Editorial: Keep hearings on our judges in public view
Gov. Pat McCrory has a chance to better his reputation for transparency.
That chance expires this weekend, when all bills on his desk not signed or vetoed become law. House Bill 652 is among them, needing to be shoved in a drawer.
HB 652 removes the Judicial Standards Commission’s ability to issue public reprimands, placing authority for all forms of public discipline with the state Supreme Court. The bill would remove disciplinary hearings from public view, and require specific action by the Supreme Court to open case records unless or until it takes action.
The bill also puts the state Supreme Court in charge of disciplining its members, currently a job for the senior of six judges serving the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Translated, we can’t see what happens to a judge for which we file a complaint. If judges want to rescue each other with no one being the wiser, they would be able.
The Judicial Standards Commission considers complaints against state district, superior and appellate court judges and justices. It makes recommendations for discipline.
The commission includes 13: a Court of Appeals judge, two Superior Court judges, two District Court judges, four attorneys appointed by the State Bar Council; and four citizen members who are not judges or lawyers. Two of the citizens are appointed by the governor, and one each by the respective leaders of the state Senate and House.
The bill wasn’t initially passed in the Senate, but 11 Republicans had a change of mind. We’d love to know what suddenly prompted those decisions.
Hundreds of colleagues in the bar association and on the bench agreed with Supreme Court Justice Sarah Parker and N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge John Martin, who each wrote letters in strong opposition. The N.C. Bar Association publicly requested the governor veto the measure.
Our open and public trial system allows anyone to see if bias enters judgments and if fairness prevails. Hearings for judges have and should follow suit.
Allowing judges to cover for each other, out of the public’s eye and right to know, is not in the best interest of North Carolinians.
It is time for the governor to make a stand for transparency with a veto.