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.

Courts & the Law, News

North Carolina’s “Magistrate Recusal” Law to be heard in federal court next week

Next Wednesday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia will hear arguments in Ansley v. Warren, the federal lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2. SB2, passed two years ago, allows North Carolina magistrates who do not believe in marriage equality to opt out of their judicial oath to uphold the United States Constitution.

Ansley v. Warren challenges Senate Bill 2 under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

LGBT advocates are speaking out against the harms of SB2 ahead of the May 10th hearing:

“This law distorts the true meaning of religious freedom. From the day it was proposed, it’s been clear that SB2 is about one thing and one thing only – finding a new way to discriminate against same-sex couples. We will keep standing up to discrimination until LGBTQ people are equal in every sphere of life,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

“SB2 is a misrepresentation of one of the most fundamental American core values as it opens the door for discrimination against loving same-sex couples behind a veil of religious freedom. People of faith across North Carolina know that discriminatory bills like SB2 is not what being a person of faith is about,” said Chris Sgro, Executive Director of Equality NC.

According to the Campaign for Southern Equality the plaintiffs include three couples:

  • Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, a married couple and taxpayers in McDowell County who were plaintiffs in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Reisinger, which struck down Amendment One on October 10, 2014
  • Carol Ann Person and Thomas Person, a married couple and taxpayers in Moore County who were denied the ability to marry in 1976 after two magistrates in Forsyth County claimed that their religious beliefs against interracial marriage would not permit it. (A subsequent lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ordering that the magistrates in Forsyth County comply with Loving v. Virginia)
  • Kelley Penn and Sonja Goodman, an engaged couple and taxpayers in Swain County.

NC Policy Watch Courts and Law reporter Melissa Boughton will have more on this story as it makes its way through federal court.

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.

Courts & the Law, News

Chief Justice joins proponents of Raise the Age bill to encourage ‘very modest revision of our law’

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin speaks at a press conference urging legislators to finally raise the age of juvenile prosecution. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

North Carolina is the last state to prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, but that may soon change.

Tom Murry, chief legal counsel for governmental affairs at the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), said he expects legislation to raise the age of juvenile prosecution to move in the next 10 days.

He was joined Monday by legal and criminal justice leaders, experts, advocates and stakeholders for a press conference urging legislators to pass House Bill 280.

“What we’re proposing is a very modest revision of our law,” said N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin. “It is simply that when our teenagers are accused of nonviolent offenses that they are not automatically tried in adult court.”

He said a recent Civitas poll showed 70 percent of North Carolinians supported raise the age legislation, and that there were already diversion programs for teens in at least 11 counties.

“A justice system only works when similar cases are heard in a similar fashion,” Martin said. “We already have raise the age in many areas of our state; now we need to make sure that process is there for every one of our young people in North Carolina.”

Martin convened a 65-member independent, multidisciplinary commission over a year ago to study the judicial system and make recommendations to strengthen the courts. One of the commission committees studied raise the age issues exhaustively and its recommendations served as a foundation for HB280.

The committee also helped sway the N.C. Sheriff’s Association to supporting raise the age legislation. The organization has historically been opposed to such efforts.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison spoke at the press conference in support of HB280 but told legislators that the bill would require some money. Just how much is still yet to be determined, according to Murry.

There’s also expected to be some resistance to raising the age of juvenile prosecution for those accused of low-level felonies. Martin’s commission recommended including those low-level felonies in legislation, but Murry seemed happy to compromise when the time comes.

“There was a lot of folks doing high fives when we passed the misdemeanor-only bill [in the House a few years ago],” Murry said. “I think we can push the policy in the right direction without sacrificing public safety, and so I think those mid-level felonies need to be looked at.”

He seemed confident that some sort of legislation would be passed this session no matter what, and credited Martin’s commission for getting the ball rolling. He also pointed to the report when asked why he thought legislators would listen to stakeholders on the raise the age issue and not other bills aimed at making changes to the judiciary.

“I think the biggest X-factor is this report right here,” he said, holding the document up. “This was a bipartisan, multidisciplinary approach and we have enough evidence that even this legislature’s going to listen to this one.”