22 November 2017

When Judges Are Called for Jury Duty

Recently the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court was called for jury. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that when the judge:
reported for duty on Tuesday, he came to court expecting to serve. He checked in at the jury coordinator’s office, watched the orientation film about jury duty, then waited for the trial to start. . . . However, the defendant in what was expected to be a one- or two-day trial pleaded guilty to felony theft, and a jury wasn’t needed. Nuss (the Chief Justice) was one of 52 Shawnee County residents summoned for duty in that pool of prospective jurors.
According to the Capital-Journal, this was actually the third time the Chief Justice has been called to jury duty, however, the first two did not result in him actually needing to serve.

21 November 2017

Changes Afoot to Barrister Training Program in England?

My favorite legal website in England, Legal Cheek, had a recent post that might interest my students taking one of the common law courses I teach. The short, and always entertaining, article highlights how the cost and über competitive nature of the barrister training process is forcing the powers that be to rethink how this process can be improved. The article is worth a quick look.

20 November 2017

Judicial Qualifications

As students in my courses have learned, the process for filling vacancies in the U.S. federal court system involves the President nominating a candidate and a majority of the Senate voting to confirm that person. As I have also mentioned, the constitution is silent as to what qualifications one needs to be a judge. A cynic might say that the only qualification is catch the President's eye and convince a majority of the Senate you can be a judge. While the Senate usually takes its job of ensuring that candidates for these positions are qualified, politics sometimes gets in the way. And so it seems with one of President Trump's recent nominees for U.S. District Court Judge

The Los Angeles Times recently had a scathing editorial taking the President and Senate to task for seriously considering a 36 years old candidate who "has practiced law for only a few years and never tried a case." Read the rest to get a taste of how the qualifications of judicial nominee can be become quite contentious and why being cynical about the process is sometimes warranted.

17 November 2017

Rarely Discussed Process Being Discussed

Just when you thought that American politics couldn't get more dysfunctional, or as one commentator likes to say, more stupid, along comes a special election in Alabama to fill one of its seats left vacant by Jeff Sessions becoming Attorney General. The election was already "special" in that it features a candidate who had already been removed from sitting on the Alabama Supreme Court because he refused to follow the U.S. Constitution. Now this candidate is accused of dating minors when he was a 30 year old government lawyers. As more and more women come forward telling the same story about this candidate, and as polls in Alabama seem to indicate that the voters of Alabama might still elect him (!!), leaders in the United States Senate have been openly saying they will not allow this candidate to sit in the Senate should he be elected.

Can do they do that, you might ask? Students in my American Constitutional Law course should know the answer to this, but I'd be surprised if they do as we spend all of about five seconds talking about this topic. Early on I tell students that the Constitution gives both the Senate and House the power to make internal rules and punish their own. Punishment can include removal.

As a recent New York Times article correctly points out, while the Senate cannot refuse to accept this candidate should he be elected, it most surely can vote to remove him.

16 November 2017

Criminal Case Against U.S. Senator Might be Stalled

An article a few days ago on NJ.com had a headline reading "Defense in Menendez case pushes for mistrial as jurors fail to reach verdict." Oh, where to begin. So far all of my groups studying common law have been exposed in one way or another to the use of juries. Coming up will be a discussion on "mistrials" and "hung juries." If you want a preview of this topic, do yourself a favor and check out the article from which the headline is taken.

UPDATE: last night, after speaking individually to each juror, the judge declare a mistrial because the jury could not reach a verdict.

14 November 2017

Unanimous Jury Issue Might be Heading to Court

Most of our knowledge about juries comes from popular culture where more often than not it said that in order to convict someone, the jury must be unanimous. As it turns out, this is not always the case in the United States, as two states allow for 10-2 jury convictions. The Washington Post recently ran an Op-Ed that is not only critical of these two states, but makes the argument that their policy regarding unanimous decisions has a racist history:
Louisiana and Oregon are not often thought of in the same vein. But on the issue of non-unanimous juries, they are kindred spirits. 
In these two states, the prosecutor needs to persuade only 10 of 12 jurors for a felony conviction that does not involve the death penalty. All other states require unanimous jury decisions in felony cases — as does the federal system, including federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon.
These jury systems are largely unnoticed vestiges of white supremacy and oppression in our legal system. The Supreme Court now has the chance to accept a case that could end the use of non-unanimous juries in criminal cases. It should take this chance.
 The rest of the piece is worth a look.