Monday, December 28, 2009

O'Connor Leads Effort to End Judicial Elections

A group of judges, political officials and lawyers, led by the retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, has begun a campaign to persuade states to choose judges on the basis of merit, rather than their ability to win an election.
Effort Begun to End Voting for Judges, N.Y. Times, Dec. 23, 2009.

O'Connor is working with the University of Denver's Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Has the Supreme Court Undermined Civil Rights Enforcement?

Congress is considering legislation to undo the Supreme Court's holdings in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009). The Washington Independent reports:

Does a House bill about legal civil procedures provide a way to restore the protection of civil rights in America, or is it an unwarranted gift to trial lawyers that could be “paralyzing if not deadly” to the federal government?

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As in the Senate, House lawmakers appear divided along party lines. Democrats and their witnesses say that the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal have gutted the civil rights and antitrust laws and imposed an unfair and often insurmountable burden that will doom many valid claims. Republicans and their witnesses, meanwhile, say the court did the right thing to help reduce frivolous lawsuits that destroy small businesses and drag busy government officials into court unnecessarily.

Has the Supreme Court Undermined Civil Rights Enforcement?, Washington Independent, Dec. 17, 2009.

One of the witnesses was Prof. Eric Schnapper of the University of Washington, who argued that Congress should act quickly to overturn Iqbal and Twombly. whose prepared statement is here. The bill being considered in the House is H.R. 4115, the Open Access to Courts Act of 2009.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jurors in Trial of Baltimore Mayor Friend Each Other on Facebook

Judges confounded by jury's access to cyberspace, Baltimore Sun, Dec. 13, 2009:

On Friday, lawyers for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon asked for a new trial in part because five of the jurors who convicted her of embezzlement Dec. 1 were communicating among themselves on Facebook during the deliberations period - and at least one of them received an outsider's online opinion of what the verdict should be. The "Facebook Friends," as Dixon's lawyers call them in court documents, became a clique that the lawyers argue altered jury dynamics.
The article discusses a number of cases affected by jurors who go online.
Concern has grown so much nationwide that legal experts, including in Maryland, are rewriting model jury instructions to specifically tell jurors that online searches, texting and social media - the things they routinely do on laptops, cell phones and BlackBerrys - are out. Maryland's rules are expected to be published next year, and the ones on that subject are still being drafted.