Wake judicial districts under review

Staff WriterAugust 29, 2009 

— The N.C. Supreme Court ruled Friday that the way judicial seats are divided in Wake County needs to be re-evaluated.

The 4-3 decision could mean changes in how Superior Court judges are selected in Wake County, either at the direction of the legislature or a judge.

Wake County, referred to as Judicial District 10 in the Supreme Court's ruling, has six Superior Court judges who are elected from four subdistricts within the county. The court ruled that the uneven size of the subdistricts unfairly gives some voters more say than others in choosing judges in the county.

"Plaintiffs have demonstrated gross disparity in voting power between similarly situated residents of Wake County," wrote Supreme Court Justice Edward Thomas Brady in the court's majority opinion. "No other subdivided district in the State comes close to the degree of disproportionality found in District 10."

The lawsuit, Blackenship v. Bartlett, was filed against the State Board of Elections in 2005 by three Wake residents who took issue with the way the legislature carved up Wake's judicial districts. The three men felt that the districts were not fairly and equally distributed with respect to population.

In District 10A, made up of precincts to the north and east of Raleigh's city center, the ratio of judges to residents is one for every 32,199. That jumps to one judge for every 158,812 residents in District 10C, made up of precincts on the outer fringes of northern, eastern and southeastern Wake County, according to the court's ruling.

In a dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson wrote judicial districts shouldn't be determined by population alone.

Friday's decision will require lawyers for the state to demonstrate why the lines drawn by the legislature should be kept. If a judge disagrees, then the legislature will need to make changes.

The elected Superior Court judges in Wake County are Paul Gessner (10C), Abraham Jones (10A), Howard Manning Jr. (10B), Michael R. Morgan (10A), Paul Ridge way (10B) and Donald Stephens (10D).

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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