Courts & the Law, News

Judiciary committee agenda: District Court judges could serve on Superior Court cases challenging GA; AOC director could get unfettered power over local courts

The House Judiciary I Committee will hear two more bills today that would change the judiciary’s current structure.

Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens sponsors House Bill 677, which would allow District Court judges to serve on three-judge Superior Court panels addressing constitutional challenges to General Assembly laws.

In layman’s terms, judges from a lower court could determine a case meant for higher court. District Court judges could sit on three-judge panels that “for actions challenging plans apportioning or redistricting State legislative or congressional districts; claims challenging the facial validity of an act of the General Assembly.”

The timing of the bill is suspect, considering a three-judge Superior Court panel ruled against the General Assembly in February on two of three constitutional issues raised by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Instead of appealing one of the decisions, lawmakers just revamped a law the judges ruled unconstitutional and passed it. They’ve made it no secret during the process that they did not agree with the judges deciding the issues and openly criticized their work.

The Judiciary I Committee will also review HB 236 at its meeting today. The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts omnibus bill includes a provision that would give Director, Judge Marion Warren, unfettered power over all court processes.

The overly-broad language of the technical bill, if passed, would mean that Warren could rewrite all the current processes of all civil and criminal courts in the state of North Carolina. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Shirley Randleman (R-Stokes, Surry, Wilkes).

The Conference of the District Attorneys, N.C. Advocates for Justice and some other judicial stakeholders have already spoken out against the bill and are expected to be at today’s meeting.

The AOC has said that expanding Warren’s power “is a clarification of existing statutes to promote a unified and uniform court system consistent with Article IV of the NC Constitution.”

Communications Director Sharon Gladwell, however, would not respond to a question about what statutes needed clarifying. Warren has not responded to numerous requests through Gladwell to be interviewed.

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin also has not returned a message seeking comment.

Members of the public and judicial stakeholders can attend the public committee meeting today. It begins at noon in room 415 of the Legislative Office Building.

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