Courts & the Law, News

Cooper appoints AJ Fletcher’s Circosta to Elections, Ethics Board

Gov. Roy Cooper didn’t waste any time appointing a ninth member to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

He named Damon Circosta to the seat less than a day after the newly-appointed eight members of the Board nominated him and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell.

“It’s unbelievable to watch Republicans try to rig the rules of a system they’ve already gamed,” said Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter. “Damon Circosta is a qualified choice who was put forward unanimously by the Democrats and Republicans on the board.”

The eight Board members — four Democrats and four Republicans — met for the first time Wednesday after Cooper appointed them the previous Friday. They deadlocked five times along party lines before compromising on Circosta, the Democrats’ choice, and Mitchell, the Republicans’ choice.

NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted after Cooper’s appointment that they were disappointed he would reject a a former Chief Justice associated with the Democratic Party.

“Democrat Election Board members fought transparency, openness and inclusion, and rejected efforts to reach TRUE consensus,” his tweet stated.

Circosta is the Executive Director and Vice President of the AJ Fletcher Foundation. [Disclosure: Policy Watch was originally founded as a project of the Fletcher Foundation in 2004 and became a part of the North Carolina Justice Center in 2007. The Justice Center remains a Fletcher Foundation grantee.]

It’s not yet clear when the full Board will have it’s first meeting, but members said Wednesday there was a significant backlog of work that needed to get done after the Board remained vacant for more than a year.

Courts & the Law, News

Nationally-recognized NC judge could be unseated thanks to double-bunking

Judge J.H. Corpening

A judge who would be double-bunked in all three of the most recent judicial redistricting proposals received national recognition for his work earlier this month.

Judge J.H. Corpening, who sits on the bench in New Hanover County, received the David W. Soukup Judge of the Year Award at the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) national conference in Boston, according to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Corpening was honored for his longstanding work in juvenile court, his support and belief in the work of guardian ad litem volunteers and his innovations, including a program to reunite babies born to drug-addicted mothers.

“I’m incredibly honored and humbled by this award,” Corpening said. “It is the highest honor I’ve received in my professional career. The fact that it is given by the National CASA/Guardian ad Litem Association, and the fact that it is named for the man who created the CASA/Guardian ad Litem program 40 years ago magnifies the significance to me exponentially.”

Judges appoint CASA/Guardian ad Litem volunteers to represent the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

Corpening has been a champion of North Carolina’s Guardian ad Litem program since 1983, and he is currently the sole juvenile court judge in New Hanover County. He also attends and speaks at nearly all trainings and events for Guardian ad Litems in that county.

“He has worked as a change agent and a leader at the local, state, and national level to ensure that children have safety, permanence, and a voice in the court process,” CASA representatives stated in an announcement about the award.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin also praised Corpening for his work, noting that the award was well-deserved and that they were fortunate to have such a champion for children.

Despite his work and the national acclaim, Corpening could face losing his seat on the bench in 2020 if lawmakers approve any of their most recent judicial redistricting maps.

There are currently five district court judges in New Hanover County but only three seats available under Options A, B and C of the new maps, which were unveiled in February and are expected to be discussed in April.

One of the five judges’ terms ends this year, but the other four, including Corpening, end in 2020, and they would have to vie for only two available seats in the 2020 election if the General Assembly passes one of the proposed maps.

The next joint House and Senate committee on judicial reform and redistricting is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 11 in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. It is open to the public.

Courts & the Law, News

Elections, Ethics Board will meet Wednesday to name nominees for 9th seat

Eight members of the newly appointed State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement will meet for the first time at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Josh Lawson, general counsel for the agency, tweeted out notice of the meeting Monday morning.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday appointed members to the Board, which he has left vacant for the past year while pursuing litigation over the laws restructuring the agency. Litigation is ongoing.

The eight members consist of four Republicans and four Democrats, and there is a ninth seat that remains open for a member unaffiliated with either party.

At its first meeting, the Board is expected to name two nominees for Cooper to appoint to the vacant seat. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at 430 N. Salisbury Street.

Courts & the Law, Education, Legislature, News

After Parkland, N.C. Democratic lawmakers call for package of gun reforms

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, center, at a previous
N.C. General Assembly press conference.

More than a month after a gunman killed 17 in a Florida high school, several North Carolina Democrats called on state lawmakers Monday to pass a package of gun reforms that’s expected to include an expansion of background checks, raising the age for purchasing assault weapons, a ban on bump stocks and additional funding for school counselors and psychologists.

Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a veteran Durham Democrat, called the package “incremental legislation” that he hoped would have the support of Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly.

“We’re taking steps to move our state in the right direction,” said McKissick.

McKissick noted he’s also a victim of gun violence, referring to a reported 1985 incident in a North Carolina convenience store in which robbers reportedly wounded him with a sawed-off shotgun.

Monday’s press conference at the state legislature was hosted by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, and included multiple calls for “common sense” reforms from Democrats such as McKissick, Rep. Marcia Morey, Rep. Grier Martin and Sen. Jeff Jackson.

“We realize the issue of gun violence can be fraught with controversy,” said Chaudhuri. “But controversy should not be confused with common sense gun measures.”

No North Carolina Republicans have officially endorsed the proposals put forth Monday, but Democratic lawmakers insisted that the measures have “bipartisan” support, pointing out similar reforms were passed by Florida Republican lawmakers and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott this month.

