Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints new judges to the state bench

Gov. Roy Cooper has appointed six new judges to the state bench — one to Superior Court and five to District Court.

Each of the appointees are replacing judges who retired or who were appointed to other judgeships.

“Superior and District Court judges are so important to our justice system and hear cases critical to their communities every day,” Cooper stated in a news release. “These appointees bring strong experience to the bench and I believe they will serve the people of our state well.”

He appointed Judge William “Bill” Wood to the Superior Court bench in Guilford County to replace Judge Lindsay Davis, who retired earlier this year.

Wood has served as an assistant district attorney in Guilford County for nearly thirty years, where he has specialized in prosecuting violent crimes, according to Cooper’s office.

Cooper appointed Judge Keith Mason to the District Court serving Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties. He is replacing Judge Michael Paul, who retired earlier this year.

Mason served as an attorney in private practice for more than 25 years and previously served as an assistant district attorney in the same counties he was appointed to as a judge.

Judge Sophia Gatewood Crawford was appointed as a district court judge serving Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Hoke counties. She is replacing Judge Lisa Thacker, who retired earlier this year, according to Cooper’s Office.

Gatewood previously served as a trial attorney in private practice for 17 years and as a senior assistant district attorney.

Cooper appointed Marcus Shields as a District Court judge serving Guilford County — he replaces Judge Avery Crump, who retired earlier this year.

Shields served as an attorney in private practice, as an attorney for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and as an assistant public defender. He has also served as an adjunct professor of law at Elon University School of Law.

Cooper appointed Faith Fickling as a District Court judge serving Mecklenburg County. She is replacing Judge Donnie Hoover, who was recently appointed to a Superior Court judgeship.

Fickling served as an attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina for nearly 12 years and previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar.

Roy Wiggins was appointed as a District Court judge in Mecklenburg County. He is replacing Judge Karen Eady-Williams, who was recently appointed to Superior Court judgeship.

Wiggins served as an attorney in private practice for over 20 years and previously as an assistant district attorney.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Poll: North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over appointment process

Image courtesy of High Point University Survey Research Center

A new poll shows that the majority of North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over any sort of appointment process.

The High Point University Survey Research Center and Department of Criminal Justice conducted a statewide poll and analysis on residents’ level of awareness and support for potential changes to the way the state appoints judges.

Lawmakers have been considering plans for judicial redistricting and various merit selection plans — either of which would significantly change the way judges are elected. The short session began Wednesday and it is expected such changes could be put up for a vote.

The poll — which surveyed 513 adults between Feb. 19 and 25 — found that 49 percent of participants were unaware that lawmakers were considering changing the way it appoints judges from direct elections to appointment by the governor or the General Assembly.

A total of 47 percent of respondents had some level of awareness, including 11 percent who said they were highly aware, 16 percent moderately aware and 20 percent slightly aware.

A 75 percent majority strongly prefer to directly elect judges, while 8 percent prefer appointment by the governor and 10 percent prefer appointment by the General Assembly.

“We found that almost half of the registered voters we surveyed were aware of the issue,” said Bobby Little, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. “In our analysis, we didn’t find any similarities in the demographics of those who prefer to keep judge appointments election-based. They represented a wide variety of people across the board.”

Little and Thomas Dearden, assistant professor of criminal justice, analyzed and recently produced a preliminary report about their findings, which they plan to submit for publication.

“This study made sense for our department as judges are an integral part of the criminal justice system,” Little said. “Judges are critical to the outcomes of justice, and we hope these results are of value to the general public who may or may not be familiar with this conversation.”

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Come on, Senator Tillis, do the right thing on this one

The Right’s ongoing judicial coup d’é·tat will sink to a remarkable low today when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee — including, by all indications, one of its most loyal champions of reaction, Senator Thom Tillis — is expected to advance three extreme Trump nominees to serve lifetime appointments as federal judges. And while that may sound like just a normal day in Washington during these dark times, there is another aspect to the story that makes it even more outrageous and maddening: the votes will take place on the anniversary of the historic Supreme Court school desegregation ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education and — get this — the would-be judges in question refuse to endorse the landmark decision.

This is from a post yesterday from national civil rights leader Vanita Gupta:

“In response to a straightforward question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal last month, Louisiana district court nominee Wendy Vitter refused to say whether the Supreme Court correctly decided Brown v. Board of Education. It was a stunning moment caught on video.

