Not the best way to choose judges in NC

November 26, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

After longtime Guilford County District Court Judge Sherry Alloway retires Dec. 31, Gov. Pat McCrory will appoint her replacement. He won’t have to choose someone recommended by local lawyers.

That marks a change in how District Court vacancies are filled – and not for the better.

The process used previously was excellent. It allowed the local bar – all the licensed attorneys in a judicial district – to send three recommended replacements to the governor. He or she had to appoint one of the three within 60 days.

The bar in Guilford County took this responsibility seriously. It sought applications from interested candidates. Then it held a public meeting at which the candidates stated their cases. Then the lawyers voted. It was fair and open and usually produced a good result. Attorneys who work in local courtrooms know who’s qualified to be a judge.

The legislature did away with this procedure, with a provision added to a bill that originally dealt with medical reimbursements and received final approval at 9:38 p.m. on the next-to-last day of the 2013 session. While the bar can still make recommendations, the governor doesn’t have to accept them. He can appoint any lawyer. Or, because the 60-day deadline was removed, he can make no appointment and leave the vacancy.

McCrory and his legal staff might attend diligently to this task, choosing a well-qualified new judge to serve until the next election. He can accept one of the candidates recommended by the bar. We hope he would.

Or he could pick someone for purely political reasons. It probably was the intent of the legislature that he do so. But if he did, it would represent a setback for the integrity of the courts.

District Court judges don’t preside over the most serious criminal cases or multimillion-dollar civil disputes. But they are often called on to decide a very grave question: whether to terminate parental rights. Removing custody from a father or mother, and then finding a suitable placement for a child, is an action with far-reaching consequences. It is a responsibility that Alloway has accepted for many years.

Judges with the right disposition to deal with such weighty matters can be hard to find. When the governor looks over candidates to fill Alloway’s seat, he should consider legal qualifications, not political connections.

MCT Information Services

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service