A group of district court judges gathered at the School last week for a class focused on the establishment of school justice partnerships, a central component of the Raise the Age legislation. The class was productive, but there was an elephant in the room that kept distracting everyone. If you’ve been keeping up with the General Assembly’s work over the past month, you likely can call the elephant by name.
The elephant was House Bill 717. This bill, which was introduced before the General Assembly adjourned its 2017 regular session, redraws several of the State’s existing superior and district court judicial districts. Its provisions are currently being hammered out in the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting. The chairman of the committee is Representative Justin Burr, a five-term representative from Montgomery and Stanley Counties and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. The latest version of the bill is available here, and the latest version of the statewide map is available here.
Not surprisingly, elected judicial officials are keenly interested in the composition of their judicial districts. I’ll wager that every judge from an affected district can explain in detail how the proposed amendments might alter the bench in his or her area of the state. I cannot – so I will not try to do so here. Instead, I’d like to tell you about how the committee began its work and how you too can get up to speed on judicial selection in North Carolina.
The first speaker. The committee convened on September 12, 2017. The first person who addressed the body was my colleague, Jim Drennan.
A few words about Jim. Jim joined the then-Institute of Government in 1974, fresh out of law school at Duke University. In the ensuing forty-three years, Jim has taught, written for, and advised court officials, legislators, and others about laws, procedures, and principles affecting civil and criminal law and the operation of the courts. He took a two-year leave from the School from 1993 through 1995 to serve as the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. After he returned, he championed the creation of the North Carolina Judicial College and served as its first director. Jim began phased retirement in 2011, and continues to work part time. We hope he never stops. If there is anyone who knows more than Jim about North Carolina’s courts and judiciary, I’ve yet to encounter that person.
Jim’s talk. Jim’s remarks to the committee covered three areas: (1) the history of state and local courts in North Carolina, (2) the way in which NC judges have historically been and currently are selected and how that compares to judicial selection in other states, and (3) the constitutional provisions governing the creation of judicial districts and the district-drawing milestones that led to the current maps of superior, district, and prosecutorial districts.
If you’ve ever wondered about any of those topics, help is at hand. You can hear Jim’s remarks here and follow along with his PowerPoint, available here. Listen in. I promise you will learn something. And you will have learned it from the best.