Friday, March 20, 2009

Ignition Interlock Device Legislation

Ignition interlock devices are back in the news this passed week.

New Mexico was the first state to mandate their use back in 2005, and Alabama, South Dakota, and Vermont still don't carry the restriction; but in between there is a vast array of legislative applications to the concept, the National Conference of State Legislatures shows. According to MADD, six states -- Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Washington—apply the penalty to first-time offenders.

Now, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania may all be joining those ranks with bills pending in their legislators. [ Articles about Kentucky and Pennsylvania endeavors here ]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Federal Judicial Conference's New Ethics Code

The United States Judicial Conference yesterday adopted a revised Code of Conduct for federal judgeships taking effect on July 1, 2009.

The revised Code, condensing the original seven rules, or canons, to five and rewording the language into "plainer, clearer English," builds on the dictate of its first canon that judges should uphold the integrity & independence of the judiciary.

The revision of Canon 2, which states that judges should "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities," for the first time now includes a definition of "appearance of impropriety," stating, "An appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge's honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired." [ See Judicial Conference's release ]

Legal Times this morning has more

Classification of Government Documents Legislation

According to Ohio Representative Steve Driehaus, there are over 107 different classifications for government documents, and each department or agency has its own system of classification and restricting access to even unclassified material.
Legislation Driehaus has proposed, though, would change some of that or at least make it more uniform. Introduced March 5th and short-titled the "Reducing Information Controls Designations Act," it would "require each federal agency to reduce and minimize its use of information control designations on information that is not classified and define such designations to mean information dissemination controls that are not defined by federal statute or executive order relating to the classification of national security information and that are used to manage, direct, or route information or to control the accessibility of information, regardless of its form or format."
If passed, the bill would require the Archivist of the United States to formulate regulations addressing:
  1. (1) standards for the use of such designations to maximize public access to information;
  2. (2) the process for removing such designations;
  3. (3) procedures for identifying and tracking designated information;
  4. (4) provisions to minimize the use of such designations, to prevent misuse, and prevent use to improperly interfere with competition in the private sector; and
  5. (5) a process for individuals and the public to challenge the use of such designations.

It would also make the head of each agency implement those regulations set forth by the Archivist to encourage information sharing, and ensure those designations do not determine public disclosure standards under the Freedom of Information Act.
Similar bills have been proposed, including one by California Rep. Henry Waxman last summer, and Montana Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay this past February.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New & Improved Ohio Supreme Court Website

As mentioned last week, the Ohio Supreme Court unveiled its new website design yesterday.

"Visitors will notice a more user-friendly design targeted to a larger judicial audience," the Court's announcement read. Court Administrative Director Steven C. Hollon also noted that users should also be aware of the slightly revised URL or website address to

"The simplified URL results in a cleaner look and eliminates the run-on-wording of the previous one. The ending also places the Court in the mainstream with executive branch state agencies," Hollon said
As was noted last week, though, while every effort will be made to provide "automatic redirects," it is recommended that users take the time to update their bookmarks. Court staff members also will begin using a new email address convention today reflecting the new URL with a slight variation:

Hollon continued by saying, "With the changes made we hope to establish the Court's Web site as the preeminent source for news and information about the Ohio judicial system, increasing the amount of space available for displaying news and images on the Home page and are working with our justice system partners to include more and more news from non-Supreme Court sources."

While the entire site is not necessarily designed for public use, in addition to more distinctive "buttons" linking to Ohio Supreme & Appellate Courts decisions, and the High Court's upcoming oral arguments calendar, tabs also link to information on:
  • Ø The Ohio Supreme Court's template guides to assist local courts in emergency & disaster planning, first posted last week, are part of the new design.

  • Ø On Jan. 22, 2009, the Supreme Court announced adopting a new rule governing court-appointed guardians. "While some courts had local rules regarding guardians ad litem," its press release stated, "this is the first state rule that sets standards regarding the appointment, responsibilities, training & reporting requirements." That undertaking followed a 2002 task force report on the matter.

  • Ø Commenced in October 2002, the Judicial Conference's Court Technology Committee recognized that there was "no mechanism in place for a statewide networking of courts, staffing the development & maintenance of technology and technical standards at the Supreme Court, or funding technology in courts that didn't have adequate local funding sources." While not a portal for public use, the project has led to Ohio's courts network. While records and data from all of Ohio's courts are not yet available, all of the courts have access to the system. ( What OCN is )

  • Ø In January 2007, Ohio HB 336 created a joint committee comprised of members of the legislature, judges, clerks of court, court administrators, and attorneys to "study the determination, assessment, collection, and allocation of court costs & filing fees in criminal & civil actions in Ohio, including amounts paid by parties to civil actions or defendants in criminal actions." That committee's July 2008 report and its recommendations have now been made more readily accessible on the Court's website.