No draft legislation was available yet Monday, but Democrats said the package will follow Florida Republicans in lifting the legal age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21 and banning bump stocks, which can be used to speed firing from semi-automatic rifles. A gunman reportedly used bump stocks last year when he allegedly killed 58 and injured more than 800 at a Las Vegas concert.

“This is the essence of bipartisanship,” said Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat.

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham)

The package would also include a “red flag” provision, said Morey, a retired district court judge from Durham, allowing courts to hold a hearing to determine if a “dangerous” individual’s guns should be taken away.

Morey compared her proposal to existing court protections for victims of domestic violence, who can petition courts to seize weapons and impose restraining orders on their alleged abusers.

Monday’s press conference followed several days after K-12 students nationwide walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence. 

Many of the ideas put forth Monday mirrored those made by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper last week, although lawmakers said they will also move to expand funding for school counselors and psychologists. It was unclear how much additional funding legislators would seek at press time.

McKissick said North Carolina employs one school psychologist for every 2,000 students. Nationally, schools have about one psychologist for every 700 students.

Meanwhile, he said the state has just one school counselor for every 375 students, compared to the national ratio, which is about one for every 250 students.

Lawmakers said they would also support an anonymous tip line statewide that would allow individuals to report persons that they believe to be dangerous.

Finally, the package would direct the state’s Center for Safer Schools to study whether additional school resource officers are need in K-12 schools.

Asked why the proposals would not include mandatory wait times for firearms purchases, McKissick said Democrats were hoping to build a consensus. A proposal on wait times would have generated “substantial pushback,” he said.

“You want to try to come up with issues that hopefully will get that bipartisan support.”

Bipartisan support will be pivotal for reforms in the Republican-dominated legislature. However, state Republicans have been reluctant to back any enhanced gun control measures since the Parkland shooting.

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, assembled a select panel on school safety to consider similar matters. That committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, at least one GOP lawmaker has joined in on calls to arm teachers, an idea that’s receiving a mostly icy reception from the state’s educators, according to an Elon University poll this month.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints Elections, Ethics Board after more than a year of vacancy

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed eight members today to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement after leaving it vacant for more than a year.

He was required to choose from a list of 12 nominees — six provided by the state chair of the Democratic Party and six provided by the state chair of the Republican Party.

Here are the eight members with edited descriptions provided by the Governor’s office:

  • Andy Penry of Raleigh as a Democratic member. Penry is an attorney at Penry Riemann.
  • Joshua Dale Malcolm of Pembroke as a Democratic member. Malcolm is the chief legal officer, general counsel and assistant secretary to the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees. Malcolm currently serves as a justice on the Supreme Court of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
  • Valerie Johnson of Durham County as a Democratic member. Johnson is an attorney at Copeley Johnson and Groninger.
  • Stella Anderson of Watauga County as a Democratic member. Anderson is a professor in the Department of Management for the College of Business at Appalachian State University.
  • Stacy “Four” Eggers, IV of Boone as a Republican member. Eggers is an attorney with Eggers Law.
  • John Randolph Hemphill of Raleigh as a Republican member. Hemphill is an attorney with Hemphill, Gelder and Monroe.
  • John Malachi Lewis of Mt. Pleasant as a Republican member. Lewis is the deputy counsel for the North Carolina Republican Party.
  • Ken Raymond of Winston Salem as a Republican member. Raymond owns and manages Triad Notary Service.

Lawmakers passed a measure in December 2016 merging the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission.

They have since changed the structure of the merged Board three times. House Bill 90, the most recent change which became law today, requires a 9-member board — four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member.

Those eight members Cooper appointed will select two unaffiliated nominees for Cooper to appoint to the ninth spot on the state Board.

Board spokesman Pat Gannon said that naming those two nominees would be the newly appointed Board’s first order of business at its first scheduled meeting.

A meeting date has not yet been set, but state law directs that it be held within 14 days. Meetings are open to the public.

“We congratulate the new members of the state Board and are very grateful they chose to serve at this important time,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the Board. “We look forward to getting to work immediately to tackle issues that have come up in the absence of a State Board and continue preparations for the 2018 elections.”

Cooper is still pursuing litigation over HB90 and the law that created the merged agency, Senate Bill 68. You can read more about that and the Board’s responsibilities here.

Mail-in absentee voting for the May 8 primary election begins Monday. One-stop early voting starts in a little over a month.

NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse congratulated Cooper on “appointing eight respected and qualified nominees.”

“We look forward to working with all eight members of the board appointed today, and the yet to be named member reserved for a person not aligned with any political party,” he said in an email.

He said the Board’s duty would be to make the “new era of bipartisan ethics and elections enforcement successful.”

“I know our nominees are committed to finding consensus and expanding voting opportunities that are fair for all,” he added. “However we got here, it is time to set aside the political battles over the Board and for both Republicans and Democrats to make the new structure work. North Carolina Republicans will do all we can to make that happen.”

The North Carolina Democratic Party declined to comment about the appointments.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshal congratulated the new Board members in an emailed statement.

“I look forward to working with them on a smooth transition of the Lobbying Compliance Division and its functions,” she said. “We have begun discussions with the Department of Administration and the other stakeholder agencies on how to transfer the Lobbying Compliance Division. We are confident this process will proceed promptly and efficiently.”

This is a breaking news story and will be edited as updates become available.