STATE OF THE JUDICIARY ADDRESS

delivered by

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT

April 19, 1999

to a Joint Session of the

NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY

 

PRESIDENT WICKER, SPEAKER BLACK, PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE BASNIGHT, SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1999 GENERAL ASSEMBLY, DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: THANK YOU FOR ONCE AGAIN INVITING ME TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT THE STATE OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF OUR GOVERNMENT. IT IS ALWAYS AN HONOR FOR ME TO BE GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF ENTERING THIS CHAMBER TO ADDRESS A JOINT SESSION OF THIS GREAT GENERAL ASSEMBLY.

WHEN I BECAME CHIEF JUSTICE FOUR YEARS AGO, I TOLD YOU THAT I WANTED TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN THE LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIAL BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT. I PROMISED THAT WE WOULD TRY TO BE MORE FORTHRIGHT IN ANTICIPATING OUR NEEDS AND COMMUNICATING THEM TO YOU. AT THAT TIME, WE HAD FALLEN BEHIND IN OUR CONSTITUTIONAL DUTIES. BUT WITH YOUR HELP WE HAVE MADE GREAT PROGRESS SINCE THEN. THANKS TO YOU, WE ARE NOW WORKING TOGETHER TO REALISTICALLY PREPARE NORTH CAROLINAíS COURTS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM.

FOR EXAMPLE, YOUR JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY SUBCOMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS IS HELPING US TO DEVELOP FOR THE FIRST TIME A SYSTEM THAT WE WILL ALL HAVE FAITH IN TO ACCURATELY PREDICT OUR FUTURE NEEDS FOR NEW COURT PERSONNEL. YOU HAVE ALSO HAD THE VISION TO FUND AN INDEPENDENT STUDY, BY OUTSIDE EXPERTS, OF THE LONG TERM COMPUTER NEEDS OF THE COURTS. THAT STUDY IS UNDERWAY NOW.

COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIAL BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT IS THE BEST IT HAS BEEN IN A LONG TIME. TO YOUR CREDIT AS LEADERS, THIS IS SO DESPITE THE FACT THAT SOME OF YOU HAVE TOLD ME YOU LIKED SOME OF MY COURTíS DECISIONS LAST YEAR BETTER THAN OTHERS. AS ALWAYS, I THANK YOU FOR SHARING.

I AM PLEASED TO REPORT TO YOU TONIGHT THAT THE STATE OF THE JUDICIARY IS GOOD.

I MUST FIRST TELL YOU ABOUT THE WORK OF MY OWN COURT, SINCE THAT IS WHERE THE GREATEST PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE. WHEN I BECAME CHIEF JUSTICE FOUR YEARS AGO, WE HAD BEEN THROUGH A LONG PERIOD IN WHICH MORE APPEALS WERE FILED WITH THE SUPREME COURT THAN WE DISPOSED OF EACH YEAR. THE JUSTICES OF YOUR SUPREME COURT RESOLVED TOGETHER TO CHANGE THAT EMBARRASSING FACT, AND THEY HAVE. IN EVERY ONE OF THE PAST FOUR YEARS, WE HAVE DECIDED MORE APPEALS BY FULL WRITTEN OPINIONS THAN HAVE BEEN FILED WITH THE COURT. WE NOW HAVE NO BACKLOG IN THE SUPREME COURT AND ARE ABLE TO SET CASES FOR ORAL ARGUMENTS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE FILING OF BRIEFS BY THE PARTIES. I HOPE YOU WILL FORGIVE ME THE SIN OF PRIDE, BUT I AM PROUD TO REPORT TO YOU THAT SINCE YOUR SUPREME COURT WAS FIRST FORMED ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY YEARS AGO, IT HAS NEVER BEEN MORE CURRENT IN ITS WORK THAN IT IS AT THIS MOMENT.

