District court judges in western North Carolina may receive some relief in their service to the judicial district.
If the HB-405 were passed North Carolina, it would split the 30th judicial district into 30A (including Graham, Macon, Cherokee, and Clay counties) and 30B (including Haywood, Jackson, and Swain) while hoping for resources an improvement of the districts complement system efficiency.
Rep. Mike Clampitt, who sponsored the legislation, said he tabled the bill based on requests from people in the judicial system in his district, which consists of Jackson, Swain, and part of Haywood counties.
“It was a request from some of the people there to get some relief for filing and planning cases,” he said. “And it’s not that uncommon to split a district.”
Danny Davis, who lives in Waynesville, served as the chief judge in the district’s district court from 2004 to 2010. He said that in the past when people brought up the division of the district he was against it, but after such significant growth in Counties Haywood and Jackson, he is now for it.
“These are not the same counties as 10 years ago when I retired,” he said. “Haywood and Jackson account for more than 50% of the total number of cases for the entire district.”
“All you have to do is check out Haywood County,” he added. “It’s booming and things are changing.”
The journey from Waynesville to Murphy takes approximately an hour and a half, which means three hours of a judges day can be used by commuting. If the bill were passed, they would have to travel the furthest from Waynesville to Bryson City or Sylva. Davis said that additional time would result in more cases being heard, which would increase the overall efficiency of the judicial system across the board.
Another consideration that Davis pointed out is that in cases involving custody or domestic violence, a district judge is assigned to a family, which means that in those cases, the parties may have to travel to hear their cases.
“Some people have to get in their cars and drive from Murphy to Waynesville to get a judge to sign an ex parte order,” he said. “To get people to get in their car and drive 90 miles for a judge to look at something, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“If you split it up, nobody [in 30A] has to drive more than 45 minutes and nobody here has to drive more than 35 minutes, ”he added.
The Supreme Court’s judicial district was split into 30A and 30B in the late 1980s, with 30B including counties of Haywood and Jackson. Davis said he is in favor of Swain’s inclusion in 30B if the county court’s judicial district is split, as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee is located in both Jackson and Swain counties, making the cases easier to navigate.
In addition to dividing up the judicial district, if approved, the bill would allocate more resources – specifically two more district judges for 30A (30B already has five) and two more prosecutors. According to the law, these additional resources would cost $ 553,946 in recurring funds for fiscal year 2021-2022 and recurring funds of $ 759,038 for fiscal year 2022-2023.
The new judicial appointments in 30A would be made by the governor.
With the prosecution district still covering all seven western counties, the new assistant district attorneys could work in any courthouse, although District Attorney Ashley Welch’s office provided no information on how the bill might affect it.
“The proposal to change the geographic boundaries for district judges is speculative,” Welch said in an email. “We believe that any comment on such a split is best left to the judges themselves, as they initiated the action and asked the General Assembly to pass an appropriate law.”
Davis said he believed the division of the district would cost more at first because of the additional judges and prosecutors, but would pay off in the long run.
“What you save will make up for it,” he said.
Davis added that he believed the bill had strong support from the legal community.
“I think there will be quite a bit of support,” he said. “Most of the lawyers I’ve spoken to are for it.”
Clampitt hinted that the bill will be viewed positively in Raleigh, but before it becomes law it must first overcome a number of hurdles, including the budget committee.
“I’ve heard positive reactions,” said Clampitt. “But a lot of information will come in. We have a lot of inquiries every year and we have to check everything carefully. You can never really guess what might happen to a bill. “