Arizona Getting Fed Court Judges, Relief

The U.S. Senate is set to approve six federal judges to the Arizona district, a move expected to relieve a backlog that has resulted in years-long waits for civil trials and an emergency declaration to avoid the constitutional demand for a speedy criminal trial.

The Associated Press reports that “… according to the U.S. District Court website, then Chief District Judge Rosalyn Silver declared a judicial emergency in 2011 to temporarily suspend the time limit imposed on bringing defendants to trial. The Speedy Trial Act mandates that a federal criminal trial begin within 70 days after a criminal complaint or indictment is filed. A judicial emergency can extend that deadline to a maximum of 180 days.”

The notes that the federal courts have relied on visiting judges from other states and temporary use of retired judges. One official told the AP that “… civil cases have been hurt by the backlog as well. He is hoping that judges will now have more time to devote to civil matters. Right now in a busy court like Arizona’s, it is not unusual to wait as long as three years for a civil trial to start.”

Homeowners Silenced Over Mortgage Complaints

It seems that any frustration over mortgage disputes has an added twist: Shut up about the problem. Reuters is reporting that “… mortgage payment collectors at companies including Ocwen, Bank of America Corp and PNC Financial Services Group are agreeing to ease the terms of borrowers’ underwater mortgages, but they are increasingly demanding that homeowners promise not to insult them publicly, consumer lawyers say. In many cases, they are demanding that homeowners’ lawyers agree to the same terms. Sometimes, they even require borrowers to agree not to sue them again.”
Reuters says that lawyers make this point: if a collector, known as a servicer, makes an error, getting everything fixed can be a nightmare without litigation or public outcry. The news service also notes cites a 2013 report by the National Consumer Law Center that “… found that servicers routinely lost borrowers’ paperwork, inaccurately input information, failed to send important letters to the correct address—or sometimes just didn’t send them at all.”
Consunmer advocates are outraged; law enforcement is starting investigations. Read about it here:

NPR Report: Poor Defendants Paying More Fees

A new yearlong NPR investigation has found that costs of the United States criminal justice system are increasingly being levied against poor defendants and offenders, and that the poor who cannot pay face ever-increasing charges. While the report focuses on the criminal side of the court system, some of the trends spill into the civil courts – where some “offenders” facing non-payment of things like parking tickets can enter the criminal system.
A state-by-state NPR survey shows that “… in at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender… in at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for prison stays… in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.”
The report notes that jailing people for, in effect, non-payment of fines can create financial challenges as governments pay for that incarceration. Read and hear the story via Vermont Public Radio here: As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

New Mexico Courts Sue Over Funding

New Mexico judges are suing after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed their 8 percent pay increase. They are making some of the same arguments we hear from other states, especially when they express funding as a percentage of the state’s total budget – in California, for example, advocates for increased courts funding like to point out that the total courts funding is less than one percent of state spending, and at two percent they would be fully funded.

In a column for the New Mexico News Service, longtime reporter Sherry Robinson noted that “… even though the National Center for State Courts declared New Mexico judges to be the nation’s lowest paid, Martinez sees it as a fairness issue. Other state employees got only a 3 percent increase, she has said, while judges got the 5 percent increase intended for them plus the 3 percent for all state employees.”

Robinson also notes that “… I don’t remember an occasion when judges as a group went after a governor, but then this governor spends a lot of time in court. In poking her finger in the court’s eye, it seems like the governor is also saying her lawyering days are over because she’s bound for bigger things.”

ABA President Embraces Civil Gideon

The president of the American Bar Association is embracing the idea of providing lawyers to people facing civil lawsuit in a way similar to the criminal justice system. Known as “civil Gideon,” a reference to the landmark case that guarantees legal representation in criminal courts, the idea is that people who cannot afford attorneys are relatively helpless against those who can. In particular, the idea is that people facing family court or housing issues are facing injustice.

After a speech this week in Memphis, ABA President James Silkenat explained that “…look at how long it took us to recognize Gideon on the criminal side. This next step will be a difficult one. But I am encouraged the more I see how much lawyers and other leaders of society recognize the problem for everyday citizens just living their lives without legal advice on the most important legal issues – they are left at sea.”

Read the Memphis Daily News report on his comments here: ABA President Silkenat Shares Notion Of ‘Civil Gideon’