Courts & the Law, News

Governor appoints Joe John as head of Courts Commission after Duane Hall resigns

Rep. Joe John

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake)

Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake) quietly resigned as head of the North Carolina Courts Commission a month ago, shortly after NC Policy Watch detailed sexual harassment allegations against him.

Gov. Roy Cooper this week appointed Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) to take his place.

John said in a phone interview this week that he was honored by the Governor’s appointment. He is a first-term representative but had a 25-plus year career within the court system — he’s been a prosecutor, defense lawyer, district court judge, chief district court judge, superior court judge and court of appeals judge.

“I pretty well covered the waterfront and I have broad experience and overview as to how the court system operates,” John said. “I’m probably as familiar as anyone with the things that courts do well and the areas where probably there could be some improvement.”

The Commission, which has around 30 members, is tasked with evaluating changes to the state’s court system and making recommendations to the General Assembly.

The state court workload is one thing John hopes to address during his tenure.

“One of the issues faced not only by courts, but all agencies of state government is having more to do than people to do the work,” he said. “I don’t see any indication that that has necessarily changed, so we’ll be doing our best to hopefully make some recommendations down the road.”

He plans to send a letter to court groups and stakeholders this week to announce his appointment and solicit feedback on other areas the Commission should review.

John also mentioned potentially having the commission look at the state’s bail bond system, given the negative attention it has garnered since a series of NC Policy Watch articles on the subject.

One area he doesn’t expect to delve into is judicial redistricting, which is expected to be voted on in the upcoming short session.

GOP lawmakers have introduced several maps in the last year that redraw judicial and prosecutorial districts, which would change the way judges and prosecutors across the state are elected. The effort has been met with widespread opposition, not just from Democrats but from court officials and experts.

John said the Commission made a recommendation in the fall that the General Assembly didn’t formally respond to, so it’s best to wait and see what happens during the session.

“The plans and the intentions for the short session, I think, are already in place, even though they may not necessarily be public at this point,” he said. “Trying to reconstitute the courts commission in the short period of time between now and the short session, without knowing specifically what actions are intended, would probably not be a practical use of the commissioners time.”

John said he expects the Commission will meet after the short session for planning and goal-setting.

“The commission has been sort of quiet here late and I think it will probably take a little while to get folks back up to speed and so forth,” he said.

He added that Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes), who was at the helm before Hall, did a good job reviving the commission, which had, prior to her appointment, been fairly dormant.

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