Source: News & Observer Editorial
“North Carolina’s courts are supposed to be above politics, but they are getting tainted by the same partisanship that is threatening public faith in the federal courts…,” News & Observer opinion writer Ned Barnett wrote.
The long-standing executive director of the Judicial Standards Commission, Carolyn Dubay, “abruptly left her position just days after a memo on the North Carolina Judicial Code of Conduct was posted on the commission’s website.” The memo, issued by Republican Appeals Court Judge Chris Dillion and prepared by staff, advised judges to avoid getting involved in campaigns during years where they are not on the ballot themselves.
The memo in question was taken down from the Judicial Standards Commission website and replaced by a much looser interpretation. Sources familiar with the situation told the News & Observer that Dubay pushed to resign over the change.
A tighter interpretation would have a chilling effect on some of the more politically active judges. For example, Justice Phil Berger Jr., who is early in his eight year term, frequently campaigns for Republican candidates. Berger even headlined a fundraiser for Republican legislators just a few months before hearing a case on the election maps they themselves drew. Berger Jr. has also endorsed state Supreme Court candidate Trey Allen, who is running in a three-way primary for the Republican nomination against Judge April Wood and attorney Victoria Prince.
In the same week that Dubay resigned over the increased politicization of the courts, Justice Paul Newby took the unprecedented step of intervening in the long-standing Leandro case; replacing a democratic Superior Court judge, Judge David Lee, with Judge Michael Robinson, a fellow Republican who attended law school with Newby.
News & Observer opinion writer Ned Barnett wrote, “As chief justice, Newby is free to use his power of appointment. But his moves rewarding Republican insiders have cost the court system expertise, continuity and public confidence. Fostering partisanship at the state level is adding to an already growing national crisis in the courts.”