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Proposal to shift judicial discipline raises questions

Posted August 9, 2013

— Good-government advocates, lawyers and even state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker are questioning the maneuvering that led to a bill on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk that would hide most complaints about judges from the public.

House Bill 652 strips the Judicial Standards Commission of its authority to issue public reprimands and places all forms of public discipline in the hands of the North Carolina Supreme Court. All disciplinary hearings would be private, and case records would be confidential unless the Supreme Court decides to take disciplinary action.

The measure was passed in the final hours of this year's legislative session – less than a week after the Senate had already voted it down.

"This was passed under cover of darkness. I don't know how else to characterize it," said Catharine Arrowood, president-elect of the North Carolina Bar Association.

The organization recently called on McCrory to veto the bill, saying the Judicial Standards Commission's processes are more transparent.

The commission, made up of judges and lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court, investigates complaints against judges and takes disciplinary action, if needed. Those actions are public record, so voters can find out if a judge has had problems.

Courtroom generic Senate flip-flopped on judicial discipline bill hours before adjourning

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, said in a July 19 debate on the Senate floor that House Bill 652 would protect judges from what he called "blackmail" by the commission.

"A few members of the judicial commission have said, 'If you don't accept what we do, we're going to publicly admonish you and embarrass you, especially right before an election,'" Newton said.

"This weakens the right of the public to know what is happening with our judges," responded Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

"To me, it sounds like lawyers protecting lawyers," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. "When we run for office, if somebody says something about us a week before it, we don't have anywhere to go. I'm voting against this."

The bill failed by a 22-12 vote, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it.

Yet, Apodaca resurrected the bill late on July 25 with no public notice. He was among a dozen senators, including Wake County Republican Sens. Chad Barefoot and Tamara Barringer, who changed their votes to make sure the bill passed.

"It was rather astounding," Arrowood said.

Apodaca, Newton, Barefoot and Barringer, along with bill sponsor Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, haven't responded to requests for comment about the bill.

The Judicial Standards Commission already has a process to protect judges from frivolous complaints, and it's been working fine for 40 years, Arrowood said. House Bill 589 is a huge change to make without any public debate for no apparent reason other than politics, she said.

"We should periodically study how we handle this kind of thing," she said. "There's been no study, and there's been no complaint, no concern. So you have to wonder."

McCrory has until Aug. 25 to decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

10 Comments

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  • Rebelyell55 Aug 14, 2013

    Laws by lawyers that are made to be broken and abuse, by those same lawyers, has been and continue to be a disgrace to the people they're being paided by. This bill will stand, most likely without any signature.

  • COPs eye Aug 14, 2013

    Complaints regarding Judges, Prosecutors and Attorneys should be a matter of public record to include the resolution of the complaint. This will allow the public to better decide who to elect/retain. These folks will resist any such disclosure and since most law makers are attorneys, it is unlikely they will force such a disclosure.

    YEP!!!!

  • dollibug Aug 13, 2013

    ****Good-government advocates, lawyers and even state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker are questioning the maneuvering that led to a bill on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk that would hide most complaints about judges from the public.

    Funny that the info above includes *good-government advocates*....so I guess everyone knows that not all government can be labeled *good*....it is sad that there are *INNOCENT PEOPLE who get indicted, tried and convicted* on NO EVIDENCE at all. So I guess some *think since the government agencies can *HIDE EVIDENCE*...then it should be ok to HIDE most complaints about Judges. The funny thing is that *this is already done*....so why should there be a *law* to do it now....OMG...I guess someone wants what they do to become legal and lawful. NC Judicial System is a JOKE****and is covers any and all agencies.

  • jdupree Aug 12, 2013

    Complaints regarding Judges, Prosecutors and Attorneys should be a matter of public record to include the resolution of the complaint. This will allow the public to better decide who to elect/retain. These folks will resist any such disclosure and since most law makers are attorneys, it is unlikely they will force such a disclosure.

  • wildpig777 Aug 12, 2013

    if you think you have a right to know what the JUDICIAL STANDARDS COMMISSION is doing-- well all i can say is -- they answer to no one. never ever seen any state agency in need of total over haul-- in fact the judicial standards commission SHOULD BE ABOLISHED AT ONCE AND A NEW AGENCY CREATED TO TAKE IT'S PLACE.

  • wildpig777 Aug 12, 2013

    sort order: oldest first | newest first

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    Why have a bill? That already goes on in the Good Ole Judge Chamber.

    Justic4All

    WITHOUT A DOUBT-- THATS THE TRUEST POST THAT WILL BE MADE OF ANY CONCERNING THIS ARTICLE.

  • Justic4All Aug 11, 2013

    Why have a bill? That already goes on in the Good Ole Judge Chamber.

  • jpm1994 Aug 11, 2013

    We the People have the right to know how our elected and appointed officials are performing. Additionally, we have the right to take appropriate action to get rid of any official who is not doing their job of protecting and defending the Constitution and all other laws. If they are fired, they forfeit any and all benefits including their tax-payer paid retirement.

  • hp277 Aug 10, 2013

    #1 - This is a bad idea that Governor McCrory should veto.

    #2 - How did this ever become the law: "let it become law without his signature." The governor should decide, yes or no, on every bill. Letting it become law without his signature is a chicken way to do things - and the same was true under Perdue.

  • JoeF Aug 9, 2013

    How many favors does McCrory owe? We elect the judges, but he is going to give his "Bench Buddies" cover for bad behavior? C'mon. This tail wagging the dog has got to stop!