Judicial merger finalized

Published 8:28 am Tuesday, November 11, 2014

After a series of meetings with judicial and court officials to discuss the judicial district merger as mandated by the North Carolina Legislature, Chief District Court Judges Branch and Lewis have published a schedule of courts that will merge the 6-A, 6-B judicial districts.

According to Branch and Lewis, the merger did require them to cut and merge courts and change court times in all counties due to the loss of two judges. Even with the cuts and merger, there is still an increased case load for each judge in order to provide adequate judicial services. This will cause more back logs and the judges will be required to perform on call duties for those matters that are not able to be scheduled.

Also, despite the cuts to the magistrates in 2010, they will have to assume more emergency duties.

The schedule will also immediately require the use of emergency judges to fill-in for judges who are on vacation or in continuing legal education and/or training, and for criminal court when more pressing and time consuming domestic cases requires the attention of the assigned judge.

Based on the Constitution, the Legislature can only remove a judge’s seat when the judge is up for re-election.  Judge Lewis and Judge Jones are both from Hertford County and were up for re-election when this law was passed. The remaining judges reside in Halifax County and in the northwest section of Northampton County, which is approximately 1 and ½ hours away from Hertford and Bertie counties.  Therefore, this will require emergency judges from the area when inclement weather is in Halifax and Northampton counties and fair weather is in Hertford and Bertie counties and vice-versa due to the distance.

In an effort to be prepared, Judge Branch has spoken with and secured agreements from retired judges Newbern and McCoy to serve as the emergency judges when allowed by their schedule and the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Both are retired from the district.

Both Judges Branch and Lewis have met with the commissioners in the merged counties to request their help in informing the citizens of the merger and to ask for their patience and help in working through this process. In particular, there will be a need to use the commissioners’ rooms in Northampton, Bertie and Hertford counties for some court sessions because the merged courts will require court officials to bring in more people than what the counties’ current courthouses can support on those days.

While the merger did affect the District Courts, it did not affect the Superior courts. Judges Hinton and Grant will preside over the superior courts as are set and will not experience any changes in their courts day to day operations or re-scheduling of courts or duties in conjunction with the District Court merger.  However, when not in use, there may be a request to use the superior court rooms.

Both Judges are in awe and appreciation for the Judges, District Attorney, Clerks, Law Enforcement, the local Attorney Bar Association, Commissioners, Trial Court Coordinators, and Staff for the manner in which they were willing to attend meetings and work toward a schedule that would alleviate as many concerns as possible.  The judges also thank Penny Aycock for her time and attention to detail in capturing the suggestions and concerns in the ongoing and final merged schedule.

Lastly, the judges ask that the community understand when they are no longer available to participate in community and school programs, due to the increased court duties and travel.

“While we believe it is an important part of what we do to get to know the issues facing the people we serve, we believe our first duty is to preside in court where our citizens elected us to serve in a fair and consistent manner,” Judge Branch stated.