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Courts: Bail reform working, but sustainable funding needed
Legal Network | 2018/02/19 15:11
The number of defendants being held before trial since New Jersey overhauled its bail system last year dropped by 20 percent, but the judge overseeing the program says it faces financial difficulties.

A report submitted last week by Judge Glenn Grant, who runs the state's court system, also shows the program faces financial difficulties because it relies on court fees instead of a "stable sustainable funding stream."

Proponents say the reforms championed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie keep violent offenders detained until trial while providing poor, low-level defendants the opportunity to be freed.

But critics — including some lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the bail bond industry — say it has led to the quick release of some who weren't deemed a threat but were soon re-arrested on new charges.

The data shows 44,319 people were issued complaint warrants in New Jersey last year. Prosecutors sought to have 19,366 defendants detained until trial, but only 8,043 of those people were ordered held.

That means the state's pretrial jail population dropped by 20 percent from January 2017 to January 2018, and by 35 percent from January 2015 to January 2018.

At least two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the changes, including one from a group backed by reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter.


Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will leave just two
Legal Network | 2018/02/11 23:25
The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated a head of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change. Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she's walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.



Court allows Pennsylvania to redraw GOP-favored district map
Legal Network | 2018/02/08 07:21
Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, rejected the request from GOP legislative leaders and voters to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court intended to produce new congressional districts in the coming two weeks.

The Pennsylvania high court ruled last month that the current map of 18 districts violates the state constitution because it unfairly benefits Republicans.

The decision comes just four days before the Republican-controlled Legislature's deadline for submitting a replacement map for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to consider. So far, there has been a notable lack of bipartisan movement on getting such a deal.

Pennsylvania's congressional delegation has been 13-5 in favor of Republicans during the three election cycles since the GOP-drawn 2011 map took effect, and experts have said those 13 seats are several more than would have been produced by a nonpartisan map.

Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans and hold all three elected statewide row offices, but Republicans enjoy solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Under the process laid out two weeks ago by four of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices, all Democrats, the Legislature has until Friday to approve a new map, after which Wolf will have until Feb. 15 to decide whether to endorse it and submit it to the justices.

Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said Monday he's had "zero" discussions with Wolf and legislative leaders about new district boundaries and could not guarantee he will meet the deadline.

The state Supreme Court said it expects new districts to be in place by Feb. 19, and the new map is expected to be in play for the May 15 congressional primaries.



Analysis: Outside groups may factor in Arkansas court race
Legal Network | 2018/01/30 17:16
Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson lost her bid to run the state's highest court two years ago after coming under fire from conservative groups that spent big on mailers and TV ads targeting her. Two years earlier, David Sterling was defeated in the race for the Republican attorney general nomination despite outside groups going after his rival in that race.

Now, the two are about to face off in what could wind up being another costly and heated fight for a state high court seat that could overshadow other races on the ballot this year. It could also turn into a proxy fight over the state's resumption of executions and the court's role in scaling back what had been an unprecedented plan to put eight men to death over an 11-day period.

Goodson quietly launched her campaign last week, with an adviser confirming that she planned to seek another term on the state's high court in the May judicial election. The same day, Sterling said he planned to challenge the incumbent jurist.

Neither candidate has laid out campaign arguments, but the past two election cycles offer some guide of what to expect. Goodson launched her bid for the chief justice seat ago vowing to represent "conservative values" on the court.

"The Supreme Court is supposed to represent your common sense, conservative values, to uphold the rule of law and to look out for your rights," Goodson said in a campaign video she posted in the fall of 2015.

A year earlier, Sterling was touting his conservative credentials in his campaign for attorney general and promised to use the office to protect Arkansans from "an overreaching federal government." Sterling lost in the runoff for the Republican nomination against Leslie Rutledge, who is now seeking re-election as the state's top attorney.


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