Judges need to be judged

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 04:43 AM

Over the waining days of the North Carolina Legislature, bills came in and were approved at a rapid pace.

Most of which had little, if any, debate or dissertation.

One of those that received very little attention was House Bill 652.

Initially, it was proposed as a measure regarding the appeals process in family court. But, like with most legislation, it mutated into something completely different. It was later titled “An act to modify the law regarding discipline for judges.”

A bipartisan group of senators rejected the measure a week before the end of the session. However, 11 Republican senators decided to change their votes thus pushing the bill to passage.

On the last day of the session, the bill moved through the House with veracity and still awaits Got. Pat McCrory’s approval.

Let’s keep in mind throughout the session’s various Moral Mondays, there was no outcry for changing how judges were judged. There were no petitions from legal scholars calling for a revision of the original 2007 legislation.

Under previous law, the members of the Judicial Standards Commission — a group of judges, lawyers and those independent of the legal system — were tasked with reviewing any complaints against judges.

There was investigation and recommendation to the North Carolina Supreme Court for any sanctions, reprimands or other pertinent restrictions — including suspension or removal — if necessary.

Most importantly, the documents and any subsequent action were all a matter of public record.

The new law changes that.

No longer would the Commission have that oversight. Now, the Commission can only issue a private “letter of caution.” Any other disciplinary action will be handled by the Supreme Court and will be confidential unless action is taken.

In short, the new law strips the public of information regarding judges they elect, unless the Supreme Court takes action.

The North Carolina Press Association strongly supports a veto by McCrory and so do we.

There has been no evidence that keeping reprimands of judges open harms any public interest. The previous law served the public well for decades.

We already have little access to public record and this General Assembly has tried numerous measures to reduce that further.

It is the elimination of records like these performance evaluations that makes bad public policy worse.

Information for this editorial came from The Salisbury Post.

By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board.


The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Tom Padgett and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark