News

Justice Edmunds recuses himself from challenge to retention election law

State-Supreme-Court-400As noted on the order sheet released today by the state Supreme Court, Justice Bob Edmunds has recused himself from taking part in the appeal concerning the new Supreme Court judicial retention election law.

Under that law, enacted in October and effective immediately, sitting Supreme Court justices running for re-election would be subjected to an up-or-down vote rather than face off against a challenger.

Edmunds is the only justice up for re-election and would have been the first to run without a challenger.

Edmunds

Critics of the law have said that Republican lawmakers pushed for an early effective date so as to give Edmunds an advantage and help ensure continued Republican control on the state’s highest court.

A three-judge panel struck down the new law  as unconstitutional in early March.  That ruling is now on appeal before the Supreme Court, which will hear argument on an expedited base, set for April 13, 2015.

In the interim, the state Board of Elections has opened up the filing period for challengers to the seat held by Edmunds, scheduling a primary election on the same date as congressional district elections, June 7.

The absence of Edmunds in the case raises the specter of a 3-3 split by the remaining justices, thus leaving the 3-judge panel ruling intact.

For more on the issues in the case, click here.

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News

Board of Elections opens up state Supreme Court race

This post has been updated to reflect the filing of an appeal by the state. See below.

State-Supreme-Court-400In the wake of an order entered last week by a three-judge Superior Court panel striking down the judicial retention election law as unconstitutional, the state Board of Elections has opened up a new filing period for candidates wishing to run for the Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Robert H. Edmunds Jr.

Under that law, Edmunds would have been subjected to an up-or-down vote as opposed to facing off against a challenger.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from today’s BOE announcement:

Qualified candidates may file from noon on Wednesday, March 16 to noon on Friday, March 25 at the State Board of Elections office at 441 North Harrington Street in Raleigh.  The filing fee for this office is 1% of the salary. If required, a primary will be held on June 7 to coincide with the primary for U.S. House of Representatives.

The Board acted to ensure that the election could move forward in the absence of any further judicial intervention, should at least two more candidates file, warranting a primary.

New candidates will have some catching up to do, as Justice Edmunds organized his re-election campaign more than a year ago and had raised $86,000 as of the end of February.

For more on the pending lawsuit in Faires v. NC Board of Elections, click here.

(UPDATE:  The state has filed an appeal of the decision in Faires, and the parties in the case have jointly asked to state Supreme Court to expedite briefing and oral argument in order to have a resolution as far ahead of the general election in November as possible.  What this means for the filing and primary calendar set down by the state Board of Elections today is unclear. At the very least, the uncertainty of whether a contested election November will even be allowed in November will have some chilling effect on the willingness of potential candidates to file and fund a campaign.)

Uncategorized

NC Supreme Court gets a failing grade for financial disclosure

North Carolina earned an “F” for judicial financial disclosure, according to a report released this morning by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Center looked at three years of financial records submitted by state supreme court justices and evaluated the enforcement of disclosure rules, making these findings:

  • Forty-two states and the District of Columbia received a failing grade in a Center evaluation of disclosure requirements for supreme court judges.
  • Judges in three states — Montana, Utah and Idaho — aren’t required to file any disclosure reports at all.
  • Despite the poor disclosure rules, the Center’s investigation found 35 examples of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads as well as other entanglements.
  • In 14 instances over the past three years justices participated in cases where they or their spouses owned stock in companies involved in the litigation.
  • Of the 273 supreme court justices required to disclose stock holdings, 107 reported owning stock.
  • Twelve states rely on self-policing disciplinary bodies — made up of high-court justices themselves — to enforce the courts’ ethical rules.

North Carolina fared relatively well among the states in terms of the disclosure required of supreme court justices (ranked 25th), but less so for judicial discipline, thanks to the “star chamber” bill passed by the General Assembly this summer which, as first reported by Policy Watch in July, allows the justices to discipline themselves in secret.

The report also highlighted instances in which Justices Paul Newby and Robert Edmunds participated in cases despite having financial interests in programs or companies before the court.

In one instance, Newby participated in cases concerning payments from the Tobacco Transition Payment Program, of which he was a beneficiary by virtue of a farm he owns.

In another, Justice Edmunds participated in a case decided in favor of Wells Fargo, despite owning stock in the company.

The Center’s findings come at a time when the transparency and impartiality of the state’s justices, Newby in particular, have been questioned in connection with the pending redistricting lawsuit.  Plaintiffs there had asked Justice Newby to step out of the case, given that his 2012 reelection campaign had received more than a million dollars in contributions from the Republican State Leadership Committee — one of the principal architects of the redistricting plan at issue.   That request was denied without any explanation from the court.

Read the full N.C. report here.