THE PERFORMANCE OF THE NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS HAS ALSO BEEN EXTRAORDINARY. LAST YEAR, 1,640 APPEALS WERE FILED WITH THAT COURT. DURING THE SAME PERIOD, THE TWELVE JUDGES OF THAT COURT DISPOSED OF 1,662 CASES FOR A NET REDUCTION IN PENDING APPEALS. ALTHOUGH I ONCE SERVED ON THE COURT OF APPEALS, I STILL FIND IT DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE THAT EACH JUDGE OF THAT COURT PRODUCES MORE THAN 120 FULL WRITTEN OPINIONS EACH YEAR, BUT SOMEHOW THEY DO.

MY DUTIES WITH THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CHIEF JUSTICES KEEP ME PRETTY WELL INFORMED ON SUCH MATTERS, AND I HAVE NOT IDENTIFIED ANY OTHER STATE OR FEDERAL APPELLATE COURT IN AMERICA WHERE THE INDIVIDUAL JUDGES WRITE AS MANY OPINIONS AS OUR COURT OF APPEALS JUDGES. I BELIEVE IT IS ACCURATE TO SAY THAT THE TWELVE JUDGES OF THE NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS ARE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE APPELLATE JUDGES IN AMERICA. I COMMEND EACH OF THEM FOR THEIR EFFORTS.

THE PICTURE WITH REGARD TO OUR TRIAL COURTS -- THE COURTS OF MOST INTEREST TO THE ORDINARY CITIZEN -- IS LESS ENCOURAGING BUT STILL GOOD. TWICE SINCE BECOMING CHIEF JUSTICE, I HAVE HALTED THE ROTATION OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES AND SENT ALL OF THEM TO THEIR HOME DISTRICTS TO DEAL WITH CASE BACKLOGS. THE RESULT EACH TIME WAS THAT ALMOST ALL OF THEM WERE ABLE TO BRING THEIR CASELOADS INTO CURRENT STATUS. BUT WE ARE BEGINNING TO SLOWLY FALL BEHIND AGAIN IN BOTH THE SUPERIOR AND DISTRICT COURTS.

IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, CASE FILINGS HAVE INCREASED BY APPROXIMATELY 16% IN OUR SUPERIOR AND DISTRICT COURTS. LAST YEAR, MORE THAN 284,000 CASES WERE FILED IN OUR SUPERIOR COURTS. DESPITE THIS TREMENDOUS INFLUX, OUR SUPERIOR COURTS WERE ABLE TO DISPOSE OF 97% OF THAT NUMBER OF CASES. MORE THAN 2.5 MILLION CASES WERE FILED IN OUR DISTRICT COURTS. OUR DISTRICT COURTS, AS INCREDIBLE AS IT MAY SEEM, WERE ABLE TO DISPOSE OF 99.7% OF THAT NUMBER OF CASES. OUR TRIAL COURTS ARE STRUGGLING BUT HOLDING THEIR OWN. THEY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DO SO MUCH LONGER WITHOUT HELP.

IN RECENT YEARS, YOU HAVE AUTHORIZED OR REQUIRED THE COURTS TO TAKE ON MANY NEW DUTIES IN ADDITION TO OUR BASIC CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY OF DISPOSING OF LITIGATION BROUGHT BEFORE US IN A JUST AND TIMELY MANNER. AS A RESULT, WE ARE NOW CONDUCTING MANY EXPERIMENTAL COURTS AND OTHER PROJECTS. TIME PERMITS ME ONLY TO MENTION A COUPLE OF THEM.

THE EXPERIMENTAL DRUG TREATMENT COURTS YOU AUTHORIZED IN 1995 HAVE BEEN IN PLACE FOR OVER TWO YEARS. THERE ARE FIVE DRUG TREATMENT COURTS IN OPERATION, AND FOUR SCHEDULED TO BEGIN BY THE END OF THE YEAR. THE DRUG TREATMENT COURT ACT OF 1995 ESTABLISHED THESE COURTS AS EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAMS. THE GOAL WAS TO REDUCE ALCOHOLISM AND OTHER DRUG DEPENDENCIES AMONG OFFENDERS, WHICH WOULD ALSO REDUCE THE ALCOHOL AND DRUG-RELATED COURT WORKLOAD. THE PROGRAM IS AIMED AT ACHIEVING THIS BY IMPROVING THE PERSONAL, FAMILIAL, AND SOCIETAL ACCOUNTABILITY OF OFFENDERS.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE IS ONE OF THE MAJOR FACTORS -- IF NOT THE MAJOR FACTOR -- IN MOST OF THE SOCIAL PROBLEMS FACING YOU AND THE COURTS. FOR EXAMPLE, SUBSTANCE ABUSE IS ONE OF THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING CRIME TODAY. STUDY AFTER STUDY HAS ESTIMATED THAT FROM 50% TO 80% OF VIOLENT CRIMES -- INCLUDING SPOUSE ABUSE -- ARE ATTRIBUTABLE IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER TO ALCOHOL OR DRUG ABUSE.

