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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. Rules Chairman Rep. Tim Moore of Cleveland County said he knew of no controversy about the provision. The committee approved the change on a voice vote that appeared to be split along party lines, with Republicans in favor of it.

Later that afternoon, the bill came to the floor, where it met a hostile reception from several Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham wanted to know why it hadn’t gone through the regular process, which would have been scrutiny in a judiciary committee.

“It seems a little underhanded to me,” Michaux said.

Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Republican attorney from Mt. Airy and chairwoman of one of the judiciary subcommittees, moved to send it to judiciary, but Moore, who is also a lawyer, objected, stressing he wanted the provision and the bill to which it was attached to move forward immediately.

Stevens suggested the bill be held over until the short session, since it had become controversial, but Moore opposed that idea, too. Other representatives objected to the provision being inserted into what had been a carefully crafted bill that passed the Senate unanimously having to do with containing medical costs for treating county jail inmates.

Rep. Darren Jackson, a Democrat from Raleigh and a lawyer, chided Moore’s description of the provision as uncontroversial.

“The reason he knows of no controversy is because nobody knew it was coming,” Jackson said. The first he heard of it was in the Rules meeting, he said.

The standoff continued until Moore announced he had found a “technical issue,” and would agree to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee


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