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Remember the “Star Chamber” bill, signed into law last summer by Gov. Pat McCrory? That’s the bill rushed into last minute passage giving the justices of the state Supreme Court the sole authority to discipline judges — including themselves – and allowing them to decide if, when and who to discipline in secret.

Aside from support from sitting Justices Mark Martin and Paul Newby — whom lawmakers then identified as pushing for passage — the bill drew widespread opposition from other judges and justices of the state Supreme Court as well as all living presidents of the state bar association, who in a letter asked the governor to refuse to sign it.

The bill became law nonetheless and, as current bar association president Catherine Arrowood notes in this News & Observer commentary, “for the first time in 40 years, North Carolina voters cast their ballots for judges without any information about pending judicial ethics complaints.”

In a call for repeal, Arrowood continues:

Permitting the Supreme Court to discipline itself does not have the ring of fairness. If a justice on the Supreme Court violates the Code of Judicial Standards while running for re-election or fails to recuse himself or herself appropriately, the Supreme Court itself will be conducting the hearing. And the public will not know about the fact of the proceeding unless and until the court decides if the justice accused is to be disciplined. I cannot imagine that the members of our court find this a palatable or proper process.


A secret trial behind closed doors is the hallmark of a totalitarian government (if indeed any trial is allowed at all), not a democracy. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that an accused, no matter his or her status, have a public and open trial. This presumption that our courts will be open, subject to very limited exceptions, also finds roots in the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, the press and public must be allowed reasonable access to view proceedings in our courts.

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voteWith just two days remaining to file a notice of candidacy for a seat on the state’s highest court, primaries look likely in at least two races with new candidates throwing their hats in the ring in recent weeks.

Justice Robin Hudson, running for re-election and challenged thus far by Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson, a Republican, now has another contender to face: Jeanette Doran, who filed her notice of candidacy yesterday.

Doran, recently named to head the unemployment benefits review panel, has been the executive director and general counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, an organization long associated with state budget director Art Pope.

By year-end 2013, Justice Hudson had raised $133,000 for her campaign; Judge Levinson had raised $63,000.

And in the race for the seat currently occupied by former Court of Appeals Judge Cheri Beasley, Winston-Salem conservative attorney Mike Robinson has declared his candidacy, joining Beasley and conservative Brunswick County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis. 

By year-end 2013 Justice Beasley had raised $81,000 for her campaign. Judge Lewis, who has yet to file a notice of candidacy, had raised $69,000.

In other races, Justice Mark Martin remains unopposed for the Chief Justice slot, and Court of Appeals judges Bob Hunter and Sam Ervin IV will face off for Martin’s associate justice seat. All have filed notices of candidacy.

Read more here about the upcoming Supreme Court race.