News Roundup

In January, actor Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting a cinematographer on a film set in New Mexico. There is no suggestion that the shooting was intentional but the prosecution contends that Baldwin and others were grossly negligent in their handling of firearms. The local district attorney asked that a special prosecutor be assigned to the case. Andrea Reeb, a former district attorney who was elected to the state legislature in 2022, was appointed. In February, Baldwin moved to disqualify her, arguing that having a legislator exercise “either the executive power or the judicial power” as a special prosecutor violated separation of powers principles. Although the court has not yet rule on the motion, Reeb stepped down this week, saying that she “will not allow questions about [her] serving as a legislator and prosecutor to cloud the real issue at hand.” The Associated Press has more here. Keep reading for more news.

North Carolina’s judicial salaries are lower than in most other states. The National Center for State Courts has just updated its judicial salary tracker. A great data visualization, here, allows you to see salaries for trial court, intermediate appellate court, and state supreme court jurists across the country. North Carolina is below the mean and the median for every level of the judicial hierarchy.

Want to see who’s locked up? Speaking of data visualizations, the Prison Policy Initiative just released a graphic entitled Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023. In includes people in custody at the state and federal levels for criminal, juvenile, and immigration matters. It’s worth taking a minute to look at it. Different people might find different things surprising, but I was struck by the fact that there are more people in state prisons for murder than for all drug offenses combined. John Pfaff and others have been arguing for some time that the war on drugs isn’t the main driver of incarceration rates and the graphic provides at least some support for that thesis.

Seven Virginia deputies charged with murder. In an evolving story, the Associated Press reports here that seven Henrico County deputies and three hospital employees have been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a mentally ill Black man named Irvo Otieno who had been taken into custody. There is video of the incident but it has not been publicly released, nor is the medical examiner’s report yet available. Early reports suggest that Otieno was held down and “smothered” by the defendants, perhaps after or in response to some level of disruption or violence.

Judicial opinions in plain English. Two federal judges in Colorado have started providing brief, plain English summaries of their opinions in cases involving pro se litigants. You can read about it and see an example of one of the summaries at the Volokh Conspiracy here. Some might argue that judges should just write all their opinions in plain English, but that may be easier said than done.

The Elizabeth Holmes case prompts questions about sentencing new mothers to prison. The Marshall Project has this new article about the harms of sentencing new mothers to prison. The article was prompted in part by the case of convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos fame. She has asked that she be able to defer the start of her 11-year prison sentence until her appeal is complete, citing in part the fact that she has two very young children. For a variety of reasons, I do not see Holmes as the best possible “face” for this issue, but sending a parent of a very young child to prison certainly raises difficult questions and creates significant spillover costs on the child and on society. Making these challenging decisions is why we pay judges the big bucks – or, as noted above, at least somewhat moderate bucks in the case of North Carolina.