News Roundup

The legislature is in full swing. H 725, [update: fixed link] a bill that appears to raise the juvenile age to 17, but only for misdemeanors that are not motor vehicle offenses, has passed the House. Its prospects in the Senate are rumored to be uncertain. And H 1078, a bill that would eliminate special superior court judgeships as each judge’s current term expires, has been introduced. (Recall that last session saw an effort to abolish the judgeships in one fell swoop, leading my colleague Michael Crowell to post this analysis of the legislature’s authority, or lack thereof, to abolish the jobs of sitting judges.) There are other bills of note in the mix and we will keep you posted about significant developments.

In other news:

Debtor’s prison. Several readers pointed me to this interesting series of stories by NPR, about the nation-wide rise in courts fees and costs; the disparate impact those fees have on poor defendants; and the frequency with which defendants are effectively imprisoned due to an inability to pay the fees. Costs and fees have certainly been rising in North Carolina, and the issue deserves more detailed attention, perhaps in a future post.

The times, they are a changin’. The top selling game on iTunes is Weed Firm, a game about building a marijuana empire, while pundits are pondering whether products liability plaintiffs’ lawyers will have the marijuana industry for lunch. (Best line: “If you think trial lawyers made a windfall on tobacco, just wait until they get a handle on marijuana. The scientific and medical evidence against marijuana now dwarfs what we knew about tobacco at the time of the surgeon general’s report of 1964. No warning label in the world could shield marijuana growers and sellers from the tsunami of tort liability they should face from distributing a product with so many known harmful effects.”)

The FBI enters the recording era. Since 1908, the agency has had a policy of not recording interviews. That policy has changed, with a new presumption that agents should record custodial interviews of suspects. Agents are also encouraged to consider recording other interviews, such as witness interviews. The new policy states that it creates no rights, “procedural or substantive” for those who are (or are not) recorded.

Speaking of marijuana and the FBI . . . James Comey, the director of the agency, recently noted that the agency’s anti-marijuana policy makes it difficult to hire cyber experts. These young whipper-snappers apparently “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.” The FBI is “grappling” with the possibility of changing its policy. Perhaps a rule against recording cyber agents while they roll a joint on the job?

Sweet article about the founding of the School of Government. Finally, the Durham Herald-Sun just ran this piece about Albert Coates and his work in building what was then called the Institute of Government. The article quotes one North Carolinian as saying, “The Institute of Government has made all the difference for our state. But, today, not enough people appreciate how much we owe it.” I think we get a fair amount of appreciation, but of course more would always be welcome!

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