EARLY RESULTS FROM YOUR EXPERIMENTAL DRUG TREATMENT COURTS ARE VERY ENCOURAGING. THEY HAVE SHOWN THAT EVEN INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT PROGRAMS ORDERED BY OUR COURTS CAN BE EFFECTIVE IN MANY CASES. I AM ENCOURAGED BY THE RESULTS I HAVE SEEN. IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME, WE HAVE ACHIEVED DRAMATIC RESULTS THROUGH THIS PROGRAM. HOWEVER, DRUG TREATMENT COURTS REQUIRE MUCH MORE TIME AND ENERGY ON THE PART OF OUR JUDGES AND OTHER COURT PERSONNEL THAN ORDINARY COURTS.

THEY ARE WHAT WE CALL "LABOR INTENSIVE." NEVERTHELESS, I HOPE YOU WILL SEE FIT TO CONTINUE TO EXPAND THESE COURTS.

LIKE THE DRUG TREATMENT COURTS, THE FAMILY COURTS YOU RECENTLY AUTHORIZED WILL BE VERY LABOR INTENSIVE. THEY PROBABLY WILL BE MORE TIME-CONSUMING AND EXPENSIVE TO RUN THAN ORDINARY COURTS. BUT WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE THREE FAMILY COURTS YOU AUTHORIZED, AND WE ARE WORKING HARD TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THEY WILL ALSO MAKE THE COURTS MORE FAMILY FRIENDLY. I BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE RIGHT IN CONCLUDING THAT THE FAMILY COURT CONCEPT IS AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME. WE WILL DO OUR ABSOLUTE BEST TO MAKE THEM SUCCESSFUL.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR JUDICIARY IS DOING VERY WELL OVERALL. BUT MUCH MUST BE DONE IF THIS IS TO CONTINUE.

LAST SESSION, YOU PROVIDED THE COURTS WITH FUNDING FOR 13 NEW DISTRICT COURT JUDGES, 149 NEW DEPUTY CLERKS OF COURT, AND OTHER ESSENTIAL STAFF. I CAN NOT ADEQUATELY TELL YOU HOW MUCH ENCOURAGEMENT THIS HAS GIVEN TO OUR LOCAL COURT PERSONNEL THROUGHOUT THE STATE. THEY ARE THE ONES WHO DAY IN AND DAY OUT MAKE OUR COURTS WORK. I SINCERELY THANK YOU ON THEIR BEHALF AND MY OWN.

THIS YEAR WE ASK FOR FEWER INCREASES IN PERSONNEL. WE WILL JUSTIFY THOSE NEEDS IN THE ORDINARY BUDGET PROCESS, SO I WILL NOT SPEND YOUR TIME THIS EVENING GOING INTO THEM IN DETAIL. BUT I FEEL I MUST EMPHASIZE ONE PRESSING NEED NOW.

WITHIN THE PAST YEAR, I HAVE HAD TO CANCEL SESSIONS OF SUPERIOR COURT DUE TO THE UNAVAILABILITY OF COURT REPORTERS. WHEN THIS HAPPENS, JUDGES AND OTHER COURT PERSONNEL WHO ARE READY TO WORK AND BEING PAID ARE LEFT UNABLE TO PERFORM THEIR DUTIES. ADDITIONALLY, CITIZENS OF THE STATE WHO HAVE PREPARED FOR COURT ARE GREATLY INCONVENIENCED. THE COST OF A COURT REPORTER IS RELATIVELY SMALL COMPARED TO THE FINANCIAL AND HUMAN COSTS INVOLVED WHEN WE MUST CANCEL A SESSION OF COURT.

