The House redistricting committee held its second meeting on Tuesday to look at undertaking the first state judicial district overhaul in recent years. Comments were heard from those currently in the judiciary and members of the state bar that governs attorneys in the state.
Some asked that the state leaders table any plan to change the judiciary districts and wait until the coming Short Session in 2018 to undertake the effort, but new proposed maps are expected to be released next week.
Whether or not the time is right to update the judicial districts was secondary to the qualm of updating the maps in a special session outside of the usual business of the legislature.
“Although some realignment and redistricting in the courts might be needed, the process needs to be done in a transparent and orderly fashion, with input from a wide variety of citizens, legislators and court officials,” District Court Judge Athena Brooks said, reading from a NC District Court Judges Association statement.
The NC Conference of Superior Court Judges also called on the state to pump the brakes on the process.
Association President Judge Joe Crosswhite said, “There is no need to rush this process. The last major revision that we had to our districts happened over 60 years ago.”
Some say that is precisely why the time is right to undertake the revision.
Brooks said that by 2020 between 20 and 50 percent of the current judiciary could be forced out of office under redistricting architect Rep. Justin Burr’s (R-Stanly) plan, due to judges who would be double-bunked in newly drawn districts under the proposed plan.
By drawing multiple sitting judges into one district they will either have to give up their judgeship or run in the new district against other sitting judges, removing incumbents’ advantage, but leaving the losers out of a judgeship.
Some districts will see a reduction in the number of judges in their district though, which raises its own questions about caseloads and whether that area needs the number of judges that it currently includes.
Brooks said that the turnover could lead to a disruption of the court system as judges are turned over at a rate not really seen before.
The statement also referred to some of the new proposed districts as being Republican-leaning and not having many attorneys to run for judgeships in them, however some on the committee questioned the point, specifically how that information could be quantified.
The NC Bar Association does not maintain a registry of where its attorney’s live, as many use business addresses on court filings, which does not reflect where they live but where they work.
The State Bar said that it could collect that information but would need to keep it private, there were questions of safety for the attorneys if their home addresses came to be easily known.
Burr’s revised judicial redistricting proposal will be released at the committee’s meeting next week.
The session to take up the revised maps opens Oct. 4.