Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

AOC rolls out new victim notification system for criminal court hearing dates

The Administrative Office of the Courts announced Friday a new service that allows people to subscribe to up-to-the-minute criminal court date notifications and reminders via email or text message.

Subscribers are immediately notified of court date, room or session changes, as well as upcoming court date reminders seven days and one day in advance of the court date, according to a news release. The court date notifications system is the latest addition to the suite of online services offered as part of eCourts, the larger initiative to modernize the North Carolina court system.

“The service provides a fast, convenient means to be notified of criminal court date changes and reminders,” said Judge Marion R. Warren, director of the AOC. “Court technology and mobile services are modernizing the way the public does business with our courts.”

Anyone can subscribe to court notifications for criminal cases at www.NCcourts.gov/services. To subscribe, a user must provide the following requirements: a valid North Carolina criminal court case number, the county in which the case was recorded, valid contact information and agreement to the terms of use.

Subscribing to notifications for more than one case is allowed, however, sign-up must be done individually for each case. When subscribing to notifications, the potential subscriber will receive an initial opt-in message. For both email and text messages, the user must opt in to confirm.

Once opted in for a court case, subscribers will receive a message anytime the criminal court date, room or session changes. They will also receive a reminder seven days and one day from the hearing.

Once subscribers have opted in for notifications on a court case, they will remain opted in until they opt out. If a case is closed/disposed and they have not manually opted out, they will remain subscribed to that case, such that if it is reopened in the future and the court date/time/session is changed, they will resume getting notifications.

Proponents of a proposed constitutional amendment to bolster victims’ rights have complained that victim notification of court cases has been inconsistent across the state. The new notification system appears to address those concerns.

Read more about how the new system works here.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, Legislature, News, Voting

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Lack of support for power-grabbing amendments speaks volumes

There are a lot of strange – even downright bizarre – aspects to the ongoing effort by North Carolina Republican legislators to pass a slate of six constitutional amendments during this fall’s election.

There is, for instance, the absurd dearth of process that accompanied the approval of the amendments during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session. Ideally, constitutional amendments are accompanied by weeks, or even months, of debate, multiple public hearings, lengthy oral testimony and written analyses from academics and other experts, detailed findings from study commissions and extended opportunities for the public at-large and various interest groups to weigh in.

This year, however, few, if any, of those things were present. Instead, lawmakers rammed through all six amendments during the final week of June. Two of the amendments were then actually rewritten in a single day at the end of August – just a handful of days prior to the distribution of absentee ballots. [Read more…]

2. PFAS, but not GenX, found in blood of residents living near Chemours plant

Four types of fluorinated compounds were detected in blood samples of all 30 people tested who live near the Chemours plant, although none of the compounds was GenX, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

In July, DHHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cumberland County Health Department tested for 17 types of fluorinated compounds in the blood and urine of 30 people living near the facility, which abuts the Bladen-Cumberland county line.

All of the people who voluntarily participated in the program use well water for their household needs. Many of the private wells, plus rainwater, lakes, soil, groundwater and even honey have tested positive for fluorinated compounds. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Last chance for the red wolf? Advocates ask federal judge to intervene to preserve endangered species

3. Questions linger about victims’ rights constitutional amendment, big budget campaign

Early voting started Wednesday, which means North Carolinians will finally get to decide on six proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would bolster crime victims’ rights.

At first glance, voting on an amendment to enhance victims’ rights may seem like a no-brainer, but like many issues, it’s not so black and white. Supporters of the amendment say victims need teeth in the law to assert their rights. Opponents say victims’ rights already are enshrined in the constitution and enhancing them should be done by statute, not by an experimental amendment. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: 3-judge panel rules Board of Elections, Ethics Enforcement structure unconstitutional

4. Battle looms as state officials propose takeover of Goldsboro elementary school

If North Carolina goes forward with the recommendation to allow a private charter operator to take control of a Goldsboro elementary school, they should expect a stubborn resistance, the school’s principal told Policy Watch Wednesday.

“You’re bringing in outside people, but Wayne County is a unique district,” said Carver Heights Elementary Principal Cortrina Smith. “You are going to consistently receive pushback, because we don’t know you, but you’re in my house and you’re trying to tell us what to do. You don’t know my kids, you don’t know my community.”

Smith is in her third year as principal at the struggling Goldsboro school, which serves a predominantly poor population in eastern North Carolina. But if the State Board of Education approves the so-called Innovative School District’s (ISD) recommendation this week to turn over operations and leadership in the elementary to a yet-to-be-named private operator, the school may see many of its teachers and administrators, including Smith, scuttled in the next year. [Read more…]

**Bonus read: NC’s latest school takeover experiment will deny Goldsboro students the education they deserve

5. Eastern North Carolina residents press for a just hurricane recovery

As lawmakers gathered Monday to approve funding for Hurricane Florence relief, residents and community leaders from Eastern North Carolina came together outside the General Assembly.

They told their personal recovery stories and encouraged lawmakers to put recovery money – and their political power – where it’s most needed.

