of transparency and timing is highly concerning.  Administrative decisions are not public.  In addition, the length of an administrative decision might take several years.

via The rise of the fourth branch of government – The Washington Post.

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Major Possible Changes to Federal Discovery Rules

Corporate Counsel reported about a very important and significant change that might occur next year.  Here are the highlights of the proposed amendments (starting on Page 91 of 322).

The e-discovery rules may change once again by next year.  The United States Court’s Advisory Committee on Civil Rules voted last week to send proposed amendments to the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.  The Standing Committee will consider approving or rejecting the proposal in early June.

The most significant proposals would narrow the scope of discovery under Rule 26; impose or reduce numerical limits on written discovery and depositions under Rules 30, 31, 33, and 36; Rule 37 will adopt a uniform set of guidelines regarding sanctions when a party fails to preserve discoverable information; and Rule 34 will tighten the rules governing responses for production of documents.

Rule 26′s proposed amendments are as follows:

  • Rule 26(b)’s proposed amendment restricts the defined scope of discovery to information that is “proportional to the needs of the case.”  The language is as follows:

    “and proportional to the needs of the case considering the amount in controversy, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

    These proportional considerations are currently listed in Rule(b)(2)(c)(iii).  This amendment would mandate adherence by the parties without court intervention.

  • Rule 26(b)’s proposed amendment would delete the following sentences:

    (1) “For good cause, the court order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.  Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

  • Note, that the proposed amendment for Rule 26(b) states that “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
  • Rule 26(c) (protective orders) adds “or the allocation of expenses.”

Rules 30′s and 31′s proposed amendments are as follows:

  • The number of depositions (oral and written) would be reduced from 10 to 5.
  • The limit of an oral deposition is reduced to 6 hours.
  • The number of written interrogatories would change from 25 to 15.
  • The number of requests will be 25, except for requests relating to the genuineness of documents.
  • There will be a presumptive limit on the number of Requests for Admissions a party may serve.
  • A court order or a stipulation by the parties may increase the limits on any numerical discovery.

Rule 34′s proposed amendments (which govern the production of documents and electronically stored information) are as follows:

  • The objections to document requests must be stated with specificity.  This requirement has already been applied to interrogatory responses under Rule 33.
  • When the responding party must state that it will produce the requested documents (instead of permitting inspection), the production must be completed by the date for inspection stated in the request or by a later reasonable time stated in the response.
  • A party objecting to a document request must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of the objection.

Rule 37(e)’s proposed amendment (which concern sanctions for failure to preserve discoverable information) state:

  • A court may impose sanctions when it finds that a party failed to preserve information that should have been preserved for litigation.  The sanctions includes remedies and curative measures that are not considered “sanctions,” such as allowing additional discovery, requiring a party to recreate or obtain the information that it lost, or ordering a party to pay reasonable expenses resulting from the loss of information.
  • The court may also impose sanctions listed in Rule 37(b)(2)(A) when to address preservation failures.  These sanctions include issue or evidence preclusion, the striking of pleadings, the dismissal of the action in whole or in part, and an adverse inference.
  • The court may impose sanctions or order an adverse jury instruction only if it finds that the failure to preserve caused “substantial prejudice” in the litigation and was “willful or in bad faith.” or that the failure to preserve “irreparably deprived a party of any meaningful opportunity” to litigate the claims in the action.

 

via On the Cusp of Major Changes to E-Discovery Rules.

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Court orders legal representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings

I first came across this decision when I was listening to NPR.  In this case, which is a first of its kind, a federal judge ordered that states have to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities – when these immigrants are being detained and facing deportation.

This case is really surprising because immigrants generally do not have a right to an attorney.  The Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, 371 US 335 (1963), decided that the right to counsel is a fundamental right in criminal cases.  In INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 US 1032 (1984), the Supreme Court reaffirmed that a deportation case is not a criminal case, but an administrative one.

Since deportation proceedings are not a criminal crime, there is no right to a lawyer.  The detainees not guaranteed counsel had presumably covered children, the mentally disabled, victims of sex trafficking, refugees, torture survivors and legal permanent residents.

Federal Judge Dolly M. Fee ordered immigration courts in three states to provide legal representation for immigrants with mental disabilities who are in detention and facing deportation, if they cannot represent themselves.  The immigrant in this case had severe mental retardation that prevented him from arguing for himself in court or even understanding his situation.

The NY Times reports that subsequently, “federal immigration officials issued a new policy that would expand the California ruling nationwide, making government-paid legal representation available to people with mental disabilities in courts in every state.”

Edited: To add other Supreme Court cases.

via Legal Aid Ordered for Mentally Disabled Immigrants – NYTimes.com.

