Here we go again!

Published 10:24 am Thursday, February 1, 2018

JACKSON – Northampton, Hertford, Bertie, and Halifax counties currently comprise one state judicial district, known now as District 6. A new plan, if passed by state legislators, may possibly expand that district to include two more counties, marking the second time the local judicial system has faced a merger in the past four years.

Local county government and court officials gathered together in Jackson on Monday to learn more about the potential redistricting plan and what effect it will have on the area.

State Senator Erica Smith-Ingram facilitated the discussion by bringing together commissioners from the four counties along with district judges, law enforcement officials, and other community stakeholders.

The proposed plan is House Bill 717, which may possibly add Warren and Vance counties into the district. Other judicial districts across the state will be affected by changes as well.

Under the proposal, the workload for the court system in District 6 would increase without necessarily increasing the amount of people to do the work. They may possibly gain only one additional district judge to cover the expanded area, explained the senator to the concerned attendees.

This new redistricting proposal comes after District 6 already went through a merger mandated by the NC General Assembly a few years prior. Before 2015, the district was split between 6A (Halifax County) and 6B (Northampton, Bertie, Hertford counties).

Six district court judges served the area before the legislation passed. After the merger, only four remained, with Judge W. Rob Lewis II and Judge Tom Jones Jr losing their seats. Superior court judges weren’t affected by the change.

According to Smith-Ingram, the previous merger did not benefit the citizens of District 6. With the proposed expansion to include more counties, she continued to explain that it will be difficult to cover the extra distance and extra workload, lessening citizen’s access to the judicial system.

She cited a few studies conducted by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice which showed how the district—along with several others across the state—would be disproportionately affected. Women and minorities in particular will seem to have the most disparate impact if the legislation goes through.

The senator said she called the people to Monday’s meeting in order to keep them informed about what was happening, and she promised to continue advocating on their behalf.

As a result of the discussion, the Northampton County Commissioners called an emergency meeting Wednesday night to develop a resolution opposing the redistricting plans.