The Just Florence Recovery Collective represents more than 25 community organizations and dozens of impacted residents. Its goal: to shed a light on racial and class disparities that have made storm damage worse and recovery slower in North Carolina’s poorest and encourage those in power to reverse the trend and make those communities whole.

Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition came from Goldsboro where, he said, “part of our community has been used as a dumping ground for Duke Energy’s 6 million tons of poisonous coal ash.” [Read more…]

**Bonus read: Legislature, Cooper make headway on hurricane recovery, but vexing longer-term issues loom

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Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Supreme Court justice candidates debate on Capital Tonight

A screen grab of the Capital Tonight debate between state Supreme Court candidates

North Carolina’s three state Supreme Court candidates appeared Thursday on Spectrum News’ Capital Tonight for a short debate.

Republican Justice Barbara Jackson is running as the incumbent against fellow Republican Chris Anglin and Democrat Anita Earls.

The GOP changed the law recently to make all judicial races partisan, then they litigated after Anglin changed his voter registration from Democratic to Republican. Anglin won the court battle and now all three are on the ballot.

Each candidate was give one minute to respond to questions from the host of the show, Tim Boyum. They were also given a minute each to make closing arguments.

There were several interesting tidbits in the debate and the candidates rarely aligned in their answers. Earls told Boyum she supported partisan elections, while Anglin and Jackson said they did not.

When Boyum asked each candidate to pick a case the Supreme Court got wrong in its decision, Jackson did not. She said that choosing one would overlook the process of decision-making in the many, many other cases the court takes on. Anglin said he believed the state Supreme Court made a mistake in failing to correct racial gerrymandering. Earls said she would have joined the dissent on the decision to uphold the school voucher program.

In closing, they each highlighted what they would stand for if elected to the bench. Jackson reminded voters that she was the most experienced and the only one of them that had judicial experience. Anglin said he would be fair and open-minded and not let his personal beliefs get in the way of making decisions. Earls told voters she had a proven record of impartiality and would focus on equal access to justice and giving a voice to those without.

Watch the full debate here. The three candidates are also expected to debate in a forum next week in downtown Raleigh that is hosted by the Federalist Society.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Interactive map shows who needs legal help after Hurricane Florence

A screenshot of the interactive story map created by the Equal Access to Justice Commission

The North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission this week released new data that reveals the impact of Hurricane Florence on North Carolina and the vulnerable populations who may potentially need legal help during the recovery.

The Commission developed an interactive story map with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the American Red Cross.

As users scroll through the story, they can click on maps to see data for specific geographic areas of North Carolina. Data includes hurricane impacts, social vulnerability, housing and location affordability, immigrant and limited English proficiency populations, SNAP recipients, renters, people without health insurance, race and vulnerable populations like children and seniors.

The map also includes information about where residents can access disaster legal services around the state.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on North Carolina’s coast as category 1 in September and then wreaked havoc for days in eastern North Carolina as the wettest tropical cyclone on record. Thousands were without power, displaced and left picking up the pieces after their homes and businesses were damaged.

A media release states that the Commission plans to continue sharing resources in the story map with several groups, including the General Assembly, legal aid providers and policy advocacy organizations for use in strategic planning, grant writing, collaboration and decision-making regarding the allocation of resources.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Elections sites won’t display ‘No Photo ID Required’ signs

Early voters might notice something a little different at the polls today: election sites will not be displaying “No Photo ID Required” signs this year.

“With a constitutional amendment on the ballot regarding photo voter ID, there are concerns this signage could ultimately be more confusing than it is helpful to voters, and that it could be perceived as taking a position on the merits of the amendment,” states a Monday memo from State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Executive Director Kim Strach. “Voters who ask should be told verbally that they do not need a photo ID.”

Strach, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory,  has the authority to specify what supplies, signage, and other materials must be present at each voting site, according to the memo.

A GOP-backed constitutional amendment requiring voters to have a photo identification to vote is one of six on the ballot this year. Lawmakers have not told voters how they plan to implement a voter photo ID requirement if the amendment passes or what type of photo ID would be required. Opponents of the amendment say it would give them a blank check to discriminate against certain voters, particularly voters of color, the elderly and those living in poverty.

The memo about photo ID signage was sent to county boards of elections. State Board spokesman Pat Gannon added in an email Tuesday that aside from what’s in the memo, some counties didn’t have enough signs in good condition to cover early voting sites and polling locations.

“We wanted uniformity in voting site setup throughout the state, per the new rule cited in the memo,” he added.

There are several new rules cited in the memo, including ones that affect voting site uniformity, curbside voting regulations and clarification of Strach’s emergency authority as executive director.

The memo also notes that state law does not describe what county boards should do with the official constitutional amendment explanations once received.

“However, you should have copies in your office if the public requests more information about the amendments,” the memo states. “It is important that you remind your precinct officials that they may not provide any substantive information about the amendments.”

Members of the public can find the official explanations here. Read the full State Board memo below.

Numbered Memo 2018_14 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd