Courts & the Law, News

Senate budget snubs Raise the Age funding; eliminates money for emergency, special judges

The Twittersphere praised Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger yesterday when he touted that the budget included a provision for Raise the Age legislation.

What he failed to mention is that the budget contains no funding for such provision.

Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke, Cleveland) said after the Justice and Public Safety appropriations committee meeting that funding wasn’t necessary for this budget since legislation wouldn’t be implemented until the end of 2019.

He said the Senate anticipates needing to fund a new Youth Development Center later and will receive an interim report about it Nov. 1.

The Senate currently has its own misdemeanors only Raise the Age bill, Senate Bill 549, but it has not yet been passed. There is no fiscal note attached to the legislation.

House Bill 280 was the first Raise the Age measure introduced this session and has been moving full steam ahead. It applies to youth charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. You can read the fiscal note for that bill here.

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The Justice and Public Safety budget also eliminates $653,671 in funding for emergency judges and $194,275 in funding for special Superior Court judges.

Emergency judges have the same power and authority as sitting judges and are usually recalled to help courts continue hearing cases without delay when a judge is absent for any reason. SB617, which has not yet been passed, would eliminate all emergency judgeships except for those judges who can be recalled to serve on the business court.

In April, Sharon Gladwell, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), said “emergency judges are vital to the efficient operation of the North Carolina court system.”

“Emergency judges typically are used to hold regular or special sessions to meet emergent needs caused by illness, death, vacancies, or other exigent reasons,” Gladwell said. “They also can be assigned to help alleviate backlogs or keep dockets current.”

As of April 12, approximately nine emergency superior court judges were assigned pending cases, according to Gladwell. Collectively, those judges are handling approximately 90 cases, including Rule 2.1 exceptional cases (such as Leandro v. State of North Carolina education litigation and Lewis v. Flue-Cured Tobacco litigation in Wake County), motions for appropriate relief, business court cases and a homicide case.

In district courts, Gladwell said emergency district court judges generally are assigned as needed to help manage the large volume of cases handled in district courts.

“They have helped to reduce backlogs statewide, including driving while impaired cases in Guilford and Johnston Counties and domestic cases in Wake and Henderson Counties,” she said. “Emergency district court judges also handle cases involving potential conflicts of interest, which require a judge who is not regularly assigned to a particular county or courthouse in order to avoid even an appearance of favoritism or special treatment.”

When asked who would cover court in instances when emergency judges are used, Daniel said it current sitting judges would be expected to pick up the slack.

Emergency judges are paid $400 per day, plus actual expenses, for each day of active service rendered, according to Gladwell. An emergency judge appointed as a senior business court judge — positions that aren’t expected to be eliminated– is paid $500 per day, plus actual expenses, for each day of service rendered.

Emergency judges do not receive compensation unless they have been duly assigned by the Chief Justice, Gladwell added.

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