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Morning Memo: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to attend Wake fundraiser

JAN BREWER TO ATTEND WAKE GOP FUNDRAISER: The Wake County Republican Party announced Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer will attend a Sept. 14 fundraiser in Raleigh for the local party's fall candidates. The announcement email includes the now infamous photo of Brewer, a Republican, wagging her finger upon meeting President Barack Obama at an airport tarmac. The top ticket for the fundraiser is a $5,000 VIP package and a single ticket is $75. The party expects the event to sell out.

THE MUMMIES RETURN: From columnist Rob Christensen-- "We have seen this before in North Carolina – the reign of the green-eyeshaded men who thought low taxes trumped all, and if there were any coins left in the till at the end of the day they would throw it into the education pot.

"It was called the 1800s. And Walter Hines Page had a name for them. He called North Carolina’s leaders “the mummies” as in very old, well-wrapped, very dead Egyptians because of their complacent conservatism." Read his full column here.

***Get more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

NC Bar Association asks governor to veto judicial discipline secrecy bill

CORRECTED: The Senate vote totals have been corrected.

The state’s main professional organization for lawyers on Tuesday asked the governor to veto a bill that would protect from public disclosure judges who are disciplined.

HB652 would take away the authority of the Judicial Standards Commission to issue public reprimands, unless the state Supreme Court agrees and discloses the information. It would also make disciplinary hearings private and keep case records confidential, unless the Supreme Court takes disciplinary action.

The bill would also let the Supreme Court discipline its own members, instead of assigning those cases to the most senior six judges on the state Court of Appeals.

Former Gov. Easley gets law license back

From AP: Former North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley is again allowed to practice law, two years after his license was suspended following a felony plea.

The North Carolina State Bar on Monday reinstated the two-term Democratic governor and former attorney general's law license. State Bar Secretary L. Thomas Lunsford II wrote in his order that Easley satisfied the requirements of his suspension.

Easley accepted criminal responsibility in November 2010 for an improperly filed campaign finance report. Easley's Alford plea for the lowest-grade felony in state law focused on a 2006 helicopter flight worth $1,600 that wasn't reported.

The conviction ended both state and federal investigations into the ex-governor that began shortly after he left office in 2009. Easley has practiced law since 1976 after graduating from North Carolina Central University law school.

Easley's law license suspected for one more year

Former Gov. Mike Easley has reached a deal with the N.C. State Bar to have his law license suspended for one more year, a resolution that ends investigations stemming from controversies that surrounded Easley as he left office in early 2009.

Easley, a Democrat who was a two-term governor and state Attorney General before that, was convicted after a plea deal in late 2010 of committing a felony related to improper reporting by his campaign of a flight. Easley has been a lawyer since 1976.

The bar's general counsel, Katherine Jean, told a panel of three disciplinary hearing commissioners today that her office had investigated issues related to Easley and could not find that Easley had knowingly engaged in wrongful conduct. The bar is the state agency responsible for the discipline of lawyers in North Carolina.

Jean said Easley had "played no role in the preparation or the filing of the reports" that were part of his felony plea. Jean said that Easley had not signed the illegal campaign reports but had relied on his professional staff to do that.

Jean said that there is no evidence of "dishonest conduct" by Easley and that he is remorseful, findings the hearing commission accepted. Read the full story here.

Perdue appoints familiar Democratic names to nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commission

Nine months ago, Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order to form a Judicial Nominating Commission to reduce partisan influences in the appointment of judges.

But the list of committee members released Wednesday includes a number of big name Democrats -- including two lawyers who counseled Perdue. The nonpartisan commission will review applicants to vacancies on the state Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or Superior Court and submit three nominations to the governor to make the final choice.

Attorney Eddie Speas will serve as chairman of the 18-member board. He served for two years as Perdue's general counsel -- a fact that the governor's office left out of biography that accompanied the announcement. (By contrast, Speas tenure with Perdue is prominent on the biography provided by his law firm, Poyner Spruill.)

The governor's office similarly didn't note that another appointee, Joseph Cheshire, a prominent Durham lawyer, represented Perdue as criminal scrutiny mounted about her 2008 campaign.

