Archives

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

 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.

Uncategorized

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

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

For a non-partisan election, there’s a lot of conservative money being funneled toward the campaign to re-elect Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby. You just have to follow the thread.

And with just days left until the election, the superPAC NC Justice for All — the largest donor to the superPAC NC Judicial Coalition, formed to support the re-election of Newby – still has hundreds of thousands to spend.

It had little in its coffers through July, but since then the dollars have been rolling in. According to its third quarter report filed with the state board of elections on Oct. 29, Justice for All NC had received more than $1 million in contributions through Oct. 20, with another $338,000 posted after that date.

The bulk of that money — $860,000 — came from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington D.C., a group with a keen interest in the outcome of the redistricting case likely to land in the state Supreme Court over the next year or two. That’s an interest shared by several state conservatives who’ve donated to the RSLC – in September alone, Art Pope’s Variety Stores donated $150,000, western Carolina businessman Phil Drake, $50,000, and Bob Luddy (who also donated $25,000 to the Judicial Coalition) $50,000.

Thus far, Justice for All has spent $720,000 of that money to help the Judicial Coalition foot the $1.6 million bill for the airing of the “Newby Tough but Fair” banjo ads. It has spent little other than that, with $25,000 going to polling and another $16,000 on legal and accounting fees.

Also donating in a big way to Justice for All to help push Newby across the finish line are the pro-school choice American Federation for Children in Washington ($100,000); tobacco affiliate RAI Services ($100,000); pro-medical liability reform group North Carolinians for Affordable Health Care ($100,000); medical liability insurance company Medical Mutual ($75,000); and a number of smaller state PACS and individuals.

Justice for All was formed back in May by Amy B. Ellis — who also formed Vote for Marriage NC back in Nov. 2011 and ACT NOW in 2009. The committee’s stated purpose is to “promote justice for all citizens and support qualified candidates for judicial office.”