Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rank Nepotism, the Berger Family Way

Daddy Berger
When the "Retention Elections for Judges" bill was filed in the North Carolina General Assembly in March 2015, the law was going to apply to all judges at the appellate level -- judges on the NC Supreme Court and the NC Court of Appeals. That law, as it was finally passed, was recently ruled unconstitutional by a three-judge panel.

That decision is on appeal to the NC Supreme Court (which has a glaring conflict of interest, but let that go for the moment). Justice Bob Edmunds has recused himself from the decision, since he is the only current justice whose longevity on the bench depends directly on whether "retention elections" go forward.

By the time that law was passed, the NC Court of Appeals judges had been removed from the bill, leaving just Supreme Court judges impervious to election challengers, which (just incidentally) left Republican Justice Bob Edmunds the sole judge in the entire state who could not be challenged by another candidate in 2016 because Justice Bob Edmunds is the only justice whose term is expiring this year.

Why were Court of Appeals judges deleted from the law, and when did that happen? It happened in the NC Senate. The Senate took out the Court of Appeals from coverage, and the House went along with that. Why? Inquiring minds think it's because the Boss of the Senate, Phil Berger, was paving the path for his son, Phil Berger Junior, to run (and win, perhaps) a seat on the NC Court of Appeals.

Sonny Boy
Had the House version of the "retention election" bill passed, no judge on the NC Court of Appeals could have been challenged in the 2016 elections by another candidate. Phil Berger Jr. wanted to be a candidate. In fact, he currently is a candidate for the NC Court of Appeals, running against Justice Linda Stephens, a Democrat. If the "retention election" law had applied to the Court of Appeals, neither Phil Berger Jr. nor anyone else could have filed to challenge an incumbent.

It sure looks like Daddy Phil made sure Sonny Boy got his shot. In the process, Daddy destroyed the logic of "retention elections," that they should apply to all of the appellate level, and he signaled to anyone watching just how partisan the motivations were behind the entire "retention election" scheme.

Berger Senior has been trying to facilitate his son's ambitions. In 2014, the father pushed the son as the best replacement for retiring Congressman Howard Coble. Junior ended up losing a primary run-off to current sitting Congressman Mark Walker. After that defeat, Junior was promptly appointed to an Administrative Law Judgeship, earning just over $100,000 per annum.

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