• Critics say Senate bill to cut special judges would add more costs to system

    By: Tenikka Smith

    Updated:

    MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. - A dozen special superior court judges from across the state could be without a job by July, including a judge in Mecklenburg County.

    A new Senate bill that just made its way to the House would eliminate the positions.

    Sponsors of Senate Bill 10 estimate cutting the 12 appointed judge positions would save $2 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year and $2.6 million the year after that.

    These special superior court judges travel across the state handling serious civil and felony criminal cases. They also help to keep the docket moving if a regular superior judge is out or tied up on another case.

    Attorney Brad Smith believes cuts would actually create more costs by adding more backlog to already congested courts.

    "It's the clerks’ time, it's the courts’ time that's taken up and then it's the amount of money that's spent in housing someone or supervising someone while they are awaiting trial,” Smith said.

    Lawmakers said any increased backlog would be covered by emergency judges, called out of retirement to work for $400 per day.  But Mecklenburg County Trial Court Administrator Todd Nuccio said it's not a viable option.

    "We already use emergency judges as it is to cover shortcomings wherever they might be, and to place this addition burden on the emergency judges would not be realistic,” Nuccio said.

    Smith said decreasing the efficiency of the system impacts the lives of the people accused in pending cases.

    "It hurts people's ability to get a job when they have a case that's pending a disposition,” he said.

    Nuccio said it could also impact crime by taking away the deterrence effect, because there's no immediate punishment.

    "If you have higher crime within your community... businesses move out, neighborhoods go down, which impacts the quality of life," Nuccio said.  "To say we’re going to eliminate these particular judges doesn’t look at the bigger picture."

    Channel 9 reached out to local lawmakers who sponsored the bill. Sen. Warren Daniel, who represents Burke and Cleveland counties, said he wants to get away from the practice of appointing judges. In a statement, Daniel said, "I would support legislation that reallocates special judge positions to districts where there are heavier caseloads as elected superior court judges."

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