  • Ø On April 25, 2007, Chief Justice Thomas Moyer addressed the Ohio General Assembly in part announcing that he and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland would be jointly hosting a summit in May 2008 aimed at improving the state's children services. The summit will be comprised of teams from each Ohio county, including juvenile court judges, representatives from children's or family & job service boards, county commissioners, teachers and other school officials. Each county will be required to submit an action plan within 3 months of the summit detailing steps they intend to take to improve their county's response to children at risk, within a follow-up conference proposed 18 months after that to check progress. The Court's link contains registration and other pertinent information to this endeavor.

  • Ø Foreclosures are major problems during this economic crisis. But as early as December 2007 Chief Justice Moyer issued a statement to Ohio attorneys urging them to offer pro bono services to courts, homeowners, and lenders in addressing what he even then saw as "more than a legal problem, but a social issue." Last January, the Supreme Court's Dispute Resolution Section announced the availability in all of Ohio's 88 counties of a mediation model program as an alternative to regular foreclosure proceedings. The first of its kind model in the country provides local courts with step-by-step directions to foreclosure mediation programs. The Court's website revision links to sources and information in the state’s effort to stem the foreclosure rates.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ohio 1st. District Sex Offender Registration Decision

Ohio's Cincinnati-based 1st. District Court of Appeals last Thursday ruled that the state's two-year old law, which strengthened registration requirements for sex offenders to report & keep work & residency information current, can be applied retroactively. [ Court's Decision ]

A Cincinnati Enquirer article this past weekend stated the case would likely be appealed to the state's high court as what's at issue is the continuing confrontation between the rights of convicted sex offenders and those of the public to be informed of the identity of sex offenders and where they live & work.

The article quoted the unanimous decision as stating that "By their voluntary acts (crimes), sex offenders have surrendered certain protections that arguably are afforded other citizens. Their convictions of felony offenses put them in a class that has already been deemed to have no expectation of finality in the consequences of the judgments against them."

Ohio's sex offender notification & registration statutes in pertinence here came into effect in 2003 and were amended by Ohio’s "Laura's Law" bill in 2005. In July 2008, lawmakers passed Senate Bills 10 and 97, bringing Ohio statutes into compliance with federal guidelines mandated by the 2006 Adam Walsh Act.

In last Thursday's case, Jerome Sewell had argued that the retroactive application of Senate Bill 10's tier-classification & registration requirements violated his rights under the Ohio Constitution. For that to have been the case, the First District, following an established binary test from 1988, said that if legislation was intended to be applied retroactively, it had to be "determined whether the statute affected a substantive right or was remedial, and that only if affected a substantive right would it be unconstitutional." Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Cook (1998), it then proceeded to explain that "a statute is 'substantive' if it impairs or takes away vested rights, affects an accrued substantive right, imposes new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction, or creates a new right."

"The Cook court also noted that except with regard to constitutional protections against ex post facto laws… felons have no reasonable right to expect that their conduct will never thereafter be made the subject of legislation."

Where Ohio's Supreme Court in Cook examined the 1997 version of Ohio's sex offender notification statutes, State v. Ferguson, last year, examined those from 2003 with similar results. In State v. Williams in 2000, it held that those statutes were neither criminal in their nature, nor inflicting of punishment, and State v. Wilson, in 2007, it reaffirmed that "sex-offender classification proceedings under Revised Code Chapter 2950 were civil in nature."

ORC §2950.03 "Notice of duty to register and periodically verify information" [Effective Date: 07-31-2003; 04-29-2005; 2007 SB10 01-01-2008]

ORC §2950.06 "Periodic verification of current residence address" [Effective Date: 07-31-2003; 2007 SB10 01-01-2008]

ORC §2950.07 "Commencement date for duty to register" [Effective Date: 07-31-2003; 2007 SB10 01-01-2008]

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ohio Supreme Court URL changes

Ohio Supreme Court advanced warning….

Update Your Bookmarks!
Effective March 9, 2009, the Supreme Court of Ohio Web site will have a new URL and modified directory structure. While every effort will be made to provide automatic redirects, it is recommended that users take the time to update their bookmarks.

In continued support of our Supreme Court, we'll pass along the above information when it's made public next Monday morning.