WE NEED MORE COURT REPORTERS IMMEDIATELY, AND I URGE YOU TO ADDRESS THIS NEED AS A PRIORITY MATTER.

THE NEED FOR BETTER COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY FOR THE COURTS CONTINUES TO BE A DIFFICULT AND ALARMING PROBLEM. I AM CONVINCED THAT THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT RESOURCE FOR IMPROVING THE OPERATION AND MANAGEMENT OF THE COURT SYSTEM IS EFFECTIVE COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY.

THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT LAST SESSION YOU FUNDED A COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF OUR COMPUTER NEEDS BY INDEPENDENT OUTSIDE EXPERTS. THAT STUDY IS UNDERWAY AND SHOULD PRODUCE A LONG-TERM PLAN THAT WILL PROVIDE GUIDANCE AND DIRECTION FOR US. THE BAD NEWS IS THAT IT IS MORE THAN THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE THAT WITHOUT ADDITIONAL RESOURCES TO CARRY OUT THAT PLAN, OUR CURRENT SYSTEMS WILL FAIL. MANY ELEMENTS OF THE EXISTING EQUIPMENT, SOFTWARE AND COMMUNICATIONS VEHICLES ARE SO OLD AND OUTDATED THAT WE CAN NOT BEGIN TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE VARIOUS USERS ACROSS THE STATE.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS, MUCH OF THE TIME AND ENERGY OF THE INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION OF OUR ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS HAS BEEN CONSUMED WITH ADDRESSING THE "Y2K" PROBLEM. NOT BEING A COMPUTER EXPERT, I WILL SIMPLY SAY THAT THE OLD DATA AND SYSTEMS WE HAVE IN PLACE WERE ORIGINALLY DESIGNED IN SUCH A WAY THAT THEY COULD NOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 1900 AND 2000. MILLIONS OF LINES OF PROGRAMMING HAD TO BE CHECKED AND CHANGED. I AM HAPPY TO REPORT THAT OUR INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION ASSURES US THAT MOST OF OUR PROGRAMS ARE PREPARED FOR THE NEW CENTURY AND THAT ALL WILL BE READY BY THE DEADLINE. THERE STILL MAY BE PROBLEMS ON JANUARY 1, 2000, BUT THEY FEEL WE WILL BE READY.

OUR INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION HAS BEEN ABLE, HOWEVER, TO MAKE SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS IN OTHER AREAS OF COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY WHILE STILL ADDRESSING THE Y2K PROBLEM. USING FUNDS YOU HAVE GIVEN US AND A ONE-TIME FEDERAL APPROPRIATION OF 4.4 MILLION DOLLARS, IT HAS BEGUN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF OUR NEW AUTOMATED MAGISTRATE SYSTEM IN SEVERAL COUNTIES. THIS SYSTEM IS THE FIRST BUILDING BLOCK IN A COMPREHENSIVE CRIMINAL INFORMATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM WHICH WILL ALLOW US TO ELECTRONICALLY STORE CRIMINAL CASE INFORMATION AT THE EARLIEST POINT POSSIBLE. WE CAN THEN SHARE IT ELECTRONICALLY THROUGHOUT THE COURT SYSTEM AND WITH OTHER USER ORGANIZATIONS. COURT PERSONNEL WILL NO LONGER HAVE TO RE-ENTER THE SAME INFORMATION TIME AND AGAIN IN THE OFFICES OF THE CLERKS OF COURT, DISTRICT ATTORNEYS AND OTHERS.

