Under the Dome

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.

“We feel, as an organization, it is important to stand up for transparency on behalf of the profession, and more importantly on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina,” Alan Duncan, president of the N.C. Bar Association, said in a statement released Tuesday.

Duncan said the association had analyzed the bill extensively, and determined the current system works well.

Appellate Chief Judge John Martin, who is chairman of the Judicial Standards Commission, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker have expressed concerns about the legislation, the association said.

The bill scooted through the General Assembly in the final hours of the session, after being defeated a week earlier when 14 Republican senators joined eight Democrats. At the time, Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville, said it “sounds like lawyers protecting lawyers.”

But Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican who represents part of Johnston County, said judges should be protected from reprimands that have “false or twisted accusations.” The bill was later revived without any changes to it and was passed 28-14 in the Senate late at night, and 54-47 in the House (with bipartisan opposition) the next morning.

A public reprimand of a judge is based on misconduct that is considered minor, and can include requiring corrective action.

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