The next time you find yourself wandering the halls of the Wake County Courthouse (or courthouses elsewhere around the state), wondering why your day in court is delayed yet again, you might want to give state Senator Bill Rabon — or his colleagues Sens. Tom Apodaca and Neal Hunt — and thank them personally.
Together they’re the sponsors of Senate Bill 10, the proposal which among other things (like ridding the state of certain boards and commissions and replacing members of others with people whose thinking is more akin to that of the Republican majority), calls for the elimination of 12 special superior court judgeships.
Here’s the list of those on the chopping block (the cuts don’t include the business court judges):
Why the judges? Unlike resident superior court judges, the special superior court judges are appointed by the Governor for five year terms and hear cases on a statewide basis. If you’ve been following any of our recent court budget stories, you know that these judges are filling a critical need.
“Our special superior court judges are fully utilized and contribute significantly to the administration of justice statewide,” said Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts John Smith, “and their elimination would have a significant impact on our courts.”
But in the fiscal impact statement attached to the bill, the senators say that elimination of the positions will result in a net savings of more than $2 million.
As to the impact on case backlogs throughout the state, not to worry — retired judges are available on the cheap:
To the extent that elimination of these positions leads to an increase in the Superior Court case
backlog, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) may choose to contract with emergency judges to replace the Special Superior Court judges. AOC pays $400 per day for emergency judges (retired judges called up to serve in special circumstances), paid from lapsed salaries. This expense may have an impact on the availability of lapsed salary funds for other special projects in AOC or on reversions at the end of the fiscal year, but will not have an immediate impact on the General Fund.
That may come as a surprise to some of the court officials we’ve spoken to, who are under the impression that funds for emergency judges are no longer available.