Local News

Area Mayors Join Together To Push For Judicial System Changes

Posted April 13, 2006 9:58 a.m. EDT

— On an August night in 2002, Virgil Harris walked into a Cary office building and robbed two men at gunpoint. But Harris never should have been on the streets in the first place. He was out on bond on assault charges for shooting at two women in a car -- a case that had been continued eight times.

"The court system is so overwhelmed," said Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.

A group of mayors say the slow court system, overburdened and without the technology and funding it needs, allowed Harris to remain on the streets, and, they say, it needs to be fixed.

"Over 80 percent of our cases are not being tried after our police arrest them," said Charlotte Mayor Pat McCord. "This is unacceptable to the victims, to the police, to our citizens."

Representing nearly one-third of the state's population, the Metropolitan Coalition of Mayors have called on legislators throughout North Carolina to provide money in the state budget for change. Short-term, the mayors are asking for more assistant district attorneys, additional clerks, and salary raises for prosecuting positions.

For a long-term solution, the mayors are asking for a revamp of the judicial system's technology to bring all districts into the digital age. Many delays occur statewide because some branches still do nearly everything with paper and pen.

"You see some awful mistakes that occur -- not intentionally -- because you may have a person that gets released that has 3-4 outstanding warrants, because the paper trail hasn't caught up with them," said Joines.

Those are mistakes that the mayors think could be prevented if the courts had the funding. The mayor's coalition is expected to bring these issues up with legislators before the upcoming short session. Sweeping changes to the court system may still be years away.