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Jane Kelly confirmed for 8th Circuit bench

The Senate confirmed the nomination of Jane Kelly to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 96-0.  There were 4 non-voting votes.  If you can’t find the link, go here and find Vote 00108 (April 24th).

Jane Kelly will be the second woman and first public defender to serve in the history of the court since its establishment in 1891.

Jane Kelly received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University and her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1991.  After her graduation, Jane Kelly clerked for U.S. District Judge Donald J. Porter of South Dakota and Eighth Circuit Court Judge D. Hansen.

Jane Kelly has been an assistant public defender in the Northern District in Iowa since 1992, and the supervising attorney since 1999.

On the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Grassley stated, “She is a credit to all of use who have chosen public service.”

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FTC can serve foreign defendants via Facebook

FTC v. PCCARE Inc., 12 civ-7189 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2013) is a very strange case because it shows how service of process might be altered and in what circumstances.  In this case, the FTC wanted to be able to serve documents other than the Summons and Complaint via Facebook or e-mail.  The Southern District of New York granted this request.

This is a very strange case.  Generally, the Hague Service Convention has guidelines detailing how abroad defendants may be served.  The Hague Service Convention doesn’t expressly authorize service on foreign defendants by email or social media accounts.

So why could you serve documents a foreign defendant over Facebook?

The court explained that “A court in this district has held that the Hague Service Convention only applies to the initial service of process, not subsequent documents.”  See SEC v. Credit Bankcorp., Ltd., 2001 WL 666158, *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb 14, 2011).  In addition the court relied on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(f)(3), whereby it stated,

a Court may fashion means of service on an individual in a foreign county, so long as the ordered means of service (1) is not prohibited by international agreement; and (2) comports with constitutional notions of due process.”  SEC c. Anticevix, 2009 WL 361739, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Fec. 13, 2009).

The court reasoned that federal courts need to keep an open mind about technology.

The court acknowledges that service by Facebook is a relatively novel concept, and that it is conceivable that defendants will not in fact receive notice by this means.  But, as noted, the proposed service by Facebook is intended not as the sole method of service, but instead to backstop the service upon each defendant at his, or its, known email address. And history teaches that, as technology advances and modes of communication progress, courts must be open to considering requests to authorize service via technological means of then-recent vintage, rather than dismissing them out of hand as novel.

via FTC can serve foreign defendants via Facebook, federal judge rules – ABA Journal.

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Judicial Ethics and Social Media

On February 21, 2013, the American Bar Association released a formal opinion (#462) regarding judicial ethics in the social media context.  The ABA concluded,

A judge may participate in electronic social networking, but as with all social relationships and contacts, a judge must comply with relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and avoid any conduct that would undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality, or create an appearance of impartiality.

So what does this mean?

Electronic Social Media and the Judicial Independence, impartiality, and integrity

The ABA recognized that social networking is a part of worldwide culture and that electronic social media interactions might be beneficial to judges in order to prevent them from being thought of as isolated or out of touch.

So how should judges then behave in this electronic environment?  Given the oath and importance of promoting public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality,” the judge must be sensitive to the appearance of relationships with others.

It is important to understand that relations over the internet are difficult to manage because messages may be taken out of context, misinterpreted, or relayed incorrectly.

In other words, judges must assume that comments, images, or profile information, as well as any other information, might be publicly revealed without the judge’s permission.

In addition, judges should not form relationships with persons or organizations that might be violative of Judicial Ethics because these relationships convey that the individuals or organizations are in a position to influence the judge.

Furthermore, there might be disclosure or disqualification concerns regarding judges when the sites that were “friended” or “liked” which are used by lawyers or others who may appear before the judge.  The context is important here when assessing the judge’s relationship to attorneys or others who may appear before them.

Electronic Social Media and Election Campaigns

In the ABA Model Code (which may be adopted as a whole or in part by states), a judge or judicial candidate may engage in political or campaign activity with certain enumerated exceptions.

Of great importance is that judges and judicial candidates must “be free and appear to be free from political influence and political pressure.” ABA Model Rule 4.1 [1].

Similarly of equal importance, the judge or judicial candidate is prohibited from personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions other than through a campaign committee.  ABA Model Rule 4.1(A)(8); see also ABA Model Rule 4.4.  In the Model Rules, the method of communication is not addressed or restricted.

In addition, judges and judicial candidates are prohibited from “publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for any public office.” ABA Model Rule 4.1(A)(3).  This means that judges or judicial candidates should be aware that by “liking” or becoming a “fan” of, or by “sharing” messages, photos, or other content, this Model Rule might be violated.

