Chief Justice Mark Martin of the Supreme Court of North Carolina delivered the State of the Judiciary Address at the NC Bar Association’s annual meeting this morning.  The address included a call to action to the General Assembly:  submit to the people of the State a constitutional amendment allowing merit selection of judges.   This charge was quite well received in the room, as the bar association has been working for decades to reform how we select judges in North Carolina.

The Chief Justice identified three key elements of any such merit-selection system:

  1. A panel should evaluate candidates in an objective way and rate them as well qualified, qualified, or not qualified.
  2. The State’s judges will then be appointed from among the candidates.
  3. Retention elections should be held at periodic intervals to ensure the people have a say.

In addition, any merit-selection program should grandfather in our current judges.

The Chief also touted the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice and its report, containing recommendations for continued improvements to the judiciary.  Justice Martin cautioned that the Commission’s report should not “gather dust.”  He highlighted that progress is already being made, but more needs to be done.

A few additional highlights of the Chief’s remarks:

  • The public needs a website that is accessible. New website to be unveiled by next summer.
  • A civics education initiative and speakers bureau has been launched.
  • A pro bono honor society has been established to recognize lawyers providing at least 50 hours each year. Over 200 lawyers awarded it this year.
  • A program allowing domestic violence victims to file online has been created.
  • The judiciary is creating a statewide electronic filing system.
  • The judiciary is creating a working group to simplify and unify local rules statewide.
  • A fellowship has been launched to provide research support to district and superior court judges.
  • The judiciary will create more specialized courts, like the business courts and veteran treatment courts.
  • The Chief announced the formation of a courthouse and cyber security task force.
  • Deaths from drug overdoses are at an epidemic level.  NC is taking a leadership role in addressing this crisis.
  • A key focus is raising the juvenile age from 16 to 18 years old. We are the only state with a juvenile age of 16. This puts our young people at a disadvantage because adult criminal records can haunt our young people for their whole lives. Recidivism rates for 16 and 17 year olds are much higher if those youth are treated as adults.  General Assembly is making progress on this.

–Matt Leerberg