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Perdue, not judicial commission, will pick next state supreme court justice

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bev Perdue made it clear in an interview with the News & Observer on Wednesday that Perdue intends to name the replacement for departing state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson before Perdue leaves office in early January.

One wrinkle is a special judicial nominating commission created by Perdue to help fill judicial slots that requires an 18-member commission to screen candidates and recommend three applicants to the governor. Under an executive order, Perdue must appoint one of the commission's three choices.

The reason for the commission was to "take politics out of appointing judges in North Carolina," according to Perdue's office at the time it was created.

It turns out that Perdue might soon put the nominating group out of commission.

Former chief justice to hold fundraiser for Dalton

Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell and his wife Lou will hold a fund raiser next month at their Raleigh home for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton.

The reception, costing between $250 and $4,000 will be held April 19th, the evening after three consecutive TV debates among the three major candidates in the Democratic primary for governor.

Mitchell is now head of the appellate advocacy and government relations groups for Womble Carlyle, the state's largest law firm.

Manning and Mitchell: Leandro case not about money

The Leandro case isn't about money, say the presiding judge and the former chief justice who wrote the first Supreme Court ruling in the case.

Judge Howard Manning Jr. and former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell held a conversation about the landmark case this morning in Research Triangle Park before a crowd of teachers and principals at the N.C. New Schools Project's annual summer meeting.

Manning will hold his latest hearing on the Leandro case tomorrow in Wake County Superior Court, and this time the focus will be whether cuts in the newly adopted budget violate the state's constitutional mandate to provide a sound basic education for all children. The long-running case revolves around the question of whether poor counties have the resources to provide a quality education.

The case has resulted in two Supreme Court decisions and many hearings since it was filed by five low-wealth school districts in 1994.

Mitchell, who was chief justice, said he chose Manning because he knew the case would require someone with "some guts and some gumption."

"I knew when we got into this that we were taking the top off of a beehive," Mitchell said.

Manning was careful not to wade into the specific issues that will be before his court tomorrow. But he made clear that the elements of the case are that it is the state's responsibility to provide children with quality education, and that the requirement goes well beyond paying for buildings and books. "It all starts with the classroom teacher and the leadership team in the principal's office," he said.

Too often school leaders only want to talk about money, Manning said.

"This is not a money case," he said. "This is a quality case."

Lawmakers have questioned Manning getting involved in the state spending decisions, saying that is the legislature's role.

But Manning and Mitchell said that it is the judge's role to enforce the constitution and identify violations. Then it is up to the executive and legislative branches to remedy the situation.

"It's up to them to fix it," Manning said.

Ex chief justices battle over medical malpractice

Former N.C. Chief Justice Burley Mitchell says it would be constitutional for the legislature to pass a cap on non economic damages in medical malpractice suits.

In doing so, Mitchell, a Democrat, puts himself at odds with another chief justice, former Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican, who said such a measure would be unconstitutional.

In a letter to Sen. Peter Brunstetter, chairman of of the Senate Judicary I Committee, Mitchell writes that Senate Bill 33, which puts limits on medical malpractice awards, would pass constitutional muster.

Mitchell includes earlier testimony in his letter, saying, “We are aware of no binding legal authority that should give the General Assembly any pause in enacting a statutory cap on recovery of noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions.

“To the contrary,” Mitchell writes, “the law of North Carolina...indicates that the North Carolina Supreme Court would follow the majority of courts that have addressed this issue and hold that such a statute is constitutional.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the malpractice legislation bill on Thursday. The measure has the backing of Republicans and the doctors who finance their campaigns, but is opposed by Democrats, and the trial lawyers who bankroll their campaigns.

Perdue names panel to advise Highway Patrol on reforms

Gov. Bev Perdue today has picked six people to guide the State Highway Patrol as it seeks to recover from a spate of embarrassing revelations involving misconduct by troopers.

Perdue has asked the bipartisan group to advise N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Reuben Young on a selection process for picking a commander to replace Col. Randy Glover, who resigned last week.

Perdue also asked the six to develop recommendations on the patrol's structure and policies, on changes the legislature might enact and rebuilding the patrol's reputation for integrity and honor.

The members’ backgrounds include expertise in law enforcement, state government and the business and legal communities.