Given that millions of people watched this video, one would imagine the coaching sessions for Trump’s nominees would have prepared them for the question to be asked again, but just two weeks later, Trump’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Andrew Oldham, joined four White male district court nominees, including Eastern District of Texas nominee Michael Truncale, in also refusing to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided.

It wasn’t a trick question. Current Supreme Court justices—including Justices Thomas and Gorsuch—supported Brown at their nominations hearings.

Considering that the Senate Judiciary Committee stands poised to vote on their nominations this Thursday—64 years following the groundbreaking and unanimous Brown decision—their refusal to agree with this landmark ruling should serve as a wake-up call for what President Trump is trying to do to our independent courts.”

Gupta concludes this way:

“Beyond their disqualifying refusal to answer this question, these nominees have records that are deeply concerning to the civil and human rights community. In addition to a history of hostility to immigrant rights, Vitter has embraced fringe and discredited views about contraception?—?views that she failed to disclose to the Senate. Thirty-nine-year-old Oldham has worked to restrict voting rights, immigrant rights and women’s health—as well as seeking to undermine environmental protection and gun safety. He has even questioned the very existence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Michael Truncale has echoed Trump’s fear-mongering about the Mexican border and has called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

By voting to advance Vitter, Oldham, and Truncale to the Senate floor on Thursday, senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be affirming that these nominees’ extreme views are now acceptable, that people in America do not deserve fair-minded jurists on the federal bench, and that Brown v. Board of Education was not correctly decided. All committee members must stand on the side of justice and protect our federal courts by voting to reject these three extreme judicial nominees.”

Come on Senator Tillis, do the right thing.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

The warm-up for November has arrived

Granted, there will be a lot more on the line six months from now when the first fully-fledged opportunity to render a verdict on Trumpism arrives, but today’s primary election is extremely important as well.

As this morning’s Wilmington Star News explains in its lead editorial:

“This is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session

Are citizens going to put a ballot where their mouth is?

Political passions have been running high since Donald Trump’s victory. Marchers have hit the streets and social media is in maximum overdrive on all sides. Not a day goes by that we don’t receive a letter and/or a swarm of Buzzes with passionate political pleas.

But talk is cheap — political energy is for naught unless people vote. And May 8 is a big test, as North Carolina voters choose candidates for Nov. 6, the first post-Trump-win general election. While Trump’s name is not on the ballot, his presidency looms large over today’s primary — perhaps not on specific issues, but certainly on general political direction and party momentum.

Primaries, of course, are intraparty affairs — there are no clashes among D’s, R’s and L’s today, but turnout and which candidates get their party’s backing should provide some insight on what to expect this fall….

With political passions seemingly high on all sides, we hope to see a better-than-usual turnout. Granted, we’ll take greater civic engagement any way we can get it, but voter turnout shouldn’t have to rely on passions running high. We should stay informed about our government and vote regularly, not because we are angry or suddenly motivated by a big issue, but because it’s our primary responsibility as citizens in a representative democracy.

So give someone a ride to the polls; take your children or grandchildren (school is out for many) and let them see democracy in action; vote in honor or in memory of a veteran, perhaps one who died so you could exercise this right.

Whatever it takes, get out today and perform your most important civic responsibility. If you voted early, thank you.

Remember, this is your time to govern. On Election Day, the PEOPLE are in session, and there is work to be done. How can we legitimately criticize our leaders for not fulfilling their governing duties if we do not fulfill our own?

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. You can find your polling place and a sample ballot at vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Leading voices for civil rights to gather on May 15 in Durham for conference on NC’s broken criminal justice system

North Carolinians who care about civil rights and the desperate need to improve our flawed criminal justice system will not want to miss this event:

“Criminal Justice Debt: Punishing the Poor in North Carolina”

May 15, 9:30-2:30

Great Hall, NC Central University School of Law
640 Nelson St., Durham

Defendants in criminal cases are frequently caught in a web of fines and fees imposed at all stages of the criminal justice process. For poor defendants, these costs are often unpayable. Set up to fail and sanctioned with additional fees, extended probation, license revocation and–in violation of constitutional law–jail, individual defendants, and their families and communities, are driven deeper into crisis, even as they funnel millions of dollars into state coffers.

Please join us for this important discussion on ways to reform the criminal justice debt trap.

Cosponsored by ACLU of North Carolina, Forward Justice, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, North Carolina Central University School of Law, North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, North Carolina Public Defender Committee on Racial Equity, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

The Conference is free and open to the public though registration is required.

Agenda and registration link: https://goo.gl/forms/XPcDWYU5riT24bPF3