News

BREAKING: Court of Appeals panel to reject scheme for judicial retention elections

According to multiple social media posts and a story by Mark Binker at WRAL.com, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals has indicated that it will strike down the new scheme for retention elections for state Supreme Court justices. This decision is a major defeat for yet another of the controversial electoral changes enacted by conservative majorities in the General Assembly in recent years. Here’s Binker:

The three-judge Superior Court panel that heard a challenge to the law earlier this week has notified attorneys on both sides of the case that they have found for those seeking to upend the law.

“The court did notify our attorneys today that it is granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment,” said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.

Michael Crowell, an attorney for Sabra Faires, a long-time legislative staffer who challenged the law, confirmed the court had relayed the same message to him.

For more background on the case and what is at stake, check out NC Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey’s front page story from earlier this week by clicking here.

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Court of Appeals cancels arguments — Not

Today’s News & Observer reports that Court of Appeals Judge Cressie Thigpen’s imminent departure from the bench has led to a cancellation of  this week’s oral arguments:

There’s an unexpected reshuffling of the calendar at the state Court of Appeals. All of the hearings that were scheduled for this week have been postponed, to be re-scheduled later.

It’s apparently because Judge Cressie Thigpen lost his bid for re-election this month and can’t take on new cases. He was the only judge among the three incumbents running who lost. Thigpen will be replaced by Chris Dillon in January.

Well, not exactly.  Of the seven cases scheduled for argument this week, only the one case on which Judge Thigpen was scheduled to sit is being rescheduled, according to Clerk of Court John Connell — the rationale being that Thigpen should not hear argument on a case in which he’d be unable to deliberate and render a decision at a later date.

The rest of the Court’s calendar remains unchanged.

Thigpen was also scheduled to hear one of the four cases set for argument in December.  Connell said that it was unclear yet what the court would do with that argument, either reschedule or reconfigure the three-judge panels so that argument could proceed on the scheduled date.

As for those cases on which Judge Thigpen sat that are still awaiting a decision: “They’ll get those done,” Connell said.

 

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Judging themselves

Here’s an interesting twist to the growing perception that partisanship and private money are creeping into judicial elections: What happens when elected judges are asked to interpret campaign finance rules that have governed their own campaigns?

That’s what’s playing out in a case argued yesterday before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals involving provisions of the state’s “stand by your ad” law. That law requires candidates or committees to disclose who’s paid for television ads they run.

After the 2010 election, the Friends of Joe Sam Queen — the committee for the Democratic candidate running for the 47th Senate District seat that year — sued his challenger Ralph Hise’s committee and the Republican Executive Committee for violations of that law.

Hise went on to win that seat, and is now seeking re-election. Joe Sam Queen is running for a House seat this year.

In the case before the court, Queen claimed that the Republicans paid for Hise ads but didn’t disclose that, allowing the ads to air instead with the statement “paid for by Ralph Hise for Senate.”

His committee wants to collect the nearly $250,000 Hise paid for those ads as damages, as permitted under the “stand by your ad” law.

But the Hise committee said he paid for the ads by virtue of an account the Republicans had set up with the campaign’s media company, American Media, for the benefit of candidates. The party deposited funds into that account, but only after Hise approved an ad could American Media draw down on that account to pay for air time and expenses. Read more