In sum, judges and judicial candidates can use social media but must be aware of the potential pitfalls that might arise. These might arise from “friending,” “liking,” “sharing,” being a “fan” of, and posting comments, photos, or other information that might be distributed.  It is also important for judges and judicial candidates to be aware that any information on the Internet might be distributed by others and made public with or without their consent.

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In Minnesota, Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure Highlight Proportionality

On February 4, 2013, the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota adopted amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure, including those affecting discovery.  Of particular note were amendments to Rules 1 and 26.  Specifically (and significantly), Rule 1 was amended to state that it is the responsibility of the parties and the court to assure proportionality throughout the litigation.  Accordingly, Rule 1 now states (new language is underlined):

These rules govern the procedure in the district courts of the State of Minnesota in all suits of a civil nature, with the exceptions stated in Rule 81.  They shall be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.

It is the responsibility of the court and the parties to examine each civil action to assure that the process and the costs are proportionate to the amount in controversy and the complexity and importance of the issues.  The factors to be considered by the court in making a proportionality assessment include, without limitation: needs of the case, amount in controversy, parties’ resources, and complexity and importance of the issues at stake in the litigation.

Similarly, in addition to other significant amendments to Rule 26, Rule 26.02(b) has been amended to require that the scope of discovery “comport with the factors of proportionality, including without limitation, the burden or expense of the proposed discovery weighed against its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.”  While such limitations to discovery were previously acknowledged, the amended rule more strongly emphasizes the importance of proportionality.

Significant amendments to other rules were also adopted.  Notably, an order attaching “corrective amendments” was entered several days later.  Those orders are available HERE and HERE.  The newly adopted amendments become effective July 1, 2013.

via In Minnesota, Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure Highlight Proportionality : Electronic Discovery Law.

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Campaign donation issue reopened

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 12-536.   The gist of this case deals with the constitutionality of the two-year ceilings that federal law sets on what an individual can give during a campaign for the presidency or Congress, in donations to candidates, to political parties, or to other political committees.

The Supreme Court did not explicitly promise whether it would reconsider its decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).  Since Buckley, the government had more leeway to control contributions to candidates or political organizations than over spending by candidates or by independent political activists.

In 2010, the Supreme Court decided a hotly controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional any limit on spending during federal campaigns by corporations or labor unions, so long as they spent the money independently of a candidate or candidate organization.

In McCutcheon, McCutcheon wants to be able to give more contributions than the two-year overall limits.  McCutcheon’s contributions, if he could go over the limit, would have exceeded the two-year ceiling by $26,200.

Under federal law, the ceiling for the 2011-2012 campaign season was $2,500 per election to any candidate or a candidate’s campaign organization, no more than $30,800 per year to a national political party, no more than $10,000 per year to a state political party, and no more than $5,000 to any other political committee.

The two year ceiling for that same period, which is the issue in this case, is set at $177,000 overall.  That is broken down into $46,200 to a candidate for federal office and $70,800 to non-candidate entities.  The second amount was restricted in that no more than $46,200 could be given to a state party or a non-candidate committee.

via Campaign donation issue reopened : SCOTUSblog.

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Campaigners Can’t Lie in MN

Minnesota can prohibit political campaign workers from swaying an election by intentionally lying about a candidate or ballot question, a federal judge ruled.

The Minnesota Fair Campaign Act makes it a gross misdemeanor for anyone “who intentionally participates in the preparation, dissemination, or broadcast of paid political advertising or campaign material with respect to the personal or political character or acts of a candidate, or with respect to the effect of a ballot question, that is designed or tends to elect, injure, promote, or defeat a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or to promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.”

It drew a challenge in 2008 from the 281 CARE Committee and the Citizens for Quality Education, which campaign against ballot initiatives that seek increased funding for school districts through bond increases and tax levies.  The groups claimed that the law violated their right to free speech and chills their ability to participate in rigorous political debate.  A federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, but the 8th Circuit reversed in May 2011.

On remand, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery granted summary judgment to the defendants, who consisted of two county attorneys and the state attorney general.

“Plaintiffs correctly note that our countrys forefathers used rancourous[sic], sometimes false statements to influence voters or even gain material benefits for themselves,” Montgomery wrote.

“But whats past is not always prologue. Over a century ago, the Minnesota legislature implemented minimal, narrow restrictions against knowingly false speech about political candidates in an effort to protect the debates between honestly held beliefs that are at the core of the First Amendment. For nearly a quarter of a century, these restrictions have also applied to statements regarding ballot initiatives. The ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. § 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process. The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest.”

Though Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson had sought dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity, Montgomery deemed this question moot.

via Courthouse News Service.

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