Courts & the Law, News

Committee reins in expansive powers for AOC director; approves District Court judges serving on Superior Court

Rep. Rena Turner

After North Carolina representatives from both parties expressed concern about a bill that would give the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) director unfettered power over court processes, an amendment was approved to eliminate the provision altogether.

Rep. Rena Turner (R-Iredell), the sponsor of the bill, said she would have preferred to keep House Bill 236 whole, and a representative speaking on behalf of the AOC deferred to her when asked what the organization preferred.

Democratic Leader Rep. Darren Jackson and Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) spoke against the overly-broad language of the bill, which as written, would allow the AOC director the authority to rewrite all court policies, procedures and processes.

Jackson and Rogers had been contacted by the District Attorneys in their districts with concerns about that section of the bill.

“It appears to me this provision of the bill is broad enough that it prohibits counties from having local rules because the local rules for Wake County are different than the local rules for Johnson County, and the AOC could decide that that’s not uniform and say, ‘you can have no local rules,'” Jackson said. “I also have a concern about calendary under this bill, this provision, that calendary be taken over by the AOC and taken away from the District Attorneys’ Offices.”

He asked for a guarantee from Turner and the AOC that those concerns would not come to fruition under HB236 — which they could not promise. Turner said though, that the bill was not drafted with malicious intent.

Maureen Krueger, Moore County District Attorney, also spoke out about concern for the possibility of unintended consequences with the bill.

Jackson presented an amendment to the committee to remove the provision of the bill that would give the AOC director such expansive power, and it passed on a voice vote.

Rep. Sarah Stevens

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes) asked the committee to vote against his amendment because she didn’t think there should be so many local judicial rules. She said she would like to see a more uniform court system, and that the AOC director needed power to enforce it.

Stevens also presented HB677, which would would allow District Court judges to serve on three-judge Superior Court panels addressing constitutional challenges to General Assembly laws.

That bill was passed without comment from lawmakers besides Stevens and without any discussion.

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