IF COMPLETED, THIS SYSTEM WILL SAVE COUNTLESS HOURS EACH YEAR FOR OUR PERSONNEL ACROSS THE STATE. WE BELIEVE THIS WILL GREATLY REDUCE OUR FUTURE NEEDS FOR MORE PEOPLE, AND PEOPLE ARE MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE TO PROVIDE THAN COMPUTER PROGRAMS AND EQUIPMENT. WE MUST HAVE DEPENDABLE RECURRING FUNDS TO SUPPORT AND MANAGE THE SYSTEM IF IT IS TO WORK.

IN ADDITION TO ALL OF THIS, OUR INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION HAS BEEN FORCED TO CREATE AND CHANGE COMPUTER PROGRAMS TO COMPLY WITH NUMEROUS ELECTRONIC REPORTING REQUIREMENTS PLACED UPON THEM BY THE CONGRESS AND BY YOU. MANY OF THESE REQUIREMENTS WERE NOT ACCOMPANIED BY FUNDING WITH WHICH TO DO THE WORK. AS HEAD OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, I WOULD BE NEGLIGENT IN MY DUTY TO YOU AND THE PUBLIC IF I DID NOT TELL YOU THAT WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO COMPLY WITH THESE UNFUNDED MANDATES FOR LONG. TIME DOES NOT PERMIT ME TO MENTION ALL OF THEM, SO I WILL USE ONLY ONE AS AN EXAMPLE TONIGHT.

LAST YEAR YOU PASSED LEGISLATION TO IMPLEMENT THE RECENTLY ADOPTED VICTIMSí RIGHTS AMENDMENT TO OUR STATE CONSTITUTION. THAT LEGISLATION REQUIRED THAT THE STATE GIVE NUMEROUS NOTICES TO VICTIMS AND OTHER PARTIES. IN MANY CASES OUR EXISTING SYSTEMS DID NOT PROVIDE FOR STORING THE INFORMATION NEEDED TO COMPLY WITH THESE REQUIREMENTS. THE GOVERNORíS CRIME COMMISSION RECEIVED A ONE-TIME FEDERAL GRANT OF 1.7 MILLION DOLLARS TO BUILD A SYSTEM CALLED "SAVAN" OR THE "STATEWIDE AUTOMATED VICTIM ASSISTANCE AND NOTIFICATION," SYSTEM TO CARRY OUT THESE TASKS. SAVAN WILL NOT WORK AS DESIGNED UNLESS IT CAN DRAW ON INFORMATION FROM OUR COURTS.

OUR INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION IS WORKING TO MAKE SAVAN POSSIBLE. THEY TELL ME THAT MODIFICATIONS TO OUR COMPUTER PROGRAMS FOR SAVAN-RELATED CHANGES REQUIRE THIRTY-FIVE PERSON-MONTHS OF COMPUTER PROGRAMER TIME. THEY HAVE RECEIVED NO FUNDING FOR THIS TASK.

OTHER UNFUNDED MANDATES WE HAVE RECEIVED INCLUDE REQUIREMENTS FOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROGRAMS TO CREATE A CHILD SUPPORT CASE REGISTRY, TO CREATE A CHILD SUPPORT COLLECTIONS AND DISBURSEMENTS SYSTEM, TO ADD WORTHLESS CHECKS ENHANCEMENTS TO OUR CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM, AND TO CREATE A SYSTEM FOR REPORTING DRIVING WHILE IMPAIRED VEHICLE SEIZURES AND STOPS. ALL OF THESE MANDATES REQUIRE EXTENSIVE WORK BY OUR ALREADY OVER-EXTENDED COMPUTER STAFF. NEITHER OUR PEOPLE NOR OUR VERY OLD AND INCREASINGLY INADEQUATE SOFTWARE PROGRAMS AND COMPUTER HARDWARE CAN MEET SUCH DEMANDS FOR LONG.

