Courts & the Law, News

Raise the Age legislation passes first House hurdle, will head to appropriations next

House lawmakers on the Judiciary I Committee gave Raise the Age legislation a favorable report in a unanimous voice vote Wednesday.

House Bill 280 is now expected to be heard tomorrow morning in the House Appropriations Committee meeting.

Community members, advocates and stakeholders flooded the meeting in the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday and a few got the chance to speak in favor of raising the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old.

Ben David, the New Hanover County District Attorney, said that only 3 percent of juvenile cases he handles involve violent felonies, and that he’s often the first to ask for those cases to be transferred to Superior Court — something HB280 still allows.

“What about the other 97 percent?” David asked. “The other 97 percent, as we have all done when we were younger, made mistakes, and unlike many of other states, in fact the other 49, when our juveniles make them, they get branded for life. They wear the scarlet letter F for felony or M for misdemeanor, and when they do their lives are different.”

David said the adult criminal system sets kids on a different trajectory in life, one that involves despair and a revolving door to the criminal justice system.

“College is not going to take them, federal student loans won’t finance it, the military most likely won’t enroll them and federal housing says, ‘not here,'” he said. “Who’s going to hire a young person with a criminal record? The street has always been an equal opportunity employer.”

New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening also spoke in favor of HB280 and said other than getting a call from state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin once, doing so was the most important three minutes of his career.

“Our children need us,” he said. “This is great legislation.”

Corpening commended the school-justice partnership provision in the bill and gave some insight to the success a program in his county has enjoyed.

“Keeping kids in school, out of court and off the street is a good thing,” he added.

Some community members also spoke, a few who had previously worked in the judicial system, though there wasn’t time for comments from everyone who showed up. Numerous organizations were at the meeting to show support for HB280, including the ACLU of North Carolina, the Conference of DAs, Conference of Clerks, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC Child and Disability Rights NC.

Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Moore, Randolph) had some concerns with the bill but introduced an amendment that would address gang activity among youth in the juvenile system. It passed in a voice vote, with only Democratic Leader Darren Jackson voting against it.

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes) briefly presented a slippery-slope argument.

“The same brain science that we argue about that these children’s brains are not fully developed says they’re not fully developed until they’re 25, so do we work on extending this through college?” she asked.

She also had concerns about the bill including low-level felonies and whether the juvenile system was prepared to take in “all those elements of crime.”

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), who is a former judge from Durham County and helped pilot a misdemeanor diversion program, explained that not all felonies are the same. She said HB280 still gives district attorneys and judges discretion to transfer juveniles to adult court.

“I hear your concern, and I think one important thing to say is, a felony is not a felony is not a felony,” Morey said. “A felony can also be going into Walmart, getting a T-shirt and snipping the inventory tag.”

Stevens wondered if the discretion among judges to transfer cases would create inconsistency in the state, and Morey said they all follow the same set of guidelines in the law to transfer cases.

“The statute is very clear,” she said.

Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) expressed concern about resources and confusion over juvenile charges, though he said he ultimately supported raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.

Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell) spoke in favor of the bill and urged his colleagues to pass it.

“These kids, we really do need to give them every opportunity to become to reach their full capabilities,” he said. “With the laws we have now, we might as well hand them their death certificate, many of them, because their life is over in terms of the life that we know.”

He added that he knew of a number of people in the legislative body who did not grow up in North Carolina because if they had, things would be different.

“Had they lived in North Carolina, they wouldn’t be serving in the General Assembly today; they wouldn’t be members of this staff, and the reason for that is that they had a second chance,” he said. “We should do no less for our kids in North Carolina. Let’s give them that same chance.”

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.

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper, legislative leaders agree to extend order halting Election, Ethics merge until next hearing

Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative leaders agreed Monday to extend a temporary restraining order blocking the merging of the State Elections Board and the State Ethics Commission.

The parties were set to appear Wednesday at a hearing for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the merge until the conclusion of the case.

Cooper is suing Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore over Senate Bill 68, a re-worded measure similar to SB4 which combines the Elections Board and Ethics Commission into one new bipartisan board.

