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Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 3.53.57 PMNo cuts, but no $30 million either.

That sums up the news for the state’s judicial system per Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed 2015-2017 budget released yesterday.

The additional $16 million the governor would give the courts “for essential services” is a far cry from the $30 million Chief Justice Mark Martin asked for just a day earlier as he prepared for his State of the Judiciary speech.

“I’m asking for $30 million, because we need $30 million,” Martin told WRAL, saying that was the bare minimum the state judicial system needed to get back to ground zero.

The governor’s funding would begin the restoring of the system’s depleted operating budget, with monies to be used for “costs associated with jurors, witnesses, interpreters, expert witnesses for prosecutors, equipment maintenance, and hardware and software.”

As part of his plan, the governor would also appropriate $1.2 million to expand the Business Court to two additional locations, “as recommended by the North Carolina Economic Development Board.”

Other proposals affecting Justice & Public Safety include:

  • Fund the full five percent step increase for eligible State Troopers in each year of the biennium.
  • Implement a new salary schedule for nearly ten thousand corrections officers, reflecting the level of the prisons in which they work and updating a pay scale last increased in the mid-1980s.
  • Provide funding for the Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation, and Alcohol Law Enforcement to replace aging law enforcement vehicles to improve safety and reduce maintenance costs.
  • Increase funding to pay private assigned counsel contracted to represent indigent clients throughout the state to $5.8 million.
  • Establish behavior health treatment units at eight high security prisons across the state and increases resources for treatment of inmates with behavioral health needs.
  • Open another 72 inpatient residential mental health beds at the Central Prison Health Care Facility.
  • Provide funds to the Governor’s Crime Commission, which will award grants to law enforcement agencies to hire staff to use data analysis to locate and rescue children in danger.
  • Support law enforcement and local prosecutors with additional funding to improve crime lab operations and reduce criminal case backlogs.
  • Support a recommendation from the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform (NC GEAR) initiative to transfer the Animal Welfare section from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Public Safety and increase resources to allow animal welfare to be more effectively addressed by the law enforcement community.
News

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.