RECENTLY, I WAS ALARMED TO LEARN OF THE INABILITY OF THE INFORMATION SERVICES DIVISION TO DEAL WITH ANY KIND OF DISASTER IN OUR COMPUTER OPERATIONS. BELIEVE ME, EVEN THOUGH OUR SYSTEMS ARE ANTIQUATED, IF WE LOST THE USE OF OUR MAIN COMPUTER SYSTEM DUE TO FIRE, STORM, FLOOD, OR SOME HUMAN ACTION, THE COURT SYSTEM WOULD BE IN EXTREMELY SERIOUS TROUBLE. WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO DEVELOP A DISASTER RECOVERY PLAN OR AN ALTERNATE "HOT SITE" WHERE WE COULD RECOVER. THE STATE COMPUTER CENTER HAS SUCH ARRANGEMENTS AND THE INFORMATION RESOURCE MANAGEMENT COMMISSION STRONGLY RECOMMENDS THAT SUCH PROVISIONS BE IN PLACE, BUT WE HAVE NOT RECEIVED ANY FUNDING FOR THIS PURPOSE.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS RISK AND EXPOSURE ARE FRIGHTENING. I AM ADVISED THAT IT COULD TAKE US WEEKS, OR EVEN MONTHS, TO GET OUR SYSTEMS WORKING AGAIN IF WE HAD SUCH A DISASTER. NONE OF OUR CURRENT SYSTEMS WOULD BE AVAILABLE. IT WOULD BE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE COURTS TO CARRY OUT THEIR FUNDAMENTAL FUNCTION OF DEALING WITH CASES AND LITIGANTS BEFORE THEM.

OUR COURT COMPUTER SYSTEMS ARE FUNCTIONING, BUT THEY DESPERATELY NEED ATTENTION AND FUNDING TO MAKE THEM MORE EFFECTIVE AND RELIABLE. I BEG YOU TO ADDRESS THIS PRESSING PROBLEM WITH THE SAME SENSE OF URGENCY THAT I HAVE FELT FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS. ONCE THE STUDY BY OUTSIDE EXPERTS THAT YOU HAVE FUNDED IS COMPLETED, WE WILL NEED DEPENDABLE RECURRING FUNDING TO CARRY OUT THE LONG-TERM PLAN IT SHOULD PRODUCE.

I TURN NOW TO A MORE GENERAL PROBLEM OF GOVERNMENT AND OFFER A SOLUTION TO THAT PROBLEM. IN FAIRNESS, I THINK IT WOULD BE UNREASONABLE FOR US TO EXPECT YOU TO SOLVE ALL OF THE CHALLENGES FACED BY THE JUDICIARY. YOU SIMPLY HAVE TOO MUCH WORK TO DO IN ATTENDING TO YOUR OWN DUTIES. SO I NOW WANT TO SUGGEST THAT YOU SERIOUSLY CONSIDER A CHANGE IN THE BASIC NATURE OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE LEGISLATURE AND THE JUDICIARY.

THE REPORT TO YOU TWO YEARS AGO BY THE COMMISSION ON THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE AND THE COURTS INCLUDED SEVERAL RECOMMENDATIONS WORTHY OF CONSIDERATION. I REMAIN GRATEFUL FOR THE HARD WORK OF CHAIRMAN JOHN MEDLIN AND THE COMMISSION. ONE OF THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS WHICH I URGE YOU TO SERIOUSLY CONSIDER AND ADOPT INVOLVES THE ISSUE OF GOVERNANCE OF THE COURTS.

THE COMMISSION NOTED THAT MOST OF THE AUTHORITY FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE COURTS IS PRESENTLY WITH YOU IN THE LEGISLATURE. MEANWHILE, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE FUNCTIONING OF THE COURTS IS PLACED UPON THE JUDICIARY. THE COMMISSION WAS OF THE OPINION THAT NO BUSINESSES OR GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTION COULD FUNCTION WELL WITH ONE GROUP BEING HELD TO ANSWER FOR THE MANAGEMENT IMPOSED BY ANOTHER GROUP. QUITE SIMPLY, THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDED THAT THE LEGISLATURE NO LONGER BURDEN ITSELF WITH MATTERS RELATING TO THE DAY TO DAY ADMINISTRATION OF THE COURTS AND THAT BOTH THE RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE FUNCTIONING OF THE COURTS BE RETURNED TO THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT.

