News

Second Racial Justice Act attorney cleared of alleged ethics violations

State BarThe North Carolina State Bar has reversed a prior panel ruling and cleared attorney Cassandra Stubbs of ethics violations alleged to have occurred during her representation of death row inmate Marcus Robinson in his Racial Justice Act challenge.

Stubbs is the second of Robinson’s attorneys to have her name cleared, after charges were lodged against her and attorney Gretchen Engel for allegedly providing inaccurate affidavits to Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks during Robinson’s case.

Weeks ultimately ordered in that case that Robinson’s death sentence be reduced to life without parole after finding that racial bias permeated his jury selection, and has said that the affidavits at issue did not impact his decision, according to WRAL.

In July 2015 a State Bar panel admonished Stubbs for violating rules of professional conduct,  but two months later a separate panel cleared Engel of ethics violations in connection with the same affidavits.

In her hearing, Engel said her failure to correct the affidavits was an oversight and not intentional.

Once Engel was cleared, Stubbs asked the State Bar panel to reconsider her case, which it did yesterday — issuing this order dismissing the complaint against her.

News

State Supreme Court backs governors in commission appointments case

Saying that the General Assembly violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution when it empowered lawmakers to make appointments to commissions that performed largely executive functions, the state Supreme Court today backed the governors who challenged what they called a usurpation of power by the legislature.

The battle between the branches of government came to a head in the fall of 2014 after lawmakers created the Coal Ash Commission, Oil & Gas Commission and Mining Commission and authorized the House speaker and Senate president to appoint most of the members on each.

Gov. Pat McCrory, joined by former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, then filed suit against the speaker and president, alleging that lawmakers had overstepped their authority in limiting the governor’s appointments to commissions that functioned under the province of the executive branch.

But the legislative leaders claimed absolute authority to make those appointments, saying that the state constitution clearly gave them that power.

A three-judge panel ruled for the governors in March 2015, holding that state lawmakers had violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Mark Martin, the court ruled that the statutes in question did not violate appointment provisions of the state constitution but did nonetheless extend executive functions to the legislature in violation of the separation of powers clause.

Martin wrote:

When the General Assembly appoints executive officers that the Governor has little power to remove, it can appoint them essentially without the Governor’s influence. That leaves the Governor with little control over the views and priorities of the officers that the General Assembly appoints. When those officers form a majority on a commission that has the final say on how to execute the laws, the General Assembly, not the Governor, can exert most of the control over the executive policy that is implemented in any area of the law that the commission regulates. As a result, the Governor cannot take care that the laws are faithfully executed in that area. The separation of powers clause plainly and clearly does not allow the General Assembly to take this much control over the execution of the laws from the Governor and lodge it with itself.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Newby wrote that the General Assembly acted well within its authority when it enacted the challenged statutes.

Read the full decision here.

News

No choice voting

(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

Perhaps you haven’t been paying much attention yet to the upcoming election cycle, but here’s a fact that every voter who cares about the state of democracy in North Carolina should know.

In almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative districts, only one candidate has filed to run for an open seat — meaning that there will be no competition in both the primary and general elections in those districts.

The reason?  Gerrymandering.

Here’s more from the folks at Common Cause North Carolina:

The driving force behind this lack of competition is gerrymandering, the longtime practice of partisan politicians drawing the state’s voting maps to heavily favor one party or the other. In turn, opposing candidates have little or no chance of winning in these districts — deterring many potential contenders from even bothering to run and leaving voters with no choice on their ballot.

Just one candidate filed for office in these 54 legislative districts, effectively deciding the outcome of these elections before a single ballot is cast. In all, almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative seats will have no competition in both the primary and general elections.

Over 3 million North Carolinians reside in the 41 state House districts that lack any competition this year, and nearly 2.5 million live in the 13 state Senate districts where just one candidate is running.

In the 54 days leading up to the March 15 primary, the group is taking a daily look at each of the 54 NC General Assembly districts where just one candidate is running for office.

Here’s today’s focus, Mecklenburg County’s House District 99:

(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

And here’s state Sen. Jeff Jackson on why this lack of competition is a dangerous thing for North Carolina voters:

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You can follow Common Cause as the group counts down the Forgotten 54 here  or on Twitter at @CommonCauseNC.

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News

States asks SCOTUS to block Clean Power Plan

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

Twenty-nine states and state agencies, including the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block enforcement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

The move follows the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s refusal on Friday to enter such a stay.

The petition, filed this afternoon, is here.

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News

For Planned Parenthood, turnabout is fair play

The irony was lost on no one late yesterday when a Texas grand jury — initially impaneled to investigate Planned Parenthood — handed down indictments instead of two individuals responsible for undercover videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials illegally trafficking in fetal tissue.

Here’s more from Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune:

Some people thought — hoped might be a better word — that Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast would be charged with illegally trafficking organs and tissue of aborted fetuses. That followed sensational coverage of videos that purported to catch those officials talking in detail about those kinds of transactions.

The secretly recorded footage was collected by anti-abortion activists who presented themselves as potential buyers. They released their videos last year, reaping a whirlwind of news coverage and political attention for their sensational charges and their covert methods. Planned Parenthood was set reeling. Jubilant politicians and activists called on police and prosecutors to investigate and, if possible, to file charges.

That was the setup, and a phalanx of law enforcers got to work, including the Texas Rangers, Houston police and the Harris County district attorney’s office. A grand jury worked for more than two months, according to the DA’s office, and came up with no criminal charges against Planned Parenthood. Instead, they found the crime was in back of the cameras and not in front, charging David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with tampering with a government record — a second-degree felony. Daleiden faces an additional Class A misdemeanor indictment for prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

Other states, including Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Washington, had likewise opened similar investigations that ultimately cleared Planned Parenthood.

The organization, for its part, filed a federal civil racketeering lawsuit in mid-January against Daleiden, Merritt, their organization, the Center for Medical Progress, and others, contending that they launched an anti-abortion smear campaign with edited videos and false accusations about fetal tissue donation practices. That lawsuit is pending in San Francisco.

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