Bill addresses judicial efficiency in western counties
A House bill proposed by Western North Carolina reps. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, and Mark Pless, R-Haywood, includes significant changes to a judicial district that is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
“Population for this area is growing exponentially, the number of cases are growing exponentially. Dockets get to be so long and there’s so many court cases,” said Clampitt of H405 , which was filed in the House with Clampitt and Pless as primary sponsors on March 24.
The bill would amend NCGS 7A-41 and move Swain County from Superior Court District 30A, which also includes Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, to district 30B, which is currently comprised of Haywood and Jackson counties. Each district is assigned one resident Superior Court judge.
The bill would also amend NCGS 7A-133 to divide the six-judge 30th District Court District into two separate districts, 30A and 30B. District 30A would consist of Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties with three District Court judges. District 30B would consist of Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties and have five District Court judges.
Right now, five of the six judges in the district live in Haywood County. Were the bill to become law, the five Haywood judges would remain in 30B, while the other, a resident of Clay County, would remain in 30A and be joined by two new judges who live somewhere in 30A.
“The theory is to cut on down the travel time for the judges, to cut down on, inconvenience for everyone,” Clampitt said. “It’s a benefit to the citizens as far as turnaround time in court cases, and continuances, and also a benefit to law enforcement, to cut down on the time and travel.”
Those two new judges would be appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, with terms expiring in 2022, and their successors elected in the November 2022 General Election.
Two additional assistant district attorneys for Prosecutorial District 43 would also be needed, bringing the total from 13 to 15.
Pless said the move would help the court system address cases in a more expedient manner and devote more attention to offenders.
“We need to go in some different directions. As far as the core systems are concerned, I had a meeting with Judge Brad Letts, I guess it was in December, shortly after the election.
We talked about a couple of different issues and one of them is we really need something to be able to track offenders to where we can kind of keep them on a consistent path,” Pless said. “I guess ‘police’ is the only word I can think of, kind of like if they appear before a bunch of different judges, you don’t have consistency.”
Pless also thinks the bill would be an important first step to establishing veterans courts, drug courts, and family courts.
Sen. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, said he was supportive of the idea as a whole, but he’s still trying to sort out some conflicting viewpoints.
“I’m definitely in support of adding judges to our area. There’s some honest disagreement amongst some good people, but I’m talking to now both sides of that issue, some thinking it would be good to have the district split, some thinking we need to keep the districts the same and just add some positions,” Corbin said. “As with any issue, and I’ve learned this after dealing with folks through the years, you have to find common ground. What are the things that we all agree on, and are those the things that we can get done? Will we wind up splitting the district? I don’t know. Will we get some additional judge positions and assistant DA positions, which is what I’ve been pushing for all long? I think the answer is yes to that.”
The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee on March 29, but faces several other committee hearings before it could make it to the floor.