Mark MartinThe Charlotte Observer has reprinted the remarks that new state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin made at his swearing-in ceremony on Monday.

Lots of it was fairly standard stuff about improving efficiency and civics education, but at least two sections amount to direct repudiations of the state’s conservative political leaders on critically important topics — courts funding and transparency.

According to Martin, current funding for and transparency in the state judiciary are both inadequate. And on these points — if he’s really serious, that is — he’s dead on.

As Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey has reported repeatedly, funding for the state courts system has fallen to crisis levels under the current General Assembly and Governor and has reached the point at which citizens are simply being denied access to justice because the courts can’t afford basic things.

As McCloskey has also reported, the same can be said for the issue of transparency — most notably and egregiously in the enactment of the new “star chamber” law that allows the Supreme Court members to consider complaints against their own members (and mete out discipline) in complete secrecy.

Martin’s comments were fairly general  in nature, but let’s fervently hope that he was just being, ahem, judicious with his language, really means what he said and that he’s got the guts to talk back to his fellow Republicans on these critically important issues in the coming weeks.



With the budget focus still on education cuts and new Medicaid proposals, it’s easy to forget that plenty of other issues remain unresolved in the General Assembly.

Here’s a quick recap of proposed budget provisions affecting the courts and justice system.

Funding for the Administrative Office of the Court  Both the Senate and the House take an ax to system-wide funding of the courts. The Senate cuts technology funding to the courts by $3.7 million and the remaining AOC administrative appropriation by an additional $1.5 million. AOC fares only slightly better in the House budget, which directs cuts of $4.95 million without specifying where.

Cuts to Family Courts  The initial House budget guts Family Courts, eliminating $3 million in funding and 36 positions, a proposal in neither the Senate nor Governor’s budget. The bodies are still in disagreement over that proposal, though the House has since reduced the cuts to just Family Court administrators, eliminating $962,910 and 11 positions.

Legal Aid  TheSenate proposed cutting the court fees passed through the state bar to Legal Services to the tune of $1.8 million. The text providing for these cuts does not appear in the most recent compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13). Both bodies eliminate a $670,000 Access to Civil Justice grant to Legal Aid.

Public Defender  Both the House and Senate cut funds for indigent defense administrative costs, the House by $466,380, the Senate by $233,190 (including the elimination of the Public Defender Administrator).

State Bureau of Investigation/Crime Lab  Both bodies agree on transferring the SBI to Public Safety, but the Senate also wants to transfer the Crime Lab to DPS.

Three judge courts  The Senate also proposed substantive changes to the handling of constitutional challenges to state laws, requiring that all such cases be heard in Wake County by a panel of three judges selected from different parts of the state by the Chief Justice (similar to the process with redistricting challenges).

The Senate would also require that trial court orders temporarily blocking enforcement of a state law challenged as unconstitutional be automatically stayed (meaning that the challenged law remains enforceable while appeals are pursued).  And any such order would be directly appealable to the state Supreme Court – bypassing the Court of Appeals.

The text of these proposals does not appear in the most recent compromise draft of the budget (as of June 13).

For more on the initial Senate budget, read here.

For a further comparison of the Senate and House budgets, read here.


For much of their legal careers, David Boies and Ted Olson have represented big business, often finding themselves on opposite sides of the counsel table, as they did in the Bush v. Gore case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In recent years, though, they’ve teamed up on larger causes — taking California’s Proposition 8 case to the U.S. Supreme Court, for example.

Saving state courts from going over their own fiscal cliff has been another cause. In the short video below, they talk about what’s at stake.

Said Boies:  “The costs that are imposed on business and the rest of society, as a result of these cutbacks, are overwhelmingly larger — 10, 15, 20, 30 times more costs than you’re saving. And when you’re cutting a million dollars, but costing the economy fifteen or twenty-five million, everybody can see that that is not a sensible cut.”