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Pat McCrory signs remaining bills on his desk, punts on one

The regulatory measure Gov. Pat McCrory signed is one of 33 bills he endorsed Friday, the final batch from a prolonged legislative session. The governor left one measure unsigned: a bill to prevent North Carolina courts from recognizing Islamic Sharia law in family cases. In a statement, he called House Bill 522 “unnecessary.”

All told this session, McCrory signed 334 bills, vetoing two more and allowing two to become law without his signature. (The other is a measure transferring control of the Asheville water system.) Among the others signed Friday include measure to:

--Grant Republican legislative leaders the ability to intervene in a lawsuit to defend laws and the constitution, such as the state’s gay marriage ban, rather than reserving this standing to the N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat;

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.

Senate defeats effort to make judicial reprimands confidential

The N.C. Senate voted down a measure to keep the Judicial Standards Commission's reprimands of judges secret.

In a 13-21 vote, prominent Republicans joined Democrats in a rare move to defeat the bill because it reduced government transparency. Senate Bill 652 was later revived but sent to the Senate Rules Committee where it is expected to remain without further action this session.

Under the legislation, a commission reprimand of a judge would remain confidential unless the N.C. Supreme Court concurs and makes it public.

Governor could ignore local bar in appointing judges, under bill

The governor could appoint whoever he wants to fill district court judge vacancies, under a bill the House tentatively approved Wednesday.

Currently, the governor must choose from a list of three nominees the local bar presents. This bill, SB321, would allow but not require the governor to choose from five nominees.

The House passed the bill 70-40, mostly along party lines with a majority of Republicans favoring the bill. Some Republicans voted against it and some Democrats voted in favor of it. Third and final reading is expected Thursday, and then the bill returns to the Senate.

Last-minute attempt to change how judges appointed stalls bill

A last-minute attempt to change the way the governor fills district court judge vacancies has been sidelined after House members questioned why it was suddenly so urgent.

Currently, the governor must choose a replacement from nominations by lawyers in that district’s bar. The change would free up the governor to choose from the bar’s recommendations or select someone else.

The provision was inserted into an unrelated bill during a House recess Thursday in a hastily called session of the Rules Committee.

McCrory highlights his concerns with Senate budget plan

Gov. Pat McCrory is making his concerns known with the Senate budget. In a statement, McCrory said he is "pleased the Senate's budget proposal aligns with some of our major priorities." But his office issued a list of "areas for further review," aka "where the Senate went off-track."

They include: "elimination of Special Superior Court judges; transfer of the SBI; exclusion of drug treatment courts; no salary increases for state employees; no expansion of pre-K; no eugenics compensation; and does not allow for routine legal services in each agency."

The major differences will put the onus on the House to help carry the governor's water, unless the Senate bends to the governor's concerns, which seems unlikely given the tenor so far this session.

Poll shows NC voters want to retain campaign finance law for statewide judges

A new poll shows a majority of North Carolina voters favor the state's current system of publicly financing the campaigns of candidate for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The survey, finding 68 percent favor the program and 23 percent oppose, comes amid warnings that last year's multi-million-dollar campaign for Supreme Court Justice

Paul Newby's seat threatens to remake the campaign financing landscape. Newby won re-election over appellate Judge Sam Ervin IV, with a huge infusion of outside money.

Statewide judicial candidates can accept public financing if they agree to spending limits and refuse political action committee and special interest money. But with the emergence of "super PACs," which collect and spend money independent of candidates, those limits are meaningless.

GOP moves for partisan judicial elections again

There will be an attempt to make judicial elections partisan again. A pair of Republican senators filed such a bill on Thursday.

SB39 would require state all Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, superior and district court judges to run by party affiliation. That used to be the case until 2002, when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly made them nonpartisan, the rationale being that judges should be elected based solely on qualifications and not politics.

Republicans contended that the real motivation was that voters were electing Republican judges.

Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale, a retired school administrator, and Sen. Thom Goolsby of Wilmington, a lawyer, are the co-sponsors.

Hood: time to scrap public financing of judges and return party labels

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, says its time for the legislature to scrap the system of public financing for appellate judges and restore party labels. His column can be found at www.johnlocke.org. "North Carolina policymakers will have a lot on their plate in 2013," Hood writes. "The General Assembly will tackle education reform, a rewrite of the state tax code, the unemployment-insurance debt, and other pressing issues. Gov. Pat McCrory will propose initiatives of his own, likely to include regulatory reform and changes to the budget process. Nevertheless, I hope they make time early in the 2013 legislative session to take care of a lingering legal problem: North Carolina’s unwise and unconstitutional system for electing members of the state’s appellate courts

Judicial candidates to appear at Raleigh forum this week

The often-overlooked, but nonetheless important, judicial races on the November ballot will get a vetting Wednesday in Raleigh.

The Junior League of Raleigh will host a judicial panel featuring 17 candidate, including state Supreme Court contenders Paul Newby and Sam Ervin IV.

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