Courts & the Law, Education, News

North Carolina legislators say school boards should not have sued over state’s $730 million debt

State Rep. Nelson Dollar says local school boards should not have sued state agencies over a $730 million debt to schools.

Top lawmakers in the General Assembly say the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) and 20 local boards of education should not have sued in their latest attempt to collect on a $730 million debt to schools, WRAL reported.

The response from legislators came shortly after school board leaders announced this week that they would sue to extend a 2008 Superior Court judgement that ordered state agencies to repay civil penalty funds that should have been diverted to K-12 technology.

The judge said agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Revenue and UNC kept that money for other purposes from 1996 to 2005, in violation of their constitutional obligation.

Officials with the NCSBA say they unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate repayment appropriated by lawmakers over the last decade.

From WRAL:

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the House’s senior budget writer, said he expects lawmakers will look for a way to begin paying back the judgment in next year’s legislative session. But he said filing another lawsuit wasn’t the best way to resolve the issue.

“I don’t believe that that was a very good use of their time and energy or a good use of the time and energy of the General Assembly,” Dollar said.

“We had no choice,” Bruce Mildwurf, a spokesman for the School Boards Association, said in an email, citing the expiration of the 2008 judgment next week.

Mildwurf said the association has worked with lawmakers for several years to address the debt, but legislation never passed.

Leanne Winner, the group’s director of governmental relations, sent a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger in March, advising that the association would go back to court and asking for a settlement discussion. There was no response to the letter.

“As they well know, just sending one letter is not the way you really go about it,” Dollar said. “That’s usually an opening, and then you start coming to the members who work on education appropriations and these issues and sit down and have the dialogue on that, you know, as opposed to rushing off to court.”

Dollar said the School Boards Association didn’t approach him about money owed, and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said the group didn’t mention it to him, either.

“I will say that, in 10 years, I’ve never spoken to the School Boards Association about this issue. So, it is not something that’s been on the front burner,” said Jackson, D-Wake.

Still, he said, the constitution is clear that money from fines and forfeitures goes to public schools, and the state owes the districts the money.

“It’s certainly a large enough number. It’s something that we should take seriously and talk about, and it would be, I think, a good idea to do that in the interim so that we can come back in January with a plan,” Jackson said.

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Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NY Times highlights stories of North Carolinians charged with illegal voting

The New York Times did a deep dive into the prosecution of 12 people in Alamance County charged with illegally voting in the 2016 presidential election.

The 12 Alamance County residents, nine of whom are Black, were all on probation or parole for felony convictions at the time they voted, which is not legal in North Carolina, the newspaper reports.

The cases are rare compared with the tens of millions of votes cast in state and national elections. In 2017, at least 11 people nationwide were convicted of illegal voting because they were felons or noncitizens, according to a database of voting prosecutions compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Others have been convicted of voting twice, filing false registrations or casting a ballot for a family member.

The case against the 12 voters in Alamance County — a patchwork of small towns about an hour west of the state’s booming Research Triangle — is unusual for the sheer number of people charged at once. And because nine of the defendants are black, the case has touched a nerve in a state with a history of suppressing African-American votes.

The Times reports that local civil-rights groups and Black leaders urged the district attorney (Pat Nadolski, a Republican) to drop the prosecution, saying that Black voters were being disproportionately punished for an unwitting mistake.

African-Americans in North Carolina are more likely to be disqualified from voting because of felony convictions; their rate of incarceration is more than four times that of white residents, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization.

“It smacks of Jim Crow,” said Barrett Brown, the head of the Alamance County N.A.A.C.P. Referring to the district attorney, he added, “I don’t think he targeted black people. But if you cast that net, you’re going to catch more African-Americans.”

Mr. Nadolski said that race and ethnicity are not a factor in any case he prosecutes.

Reporter Jack Healy interviewed five of the accused Alamance residents, who all told him their voting was a mistake — they didn’t understand the voter forms they signed and didn’t know the law.

Nadolski told Healy he was trying to maintain the integrity of the voting system.

Activists have protested outside the county courthouse and asked supporters to flood the district attorney’s office with letters and phone calls on the defendants’ behalf.

Whitney Brown, 32, said that no judge, lawyer or probation officer ever told her that she had temporarily lost her right to vote after she pleaded guilty to a 2014 charge of writing bad checks. Her sentence did not include prison time.

By November 2016, she was complying with her probation and focused on moving ahead with her life, caring for her two sons, who are now 6 and 9 years old, and taking online classes to become a medical receptionist. So when her mother invited her to come with her to vote for president, Ms. Brown said she did so without a second thought.

Months later, she got a letter from state election officials telling her she appeared to have voted illegally. “My heart dropped,” she said.

You can read the full article here, which includes more information about and interviews with the “Alamance 12.”

Courts & the Law, News

NC Supreme Court candidate will file lawsuit if lawmakers override Cooper veto

If lawmakers vote this weekend to override Senate Bill 3, which restores a 90-day party registration requirement, the Supreme Court candidate they are targeting intends to file a lawsuit.

Chris Anglin, a 32-year-old Raleigh attorney, changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican about two months ago and then put his hat in the ring for a seat on the high court, challenging incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson and well-known civil rights attorney Anita Earls.

The Republican Party immediately called Anglin out for switching parties and Dallas Woodhouse vowed to treat him “like the enemy he is.” It wasn’t long after that Republican lawmakers called a special legislative session and crafted SB3, which changed the rules about which judicial candidates could have a party designation by their name on the November ballot.

