Chief Justice Suspends Renfer
Posted March 22, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST
RALEIGH — Citing allegations that Wake County judge Susan Renfer had falsified court records, North Carolina Chief Justice Burley Mitchell has suspended her. His order may be the first to suspend a judge from official duties while a disciplinary action is being heard.
The N.C. Supreme Court is deliberating a Judicial Standards Commission recommendation that Renfer be removed from the bench because of her courtroom conduct, including records handling.
In a statement, Mitchell said, "While such charges of falsifying official court records are pending against Judge Renfer, I do not believe she should be given access as a judge to any court records. Therefore...I have instructed that she not be assigned any judicial function until the allegations against her are fully resolved."
Renfer, 43, has been embroiled in controversy over her courtroom actions. Her partisans say it is because she was the first Republican in memory to be elected to the county's district court bench, which occurred in 1994. Her critics say politics has nothing to do with their allegations.
The falsifying charge arose from the cases of two men who appeared before Judge Renfer on the same day on separate traffic charges. The prosecutor told her the men were pleading not guilty and the cases needed to be postponed because the arresting officers were not in the courtroom.
The Judicial Standards Commission's finding said the judge said she saw no reason to postpone the cases, and questioned the men without their having attorneys present, finding them guilty although the state had offered no evidence. It also said she falsely indicated on the case files that the men had pleaded guilty.
In defending Renfer before the court Thursday, her attorney said Renfer's actions would probably have been reversed on appeal, and that the cases had been ultimately dismissed.
Also Thursday, her attorneys told the state's highest court that the standards commission had denied her due process by refusing to delay its hearing so that she could get legal help.
The commission said Renfer had known for more than a year she was under investigation and that she had five months' notice of the hearing, which they felt was sufficient time to obtain a lawyer's services.