Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Tell us who the judges are

Posted February 15

Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr.

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017; Editorial# 8125
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

There are 14 judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Last week three of them – we don’t know which ones – issued an order that reversed a lower court stay on a controversial law merging the state Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission.

The refusal of the Court of Appeals to provide ANY information about the three-judge panel that heard the case, leaves open to question the objectivity of the court’s action and whether the judges are upholding the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

First, openness in the conduct of justice is a fundamental principal of our democracy, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Knowing what happens and who does it, demonstrates that justice is fair and impartial.

Second, is the matter of judicial ethics. While there are 14 judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, one judge who stands out uniquely: Phil Berger Jr., the name-sake and son of the boss of the North Carolina Senate.

Having a legislator who is such a close relative to a judge on the court is a significant matter – particularly when that legislator is the most powerful in the state.

Cases with direct implications on the legislature are frequent. And the state Code of Conduct for judges requires them to disqualify themselves from those matters where a close relative (such as a parent) could be affected by the outcome.

Given the circumstances with the way the Court of Appeals is now composed, there are several options the court could take – and all involve some degree of disclosure. North Carolinians should be assured that their judges, in this case Berger Jr., are abiding by their professional code. There should be no question that justice is being rendered without bias.

First, best and most obvious, the Court of Appeals should always release the names of the judges who make rulings – regardless of where in the process they are made. This is the right thing to do.

At a minimum, however, the court and Berger Jr., should announce the judge’s recusal any time that it handles a case where Sen. Berger or the legislature might be affected or have a direct or indirect interest in the outcome.

It is not only the law, but it is what needs to be done to assure North Carolina citizens that their courts are fair and impartial.

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