Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Real Story Behind the Early Retirement of Judge Doug McCullough

This piece by Anne Blythe, posted yesterday afternoon in the Raleigh News&Observer, serves up one fine blue ribbon plate of in-depth reporting. Here's the gist: Republican Appeals Court Justice Doug McCullouch resigned his seat early to frustrate the machinations of Republicans in the General Assembly who were trying their dead-level best to monkey with the independent judiciary in North Carolina.

Judge Doug McCullough
We covered the sudden retirement of Appeals Court Justice Doug McCullough back in April. What we didn't know, and what Anne Blythe's reporting has now uncovered, is that Judge McCullough had been lobbied to retire early before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was sworn into office, so that Republican lame duck Gov. Pat McCrory could appoint a Republican hardliner to the Appeals Court before Cooper could appoint his choice.

It was NCGOP Chair Robin Hayes who called Judge McCullough last fall during Thanksgiving and suggested early retirement. Republican leaders were feeling a little desperate. Roy Cooper had won the governorship, opening up a particular threat to GOP hegemony: Up to three sitting Republican judges on the state Court of Appeals were facing mandatory retirement, and Cooper would get to appoint their replacements. Said Robin Hayes over the phone last Thanksgiving, "Wouldn't you like to resign early and let Governor McCrory appoint your successor?"

That attempt to push Judge McCullough out early was only another brick in the wall of court-stacking and court-hobbling measures introduced and passed since 2011 by the Republican majority in the General Assembly. Phil Berger in the NC Senate, especially, has been determined to remake the courts as partisan extensions of the legislative branch.
In 2013, Republicans eliminated public financing for judicial elections. "Since then, spending on campaigns has increased as well as the size of contributions from organizations and political action committees from outside North Carolina."
In 2016, a "retention election law" to save Republican Supreme Court Justice Robert Edmunds' hide was overturned
In 2017 Republicans made all judge elections partisan, down to district courts. They had become nonpartisan in the 1990s and 2000s. Gov. Cooper vetoed this law, but the GOP overrode the veto.
In 2017 Republicans decreased the number of emergency judges by nearly 70 percent.
In 2017 Republicans cut funding to legal aid organizations that help low-income people.
In 2017 Republicans cut the state attorney general’s office budget by $10 million, forcing Democrat Josh Stein, who was elected to the office in November, to cut 45 positions and lay off career attorneys.
So this happened: After McCullough refused to resign in time for Pat McCrory to appoint a replacement and after Roy Cooper was sworn in as governor, Republican honchos in the General Assembly pushed forward another innovation to thwart Cooper's appointment power: They simply passed a law eliminating three seats on the Court of Appeals. Two of those seats belonged to Republicans approaching mandatory retirement. One of those two was McCullough.

The new law passed the General Assembly. Cooper vetoed the law. And minutes before the General Assembly could override that veto, boom! McCullough tendered his resignation, giving Cooper the opportunity to appoint Democratic Judge John Arrowood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Phil Berger in the NC Senate, especially, has been determined to remake the courts as partisan extensions of the legislative branch."

Oh, but it's OK when Democrats do the same?