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As noted in the N&O,  Justices Robin Hudson and Cheri Beasley — both of whom are running for re-election to the state Supreme Court — are hosting a “combo-fundraiser” tonight at the Advocates for Justice building, bringing in some signature supporters including former N.C. Chief Justices Henry Frye, Burley Mitchell and James Exum, former Court of Appeals Judges Sidney Eagles Jr. and K. Edward Greene, Cressie Thigpen, David Kirby, Roger and Wade Smith, Phil Baddour, Doug and Peggy Abrams and Janet Ward Black.

But Hudson and Beasley are not the first to kick-off fundraising for the four Supreme Court slots up for grabs in 2014. They’re more likely playing catch up to Justice Mark Martin, who by the end of June of this year had already raised $95,000 for his bid to be elected Chief Justice.

Read his report here.

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.

 Pat McCrory 4Among the controversial bills that the Governor attempted (probably successfully) to approve under the news media radar this afternoon was the hugely controversial proposal detailed here by NC Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey last month to establish a secret and unaccountable “star chamber” system for disciplining wayward state judges.

The bill was opposed by both the N.C. Bar Association and the N.C. Advocates for Justice – which represents the state’s trial lawyers.

All in all, this afternoon appears to be shaping up as the icing on the cake of what is, without a doubt, one of the most disastrous years in public policy in state history.

Have a great weekend.

A new survey by a Republican polling firm finds that legislators may want to think twice before scrapping North Carolina’s embattled judicial public financing program. Here’s more on the findings from North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections:

‘The poll, conducted by a firm that has worked for Sen. Jesse Helms and many leading conservatives, shows that 67 percent of Republican women especially like the fact that the program has increased female representation on the state’s top courts – and by a 57 percent majority, they are less likely to vote for lawmakers who end the public financing option and allow money to play a greater role in judicial elections. Overall, a super-majority (68 percent) of voters said they would hold lawmakers accountable at the polls for ending judicial public financing.

Sixty-one percent of voters are particularly worried about the potential for corruption if the program is eliminated and say the program “should remain in place because even the hint of bribery is too much in our judicial system.”

poll released last month by the NC Center for Voter Education indicates the program has broad support, with backing by 67 percent of Republican voters and 65 percent of independents.

The new poll by the Republican-leaning Tarrance Group was commissioned by NC Voters for Clean Elections and delved into more specifics on voters’ feelings about the program. Leaders from both parties came together in 2004 to implement the Public Campaign Fund, in order to relieve judicial candidates from the big-money chase. Contrary to the pessimism about government programs, supporters say this one has clearly worked.

A majority of the NC Supreme Court justices are now women for the first time in history – and all have used the program to win election. Overall, 80 percent of appellate court candidates have used the program, including all four African-Americans appellate judges elected since 2004 and eight of the ten Republicans who won contested elections.

Despite years of success and bipartisan support, the program is under attack. The state Senate eliminates the program in its budget bill passed recently, and a similar provision was proposed by the governor’s budget. Read More

State Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson has announced that she will step down on Dec. 17, according to the News & Observer and WRAL.

Timmons-Goodson, the first African-American woman to serve on the court, was appointed in 2006 by then Gov. Mike Easley and re-elected to an eight-year term later that year.

Prior to serving on the Supreme Court, Timmons-Goodson was a Court of Appeals Judge  from 1997 to 2005.

She received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, served as an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County from 1981 to 1983, and was then appointed to a district court judgeship and re-elected to that position in 1986, 1990 and 1994.

Gov. Beverly Perdue will appoint a successor, who will serve the remainder of Timmons-Goodson’s term, which runs through 2014.