Note: This story has been updated to reflect a response from the Administrative Office of the Courts.
North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin has been recused from hearing a dispute about a transfer of power from the State Board of Education to Superintendent Mark Johnson.
Martin’s wife, Kym Martin, is Executive Director of the Center for Safer Schools, which was previously housed under the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety but transferred last year as part of House Bill 17 to the Department of Public Instruction.
Parts of HB17 are at the core of litigation between the Board of Education and Johnson that is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court.
The transfer of Kym Martin’s program is not challenged in the lawsuit but she is an employee of both the Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction, which Johnson controls, according to Bob Orr, the Board’s attorney. He said the recusal issue subsequently surfaced and Martin is now recused.
Orr said the recusal is in compliance with the judicial rules dealing with conflicts and appearances of conflicts.
Sharon Gladwell, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts, confirmed that Martin issued a “Disclosure of Potential Disqualification” pursuant to Canon 3D of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, which the clerk of court sent to the parties in the case.
“In the Disclosure, the Chief Justice stated that his wife works for the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools,” Gladwell wrote in an email. “He also stated that the Center for Safer Schools is administratively housed in the Department of Public Instruction, of which Mark Johnson is the superintendent. Because all parties and lawyers to the case did not agree in writing, pursuant to Canon 3D, that the Chief Justice could participate, he is recused from the case.”
NC Policy Watch has emailed follow-up questions about which attorneys did not agree in writing and asked for a copy of the disclosure document.
It’s unknown if Martin has been recused from any other cases since taking the bench on the state’s highest court, but he told the Indy in a 2014 interview that he had recused himself on several occasions during his 21 years of judicial service.
“I have done so, and will continue to do so, in proceedings where my impartiality could reasonably be questioned,” he told the Indy.
The Supreme Court announced last week that oral arguments in the case would be heard and that Martin was recused.
Arguments in the case will center on the constitutionality of the General Assembly transferring power from the Board of Education to Johnson, which was done in HB17. The Supreme Court will likely determine whether the Board or Johnson will be in control of the state’s public school system, it’s 1.5 million students and $10 billion budget.