JUDICIAL DISTRICT 29A — The district bar met almost 2 weeks ago to submit two names for consideration for the newly created district Public Defender (PD). A third name was to be submitted by the Indigent Defense Services(IDS) and there is a question as to whether Judge Tommy Davis is in receipt of it. While Superior Court Judge Davis has yet to make an official announcement of the candidate selected, the Public Defender office is expected to be up and running by Dec. 1, 2018.
By North Carolina statute:
(b) For each new term, and to fill any vacancy, public defenders shall be appointed from a list of not less than two and not more than three names nominated by written ballot of the attorneys resident in the defender district who are licensed to practice law in North Carolina. The balloting shall be conducted pursuant to rules adopted by the Commission on Indigent Defense Services. The appointment shall be made by the senior resident superior court judge of the superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1 that includes the county or counties of the defender district for which the public defender is being appointed.
(c) A public defender shall be an attorney licensed to practice law in North Carolina and shall devote full time to the duties of the office. In lieu of merit and other increment raises paid to regular State employees, a public defender shall receive as longevity pay an amount equal to four and eight-tenths percent (4.8%) of the annual salary set forth in the Current Operations Appropriations Act payable monthly after five years of service, nine and six-tenths percent (9.6%) after 10 years of service, fourteen and four-tenths percent (14.4%) after 15 years of service, nineteen and two-tenths percent (19.2%) after 20 years of service, and twenty-four percent (24%) after 25 years of service. “Service” means service as a public defender, appellate defender, assistant public or appellate defender, district attorney, assistant district attorney, justice or judge of the General Court of Justice, or clerk of superior court.
(h) The term of office of public defender appointed under this section is four years.
The day-to-day operation and administration of public defender offices shall be the responsibility of the public defender in charge of the office. The public defender shall keep appropriate records and make periodic reports, as requested, to the Director of the Office of Indigent Defense Services on matters related to the operation of the office.
The Office of Indigent Defense Services shall procure office equipment and supplies for the public defender, and provide secretarial and library support from State funds appropriated to the public defender’s office for this purpose.
While other districts received funding for office space, support and equipment, Rutherford County and McDowell County did not. The creation of a public defender office can only be done by the legislature. Neither Sen. Ralph Hise or Rep. David Rogers answered our request to discuss this issue. In fact when David Rogers was asked if he got our text, he replied,
“Maybe I was ignoring it.”
When following up that comment with a request for 15 minutes of his time to discuss his first term in office and let the residents of Rutherford and Burke know of his accomplishments, Rogers has not shown any interest in contacting us as requested.
N.C. Senator Ralph Hise, nearly a year after the Bipartisan State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement began a probe into alleged campaign finance violations, is still under investigation and has declined to respond to any of our questions.
Russell Neighbors from Marion N.C. , an attorney and the North Carolina State Bar Councilor for District 29A comprising McDowell and Rutherford Counties, also personally had questions regarding the creation of a Public Defender office.
Neighbors contacted Judge Warren’s office at the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the IDS (Indigent Defense Service) and the AOC legislative liaison. Additionally he contacted N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise regarding his support of the bill to establish the Public Defender Office in 29A judicial district and its funding needs.
Neighbors requested that Hise provide the reasons and concerns leading to the establishment of this office to relay same to the 29A District Bar and the citizens of our two counties. The lawyers of both counties “are all personally impacted by this decision in both our chosen profession and as citizens and residents of these two counties, I believe it only fair and equitable that we the attorneys of the district as well as the general public be given this information.”
The selection of a public defender may become more of a political choice than one based on qualifications. By many accounts, Judge Laura Powell will step down as a district court judge to be appointed as Public Defender despite her little superior court trial experience.