NC Legislators Vote to Change Judicial Discipline; Editorials Angry

North Carolina’s legislature has voted to change some of the ways that  judges are disciplined, by approving secret reprimands for violations by judges that are deemed “minor” and by giving the state Supreme Court, and not a panel of Court of Appeals judges, disciplinary authority over  justices.

A chorus of angry newspaper editorials blasted the legislation as reducing transparency and public trust in the courts, and there were calls for Gov. Pat McCrory to veto the bill:

  • The Star News declared, “Gov. Pat McCrory should veto the bill. This is a step away from the transparency this group of Honorables [in the legislature] promised, and it will make it more difficult for the public to judge the men and women who are elected to judge others.”
  • The Salisbury Post warned, “This bill passed with too little explanation or public scrutiny. It reduces transparency. It strips power from an independent commission, while making justices arbiters of their own behavior. It bears the mark of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that compromises the integrity of the judicial system.”
  • The Fayetteville Observer asked why two justices had pushed for the changes, and it concluded, “We did not need this sneak attack, which invites suspicions about misusing the disciplinary process as a political shield or club, to further undermine public confidence in the neutrality of our courts.”

Sharon McCloskey wrote a lengthy article about the legislation, its details and its origins at NC Policy Watch. McCloskey quoted Cynthia Gray of the American Judicature Society as saying, “Trust in the efficacy of public proceedings is one of the hallmarks of American democracy in general, and public hearings for judges charged with misconduct complements the pride judges justifiably take in the openness of the judicial system in particular.” AJS is a Justice at Stake partner group.

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