THE COMMISSION RECOMMENDED THE CREATION OF A STATE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TO FUNCTION IN A MANNER SIMILAR TO THAT OF THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA SYSTEM. THIS COUNCIL WOULD SERVE AS THE POLICY-MAKING BODY FOR THE COURTS. IT WOULD MAKE THE PLANS AND ESTABLISH THE PROCEDURES MOST LIKELY TO ENSURE THE EFFICIENT AND FAIR FUNCTIONING OF THE COURTS. THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ESTABLISHING THE BOUNDARIES OF THE STATEíS JUDICIAL DIVISIONS AND DISTRICTS AND THE ASSIGNMENT OF JUDGES AND OTHER PERSONNEL WITHIN THOSE DISTRICTS. IT ALSO WOULD SUBMIT A REQUEST FOR AN APPROPRIATION TO YOU EACH YEAR BASED ON A PROPOSAL FOR SPENDING THE FUNDS APPROPRIATED, BUT THE LEGISLATURE WOULD NOT MANDATE THAT FUNDS BE SPENT BY SPECIFIC LINE ITEMS.

I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS SIMILAR TO THE WAY IN WHICH YOU APPROPRIATE FUNDS TO THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS. IT WOULD SEEM THAT THIS APPROACH WOULD ALSO BE JUSTIFIED FOR THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, WHICH OUR CONSTITUTION SAYS MUST FOREVER BE A SEPARATE BUT EQUAL BRANCH. AS A PRACTICAL MATTER, IT WOULD ALSO RELIEVE YOU OF THE HEADACHES OF CONSTANTLY HAVING COMPETING LOCAL COURT OFFICIALS AND OTHERS ATTEMPT TO PRESSURE YOU INTO BECOMING INVOLVED IN COURT SQUABBLES. I URGE YOU TO ADOPT THIS BOLD, BUT CERTAINLY NOT RADICAL, APPROACH. IT IS THE APPROACH WHICH HAS WORKED WELL WITH THE FEDERAL COURTS FOR OVER 200 YEARS. I THINK IT WOULD SERVE OUR LEGISLATIVE BRANCH, OUR JUDICIAL BRANCH, AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC VERY WELL.

FINALLY, I HOPE THAT YOU WILL FAVORABLY CONSIDER ALLOWING OUR CITIZENS THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE ON A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT CHANGING THE METHOD BY WHICH WE SELECT AND RETAIN APPELLATE JUDGES. THE PEOPLE HAVE NOT HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE ON THIS QUESTION SINCE OUR CONSTITUTION OF 1868 WAS ADOPTED 131 YEARS AGO. ANY CHANGE WILL NOT APPLY TO ME PERSONALLY. HAVING BEEN ELECTED SIX TIMES, I DO NOT INTEND TO TEST THE GOOD NATURE OF THE VOTERS OF THE STATE AGAIN WHEN MY CURRENT TERM OF OFFICE ENDS IN SIX YEARS. BUT I DO SINCERELY BELIEVE THAT THE PUBLIC GOOD WOULD NOW BE BEST SERVED BY A CHANGE TO SOME FORM OF APPOINTMENT OF OUR APPELLATE JUDGES WITH RETENTION ELECTIONS OR NONPARTISAN ELECTIONS THEREAFTER.

STUDY AFTER STUDY HAS SHOWN THAT THE PUBLIC SIMPLY IS NOT INFORMED ABOUT STATE-WIDE JUDICIAL CANDIDATES FOR OUR APPELLATE COURTS. THE GREAT MAJORITY OF OUR CITIZENS NEVER BOTHER TO MARK THEIR BALLOTS FOR EITHER CANDIDATE IN ELECTIONS FOR APPELLATE JUDGES OR JUSTICES. THIS MAKES IT VERY EASY FOR SINGLE ISSUE GROUPS OF THE RIGHT AND LEFT, WHICH CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS EXTREME, TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON APPELLATE JUDICIAL ELECTIONS FAR DISPROPORTIONATE TO THEIR NUMBERS OR TO THE PUBLICíS ACCEPTANCE OF THEIR VIEWS.

