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Bill would allow non-lawyer district court judges

If you want to be a judge, should you have to know enough about the law to pass that little thing called the bar exam and be an actual lawyer?

You wouldn’t if a group of Republican legislators get their way.

A bill filed Wednesday would allow court clerks, sheriffs or magistrates with at least 10 years experience, and any law enforcement officer with at least 25 years experience, to be a district court judge.

District court judges can put people in jail. They preside over hearings and trials in misdemeanor criminal, civil and juvenile cases. They also hear divorce, custody, child support and small-claims cases.

House Bill 397 proposes a constitutional amendment allowing the non-lawyer judges. It would require a three-fifths vote in the General Assembly to put it on a statewide ballot for approval.

That’s a long shot. It could be a problem with some of the legislators who are lawyers.

Sponsors of the bill are Republican representatives Justin Burr of Albemarle, a bail bondsman; Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount, a financial consultant; Mike Stone of Sanford, a store owner; and Mike Hager of Rutherfordton, a former home builder.

North Carolina's judicial system already has a layer of non-attorney judicial officials called magistrates. They set bond, accept guilty pleas in minor misdemeanor and traffic cases, and can try small claims cases involving up to $5,000.


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Non-lawyer district court judges

This is a terrible idea, and, hopefully, will never see the light of day. We've been there before, and, with all due respect, non-lawyer judges were not up to the burdens and responsibilities of a much less onerous district court. With greater professionalism now the norm, those burdens and responsibilities have grown exponentially.

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