Monday, January 16, 2017

Can a nonlawyer judge send you to jail? U.S. Supreme Court is asked to decide

ABA Journal:
A cert petition pending before the U.S. Supreme Court shines a light on the power of some nonlawyer judges in the United States.

The cert petition asks whether a defendant’s due process rights are violated when he is tried by a nonlawyer judge with the power to send him to jail, and there is no opportunity for a new trial before a judge who is a lawyer.

The petition was filed on behalf of defendants Kelly Davis and Shane Sherman. They were tried before a nonlawyer judge in Montana who was previously a prevention specialist in a dependency program, and a cashier and meat wrapper at a grocery store.

A decision by the Supreme Court requiring judges to be lawyers in these cases could have broad fiscal and legal ramifications for New York State. In New York, judges of the town and village justice courts are not required to be attorneys. Such courts "have jurisdiction over a broad range of matters, including vehicle and traffic matters, small claims, evictions, civil matters and criminal offenses."