SB4 was struck down earlier this year, but legislative leaders say SB68 was written to address concerns from the judiciary.

Cooper argues that the new bill still violates the separation of powers clause of the Constitution.

You can read more about both sides’ argument here.

The parties will appear at a summary judgment hearing in front of the three-judge panel either May 31 or June 1, according to the Trial Court Administrator in Wake County.

News, Trump Administration

Trump’s new order: More political freedom for churches; religion back on table to deny birth control

President Donald Trump holds up his new executive order.

President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order to prevent people of faith from being “targeted, bullied or silenced.”

The order expands religious organizations’ ability to become involved with politics and endorse political candidates, previously limited under what’s known as the Johnson Amendment, and enables private employers to use religion as a pretext to deny reproductive health care to employees.

He signed the order at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House coinciding with the National Day of Prayer.

“We are giving our churches their voices back,” he said, adding that he is directing the Department of Justice to develop new rules for religious protections for all Americans.

The ACLU released a statement immediately following the ceremony saying the organization intends to file a lawsuit today. The Center for Reproductive Rights also vowed to challenge Trump’s order.

“President Trump’s executive order discriminates against women and robs them of essential preventive care. Without health coverage of contraception under the ACA, countless women will lose their basic right to prevent pregnancy and plan when they have children,” states Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center. “Plain and simple: President Trump’s executive order will hurt women. And the Center for Reproductive Rights is ready to fight back in court.”

In February, the N.C. Council of Churches denounced Trump’s effort to repeal the Johnson Amendment.

“Imagine the faith communities embroiled in discussions over whether it would be Hillary or Donald for your church. And who would give them the most money to support one of those people. Pulpits all over this country will be bought by the highest bidder,” wrote Executive Director Jennifer Copeland.

A lot of civil rights organizations, advocates and activists were expecting Trump’s order to contain a provision that would allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. That was not the case.

Equality NC held a press conference with area clergy just before the President’s ceremony criticizing such a provision.

“Today is not an affirmation of religious freedom by our government, it’s an attack on it,” said Doug Hammack, minister at North Raleigh Community Church.

Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro asked the Trump administration to decease its “endless attacks” on the LGBTQ community.

Courts & the Law, HB2, News

Plaintiffs in HB2 lawsuit intend to challenge HB142; defendants won’t take position on law until it’s filed

The lawsuit over House Bill 2 is at a standstill until the plaintiffs file an amended complaint to include a challenge to HB142, which repealed the sweeping anti-LGBTQ law and replaced it with different discriminatory language.

A report was filed with the federal court Friday with updates on the case from all parties involved, including their positions, or lack thereof, on moving forward.

In the document, the plaintiffs — Joaquin Carcaño, Payton Grey McGarry, Angela Gilmore, Hunter Schafer, Beverly Newell and Kelly Trent — state they intend to file an amended complaint asserting federal constitutional and statutory claims against HB142.

The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.

A couple paragraphs from the report give a preview of what might be included in the amended complaint:

“Although H.B. 142 purports to ‘repeal’ H.B. 2, in actuality H.B. 142 perpetuates many of H.B. 2’s harms, as well as H.B. 2’s stigmatization of transgender individuals and those who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual
(collectively “LGBT” people).

H.B. 142 discriminates against transgender individuals in exercising one of life’s most basic and essential functions: using the restroom. Under Section 2 of H.B. 142, state agencies and local governments are forbidden from establishing—and transgender individuals are barred from obtaining the protection of—policies ensuring the right of transgender individuals to use the restroom or other single-sex, multi-user facilities consistent with their gender identity. Further, until December 2020, Sections 3 and 4 of H.B. 142 block local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination in employment and public accommodations. By targeting all LGBT people for disfavored treatment and singling out transgender individuals for additional discrimination, H.B. 142 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and due process under the U.S. Constitution.”

The defendants in the case — the University of North Carolina, legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper — state in the report that it would be premature to take a position on HB142 before an amended complaint is filed with the court.

Cooper states in the filing that he “may be in position to consent to Plaintiffs’ filing of a Fourth Amended Complaint, and intends to proceed as appropriate thereafter depending on the nature of the allegations.”

You can read the full document here.