The Hunt club

The old Jim Hunt crowd gathered in Raleigh on Friday for the groundbreaking of the library that will bear the former governor's name and for lunch at the Park Alumni Center at N.C. State University, Rob Christensen reports.

The crowd included a who's who from Hunt's 16 years as governor, including Jim Phillips, former chairman of the UNC Board of Governors; former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell; Norris Tolson, a transportation secretary under Hunt; former Ambassador Jeanette Hyde; Hunt's former spokeman and strategist Gary Pearce; former Human Resources secretary Lucy Bode; former Cultural Resources secretary Betty McCain; former aide Ed Turlington, and former state Democratic chairwoman Barbara Allen.

Just to name a few. 

And what would a gathering of politicians be without a little fund raising? 

At the lunch, Hunt announced a $20 million fund raising campaign to help cover some of the costs of the library that will also serve as headquarters for the Institute for Emerging Issues, the think tank Hunt created.

"This is a marvelous opportunity," Hunt said. "It really is."


Jackson eyes Supreme seat

North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Jackson said today that she will run for the state Supreme Court seat held by Justice Edward Thomas Brady.

Jackson and Brady are both Republicans. Brady has not yet announced whether he will run for re-election, but Jackson's announcement suggests he won't. It would be highly unusual for a sitting Court of Appeals judge to challenge a justice from her own party.

Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter, a Democrat, has said he plans to run for the seat, as well.

Judicial races are technically nonpartisan in North Carolina. The candidate's political party does not appear on the ballot.

Jackson was first elected to the appeals court in 2004. She previously served as general counsel for the Department of Labor and as associate general counsel for former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican. She also clerked for then-Associate Justice Burley Mitchell, a Democrat, on the N.C. Supreme Court.

Insiders mum on Wynn for bench

There is heavy speculation that N.C. Appeals Judge Jim Wynn may be headed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The speculation is based not only on gossip but the fact that Wynn has twice before nominated for the 4th Circuit only to have his nomination stalled by then Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, Rob Christensen reports.

Some of the key players, have been avoiding reporter’s calls.

Former NC. Chief Justice Burley Mitchell headed a four-member committee that screened potential candidates for Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, would not say who the panel recommended.

But he heaped praise on Wynn, noting that he had known Wynn as a fellow judge and attorney for several decades.

"Nobody in the state is better qualified for the 4th Circuit in North Carolina in my view than Jim Wynn," Mitchell said.

More after the jump.

Hagan sends three picks to Obama

Sen. Kay Hagan has forwarded three names to the White House as potential judicial nominations for the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hagan would not disclose the names this morning in a conference call with reporters, because she hasn't told the other candidates that they weren't among the recommendations, Barb Barrett reports.

President Barack Obama will make official nominations to the Senate.

Hagan, a freshman Democrat, said she is committed to seeing two of the four open seats on court go to North Carolinians. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals covers the states of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland.

Hagan named a statewide board this spring to help vet candidates and guide her on her recommendations. Hagan said she met with several of the candidates.

North Carolina now has just one judge on the court, which is represented by 15 judgeships.

Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner announced Tuesday that they had sent forward the name of Virginia State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Keenan to the White House.

Update: Former Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell, who led Hagan's search efforts, said they interviewed more than 40 candidates.

Second Update: Hagan's office said later that she misspoke and there is no list. 

Hagan: Holding should stay

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said today that federal prosecutor George Holding should stay on the job until investigations of former Sen. John Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley are completed.

She said she has been in talks with the White House and that she wants to eliminate politics from the process of replacing a U.S. Attorney, Andy Curliss reports.

"It is not in North Carolina's best interest to replace" Holding right now, she said.

Holding is overseeing the two high-profile probes that have been the subject of recent news reports.

Her comments come a day after the resignation of one member of a three-person screening panel that Hagan established to winnow candidates for the top prosecutors' positions in North Carolina.

Locke Clifford, a criminal defense lawyer from Greensboro, stepped down on Tuesday but did not cite a reason. Hagan said he has not been involved in screening for a replacement of Holding.

The panel had been expecting to interview candidates last week and this one, according to the panel's chairman, Burley Mitchell. Mitchell is a former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court and now a lawyer at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Raleigh.

Clifford has not returned calls or made comments. But Clifford's vehicle was spotted at the Easley home on Tuesday.

Clifford was replaced with Jim Phillips.

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