Among the other prominent Democratic names: Janice Cole, a former District Court judge and U.S. attorney; Harvey Gantt, former Charlotte mayor and President Bill Clinton appointee to the National Capital Planning Association; Tom Lambeth, former Democratic Party operative and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; and Burley Mitchell, a Democrat and former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

Perdue spokesman Ben Niolet said "party affiliation was not a factor" in the appointments. "The members were chosen because they were the most qualified," he added. For the full list of names from the governor's office, see below.

N.C. judges facing re-election get rated for first time

For North Carolina voters, who have for years been voting for judges based on gender, the sound of names or pure guesswork, help is on the way. For the first time, voters will have information about who are the good judges and who are the mediocre ones - at least in the minds of the state's lawyers.

The N.C. Bar Association released a report Tuesday rating judges up for re-election in 2012 on integrity, impartiality, legal ability, professionalism, communication and administrative skills. The ratings were based on a survey of 4,200 North Carolina lawyers, out of 17,000 represented by the bar association. Judges were rated on a scale of 1 to 5.

Among the highest-rated judges was Wake County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens at 4.51, who often presides in high-profile cases. Also rated as a good judge was Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson (4.03), who has been sharply criticized in recent weeks by Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline. Faring less well was Wake County Superior Court Judge Abraham P. Jones (3.30), who presided in the court proceedings involving the John Edwards sex tapes in Orange County. The worst rating for Superior Court judges was awarded to Judge Linwood O. Foust of Charlotte with a 2.92.

Many of the judges were just relieved the ratings were finally released - and were not any worse. Apparently, they are not used to being judged. "Most of our judges did pretty well," said Martin Brinkley, a Raleigh attorney who is state bar association president. "There was some sigh of relief." Read more here and find the ratings here.

Durham lawyer joins crime commission

Durham lawyer Kerry Sutton, who represented novelist Mike Peterson and an unindicted Duke lacrosse player, was named to the Governor's Crime Commission Thursday.

Sutton, who unsuccessfully ran for a District Court judgeship last year, is a member of the executive committee of the administration of justice committee for the N.C. Bar Association. She is also active in the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys.

She represented Peterson, the novelist convicted of murdering his wife, in a civil lawsuit filed by his wife's daughter that was settled last year for more than $35 million, though Sutton said at the time that Peterson has no money to pay.

During the Duke lacrosse debacle in 2006, she represented a team captain who was not charged. Sutton was criticized by bloggers for making complimentary comments about then-District Attorney Mike Nifong's election that year.

The 42 members of the crime commission advise the governor on improving the justice system, protecting individual rights and promoting public safety.

JDs on the unemployment line

Lawyers are out of work, too.

Once guaranteed a shot at the good life, a growing number of those who practice law find themselves among the unemployed. This spring, out-of-work attorneys are being joined in the brutal job market by hundreds of newly minted lawyers graduating from the state's seven law schools, many planning to take the bar exam this summer.

"It's not a happy picture," said Allan Head, director of the N.C. Bar Association, a voluntary professional organization with 13,500 members across the state. "I can't remember a time when lawyers were being laid off."

Nationally, the unemployment rate in 2008 for the legal profession, including paralegals as well as lawyers, was at the highest it's been in years -- 2.6 percent, approximately 44,000 people, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number is believed to have increased this year.

Another theory: Judges not interested

Another theory why most judges can't officiate: They don't want to.

N.C. Bar Association spokesman Russell Rawlings said he's now heard a second theory on why judges higher than the magistrate level can't perform weddings.

He said that state law allowed it at one point, but elected judges felt that it was an imposition. Since they run for office regularly, they had a hard time saying no to requests from voters, but they felt it was a drain on their time.

"They felt they would end up marrying anyone who wanted to pop into a courtroom, get married and move on," he said.

Neither Rawlings nor Dome has yet found evidence to back up this theory in newspaper archives or on the legislative Web site.

A bill introduced this session would allow retired state judges to officiate.

One theory on judges, weddings

Why can't most judges officiate at weddings?

Dome is looking into that question, but N.C. Bar Association spokesman Russell Rawlings had a theory.

"Back when this law started, there wasn't but one judge in many areas, especially up in the mountains," he said.

That could have put a judge in a conflict of interest if one of the people who he married showed up as part of a criminal or civil case — or even a divorce — in his courtroom, Rawlins speculated.

The state law dates to 1871. 

Previously: Bill would allow retired judges to officiate 

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