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Judicial Transparency in North Carolina

The News & Observer ran this opinion piece by Catharine Arrowood, president of the North Carolina Bar Association, regarding House Bill 562, a last minute bill passed earlier this year that:

  • Placed all proceedings before the Judicial Standards Commission under a blanket of secrecy. The North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission was created in 1973 to ensure public confidence in our judicial system and the integrity of our judges. Under House Bill 562, even the fact of a complaint is now “confidential” until “issuance of a public reprimand, censure, suspension or removal by the Supreme Court.”
  • Put the Supreme Court in charge of disciplining itself. Previously, disciplinary action against members of the Supreme Court was handled by a panel from the Court of Appeals. Now, the Supreme Court handles discipline of its own members.
  • Removed the commission’s ability to resolve a matter with the issuance of a public reprimand. Tying the commission’s hands in this way means that the commission, which has limited resources, will be forced to take minor violations through the time and expense of two formal hearings, one before a disciplinary panel and the other before the Supreme Court, both of which will be closed to the public. The alternative is to drop the investigation of minor, but important, infractions, meaning that the public is not protected at all.

The bill, as Ms. Arrowood explains, offends basic notions of fairness and transparency. The idea that the Supreme Court should police itself is odd. The idea that complaints should be confidential is also odd.

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