WE CURRENTLY HAVE EXCELLENT JUDGES OF BOTH MAJOR PARTIES SERVING IN THE APPELLATE COURTS OF NORTH CAROLINA. I BELIEVE THOUGH THAT ALL OF THEM NOW FACE THE VERY REAL POSSIBILITY OF BEING REMOVED FROM OFFICE IN MID-CAREER SOLELY FOR REASONS ENTIRELY UNRELATED TO THEIR PERFORMANCE AS JUDGES. FURTHER, I REGRET THAT I MUST POINT OUT TO YOU THAT IN 131 YEARS UNDER OUR CURRENT SYSTEM, NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF A RACIAL MINORITY AND NOT A SINGLE FEMALE HAS EVER INITIALLY RISEN TO SERVE IN THE APPELLATE DIVISION OF OUR COURTS BY ELECTION. IT IS TIME FOR OUR CITIZENS TO BE GIVEN THE RIGHT TO VOTE ON WHETHER TO AMEND OUR CONSTITUTION TO ADOPT A BETTER SYSTEM OF SELECTING AND RETAINING APPELLATE JUDGES BASED ON THEIR ABILITY AND PERFORMANCE. PLEASE DO NOT DENY THEM THAT RIGHT.

I ASK YOUR INDULGENCE FOR JUST A MINUTE LONGER WHILE I CLOSE ON A VERY PERSONAL NOTE. WHEN I DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL AND JOINED THE MARINE CORPS JUST BEFORE MY SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY, MANY PEOPLE WOULD HAVE DOUBTED THAT I WOULD EVER ENTER THIS BUILDING. FOR THAT REASON, I FELT A PARTICULAR SENSE OF AWE AND HUMILITY WHEN I FIRST CAME TO THIS BODY AS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL IN 1969. I FELT AN EVEN GREATER SENSE OF HUMILITY TONIGHT WHEN I WALKED ONTO THIS HISTORIC FLOOR AS ONLY THE 24TH PERSON SINCE NORTH CAROLINA BECAME A STATE TO BEAR THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE OFFICE OF CHIEF JUSTICE OF NORTH CAROLINA.

IN THE THIRTY YEARS SINCE I FIRST CAME BEFORE YOU ON PUBLIC BUSINESS, NORTH CAROLINA HAS MADE GREAT PROGRESS. ANY PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENTS I HAVE MADE IN THOSE YEARS HAVE BEEN IN LARGE PART DUE TO THE GOOD WILL AND FRIENDSHIP OF MANY OF YOU HERE TONIGHT -- BOTH REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS -- AND I THANK YOU. MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE RISE OF NORTH CAROLINAíS COURT SYSTEM FROM OBSCURITY TO NATIONAL RECOGNITION AS ONE OF THE MOST PROGRESSIVE AND PRODUCTIVE COURT SYSTEMS IN THE NATION HAS BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY ATTRIBUTABLE TO YOU.

IN THE 1960íS THIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY TOOK GREAT POLITICAL RISKS WHEN IT ABOLISHED A HODGEPODGE OF VERY PROVINCIAL LOCAL COURTS AND CREATED OUR UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM WHICH BECAME THE MODEL FOR THE NATION. AT EVERY REALLY CRITICAL POINT SINCE THAT TIME, YOU HAVE MADE THE PROMISE OF THAT COURT REFORM ACT COME TRUE. THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT AND THE CITIZENS OF NORTH CAROLINA ARE INDEBTED TO YOU FOR THIS.

SO, NO MATTER HOW CONTENTIOUS REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY MAY BECOME IN THIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, I IMPLORE YOU NOT TO GIVE UP ON EACH OTHER. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT I AM ONE NORTH CAROLINIAN WHO WILL ALWAYS HAVE FAITH IN YOU. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, YOU WILL HAVE MY HEARTFELT THANKS FOR YOUR PERSONAL FRIENDSHIP TOWARD ME AND FOR YOUR CONSTANT DEVOTION TO THE WELFARE OF OUR COURTS AND TO THE PEOPLE OF NORTH CAROLINA. I WISH EACH OF YOU THE BEST OF LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS AND A VERY GOOD EVENING.