Courts & the Law, News

Reduction of emergency judges results in 68 days of cancelled court so far, including 3-week Henderson trial

There are 68 days of court cancelled in North Carolina from July 10 through November 3 as a result of lawmakers cutting the number of emergency judges by more than two-thirds.

Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell responded to a request last week with a chart that reflects district and superior court cancellations due to the budget provision dictating how many emergency judges can be used and for what reasons they can be used.

The provision went into effect July 1. There are 67 days of district court cancellations and there is one cancelled day of superior court. Emergency judges are assigned commissions, which represent the days they are to preside over court cases.

Provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts

The most cancellations (13 days) were reported between July 17 and 21 in Cumberland, Caldwell, Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, Union, Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties.

Several days of cancellations involve now inactive emergency Judge Lillian Jordan and a complicated equitable distribution trial that was supposed to begin July 17 and last three weeks, according to an email obtained from the AOC by NC Policy Watch.

Chief District Court Judge Athena Brooks, of Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties, wrote AOC director Marion Warren and assistant director David Hoke an urgent request July 10 asking them not to cancel Jordan’s commission.

Her email demonstrates the domino effect of the cancellation and the cost already associated with such an involved case.

“Judge Jordan was assigned to handle the Holbert ED, which is a 2009 filing. Before you jump to conclusions and assume no one has been proactive in this matter, let me provide some history. This action has had two attorneys sued for malpractice, two trips to NC Court of Appeals, three changes in counsel, and currently has four local counsel representing the parties. Subject to the distribution are more than 26 commercial properties, in addition to residential assets. The parties have complied with FFS mediation requirement years ago. The plaintiff is an elderly man, with significant health challenges in addition to normal reduced memory functions as is common with aging. There is great concern his health will not withstand continued delays to witness resolution of this matter. Additionally, the various properties have been appraised several times in recent years in anticipation of trial of this matter. Judge Jordan set the trial of this matter in January 2017 to begin July 17, 2017, and both parties have been diligently seeking updated valuations and appraisals of all properties as needed. Further Judge Jordan has held two pre-trial hearings, the most recent of which was June 27 (or so) in this matter. This has resulted in additional expenses in excess of $5000, of which neither party wishes to repeat.

One judge of four in this district has recused herself. To have one of the regularly seated district court judges in such a trial while the other three attempt to keep court afloat in the rest of the three county district will cause a great case management dilemma and result in numerous cases being delayed.

I understand the new legislation has posed quite a challenge for your emergency judicial allocation. Please know that I am sensitive to this challenge and would not be asking if I did not feel this to be a true case management emergency. Please approve Judge Lillian Jordan to preside over this Holbert ED as originally commissioned to begin July 17, 2017, and continue three weeks.”

A court case-management emergency is deemed one of the circumstances that the AOC can assign an emergency judge under the new provision, but the reduction in emergency judges necessitated the cancellation, according to Gladwell.

The trial court administrator in district 29B, where the trial was set to take place, said they have resubmitted a request for Jordan to be re-commissioned on the case and are awaiting the outcome.

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