“The party information listed by each of the following candidates’ names is shown only if the candidates’ party affiliation or unaffiliated status is the same as on their voter registration at the time they filed to run for office and 90 days prior to that filing,” the bill states.

Anglin and one other judicial candidate are the only ones who would be affected by that language in the upcoming election.

“Every child understands changing the rules in the middle of game is wrong,” Anglin wrote in a release. “So do voters. Lawmakers should consider that before walking the plank on this vote.”

He said he filed to run for a seat on the Supreme Court “to stand up for an independent judiciary, to give a voice to disaffected Republicans who no longer recognize their party and are appalled at the assaults on our democracy happening every day on a state and federal level and to make the point that partisan judicial elections are a bad idea.”

He accused the General Assembly of being relentless in their attacks on the judiciary and of trying to rig the election.

“Even now they are trying to game the system by waiting over a week to take a vote on the Governor’s veto in order to try and run out the clock, and prevent any access to the Judiciary for relief,” Anglin added in the release. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Anglin states at the end of the news release that he will file a lawsuit at the earliest opportunity Monday if lawmakers do override the Governor’s veto of SB3 as part of his continued fight for an independent judiciary.

The 90-day requirement that lawmakers resurrected is one that was the status quo until they changed it recently to allow for more ballot access as part of a larger measure that eliminated judicial primary races this year. The Democratic Party wanted Republicans to leave the 90-day requirement alone, but they refused — even in court — and only changed it back when it didn’t work in their favor.

Anglin has been the clear target of SB3 — lawmakers have said it themselves — but there is another candidate for judicial office that took advantage of the elimination of the 90-day requirement. Rebecca Edwards, who is running for a Wake County District Court seat, changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat on June 1, according to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

Candidate filing took place from June 18 through June 29. If lawmakers override the Governor’s veto of SB3, Anglin’s and Edwards’ names will still appear on the ballot this fall; they just won’t have a party affiliation listed like the other candidates.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Confused about the judicial appointment constitutional amendment? Read this

A professor from the University of North Carolina School of Government has taken a stab at trying to decipher a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November having to do with the appointment of judicial vacancies.

Shea Denning, a professor of public law and government, wrote a blog post explaining the “constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.”

She starts by reviewing how judges and justices are elected in North Carolina, explains special superior court judgeships and then details how judicial vacancies are currently filled. Then she cites an example to help the readers understand exactly how it all works.

Suppose Judge A is elected in 2010 to an eight-year term of office as a superior court judge. Judge A retires in March 2016, creating a vacancy for a term of office that is set to expire on January 1, 2019. The next general election held more than 60 days after the vacancy occurs is in November 2016. The superior court judgeship formerly held by Judge A will appear on the ballot in that election. If the governor appoints Judge B to fill the vacancy, Judge B will serve until January 1, 2017, at which time the judge elected in the 2016 general election will begin an eight-year term of office. If Judge A had retired in October 2016 (within 60 days of the 2016 general election) and Judge B had been appointed to fill the vacancy, Judge B would serve out the remainder of Judge A’s term ? until January 1, 2019 – the January following the 2018 general election.

The state constitution provides that vacancies in the office of district court judge, in contrast, are filled for the unexpired term “in a manner prescribed by law.” N.C. Const. Art. IV, § 10. G.S. 7A-142 provides that a vacancy in the office of district court judge is filled for the unexpired term by appointment by the governor. The local bar of the judicial district nominates five persons for the governor’s consideration, and he or she must “give due consideration to the nominees” before filling the vacancy. An appointed district court judge fills out the term of his or her predecessor.

Denning goes on to explain other parts of the processes in great detail, including the so-called merit selection mechanism that would be in the amendment.

The nominations are to be evaluated by a nonpartisan commission, which is required to evaluate each nominee without regard to the nominee’s partisan affiliation but instead with respect to whether the nominee is qualified or not qualified.

The amendment creates the “Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission” that must consist of no more than nine members. The appointments are to be allocated among the chief justice, the governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by statute. The amendment requires the General Assembly to provide for the establishment of local merit commissions for the nomination of district and superior court judges. Appointments to local commissions are likewise allocated among the chief justice, the governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by statute. The amendment provides that neither the chief justice, the governor, nor the General Assembly may be allocated a majority of appointments to a commission.

The evaluation of each nominee must be forwarded to the General Assembly.

You can read the full post here.

Courts & the Law

Learn more about The Bail Trap

If you been wanting to learn more about the movement to end North Carolina’s broken cash bail system, head to Durham Friday evening for a free screening of “The Bail Trap: An American Ransom.”

Brave New Films has created a series of multimedia shorts that explain how money bail has become one of the main feeders of America’s mass incarceration system.

Friday’s screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring:

  • State Senator Mike Woodard
  • Joe Killian, NC Policy Watch’s investigative reporter who has written extensively on the subject
  • Sarah Gillooly, director of political strategy and advocacy at the ACLU of North Carolina
  • David Hall, an “indigent defense attorney, representing people one at a time as they navigated the criminal legal system”
  • Lawrence Carpenter, a board member at Inmates to Entrepreneur

Can’t make it, but want to learn more about the state’s problematic money bail system?

Sarah Gillooly

Listen to Policy Watch’s recent radio interviews with two of Friday’s panelists:

Joe Killian

Friday’s screening of “The Bail Trap: An American Ransom” is hosted by Triangle People Power and runs from 6:00pm-9:00pm at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC.