Bill Summary for S 560 (2019-2020)

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2019-2020 Session
Senate Bill 560 (Public) Filed Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Intro. by Rabon, Britt.

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Bill summary

Repeals Article 30, Judicial Standards Commission, of GS Chapter 7A.

Amends GS 84-23 regarding the powers of the NC State Bar Council (Council), to now include: adopting rules of professional ethics and conduct for lawyers and State Bar certified paralegals (previously did not specify for whom), investigating and prosecuting matters of professional misconduct for lawyers and State Bar certified paralegals (previously did not specify of whom), and investigating and resolving inquiries concerning the qualifications and conduct of any judge or justice under new Article 5 (though specifies such investigation and resolution bears no affect on judicial impeachment). 

Recodifies GS 84-28 through GS 84-32.1 and GS 84-36 through GS 84-37 as GS 84-40 through GS 84-50, respectively, in new Article 5, Investigation and Discipline. Modifies and adds to the Article as follows. 

Amends GS 84-40, as recodifed, to now provide that any judge or justice is subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Council under the NC Code of Judicial Conduct as adopted by the Supreme Court (Code) and under the procedures adopted by the Council. Makes conforming changes to GS 84-43, as recodified, regarding evidence and witnesses in any investigation under the Article.

Enacts GS 84-51 to set forth definitions for the Article with regard to any investigation concerning the qualifications and conduct of any judge or justice conducted under the Article, unless the contact clearly requires otherwise. Terms defined include: censure, Council, incapacity, investigation, judge, letter of caution, public reprimand, remove or removal, and suspend or suspension.

Enacts GS 84-52 to authorize the Council to issue a private letter of caution upon a determination that any judge has engaged in conduct that violates the Code but that does not warrant a recommendation of public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal. Defines letter of caution to mean a written action of the Council that cautions a judge not to engage in certain conduct that violates the Code. Permits the Supreme Court, upon recommendation of the Council, to issue a public reprimand, censure, suspend without pay, or remove any judge for willful misconduct in office, willful and persistent failure to perform the judge's duties, habitual intemperance, conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. Provides that removal for these described reasons forfeits retirement compensation and disqualifies the individual from holding further judicial office. 

Permits the Supreme Court, upon recommendation of the Council, to suspend, for a period of time it deems necessary and during which time the judge is compensated, any judge for temporary physical or mental incapacity interfering with job performance, and to remove any judge for physical or mental incapacity interfering with job performance that is or is likely to become permanent. Specifies that a judge removed for these reasons is entitled to retirement compensation if the judge has met the required creditable service for incapacity or disability retirement, and prohibits such a judge from sitting as an emergency justice or judge.

Enacts GS 84-53 to permit any citizen to file a written complaint with the Council concerning the qualifications or conduct of a justice or judge, which the Council should investigate as it deems necessary. Also authorizes the Council to make an investigation upon its own motion. Prohibits an investigation by the Council when the sole basis of the complaint is a superior court judge's legal ruling that has not yet been reviewed or ruled upon by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. Provides for the subpoena of witnesses, production of evidence, and administration of oaths, and allows the Council to issue punishment for contempt. Requires a hearing prior to any recommendation of public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal. Provides that all papers filed with and proceedings before the Council are confidential and not public records. Provides for issuance of a letter of caution in lieu of any further proceedings. Requires notice and statement of charges, as well as the record supporting the recommendation, filed by the Council recommending disciplinary action by the Supreme Court to be confidential, as well as any answer and all other pleadings. Provides that all disciplinary hearings are also confidential. Provides that testimony and other evidence presented is privileged in any defamation action. Requires five Council members to concur in any recommendation for public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal of any judge. Entitles any such respondent to the proposed record filed, as well as to a brief and argument, both in person and through counsel, to the Supreme Court. Requires a majority of voting members to approve the recommendation or remand, or reject the recommendation. Provides that a respondent is disqualified from acting as a justice or Council member in such a matter. Provides that the notice and statement of charges, answers, and other pleadings, Council recommendations, and the record filed for support are no longer confidential upon issuance of a public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal by the Supreme Court. Authorizes the Council to issue advisory opinions as a trial court to punish for contempt, or for refusal to obey lawful orders or process issued by the Council.

Transfers as a Type I transfer to the Council the authority, powers, duties and functions, records, personnel, property, and unexpended balances of appropriations, allocations, or other funds of the lobbying registration and lobbying enforcement function of the Judicial Standards Commission.

Effective January 1, 2020. Provides a saving clause for any ongoing inquiry into the conduct and qualifications of any judge or justice pending before the Judicial Standards Commission on December 31, 2019, and requires the Council to be substituted as a party upon application, as specified. Provides a saving clause for prosecution for offenses and violations committed before January 1, 2020. Requires that rules adopted by the Judicial Standards Commission remain in effect unless subsequently modified by the Council. 

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