RALEIGH — Robeson County stands to gain resources for clearing some of the backlog in local courts if legislation that has cleared both chambers of the General Assembly gets the governor’s signature.
The number of assistant district attorneys in Robeson County would increase from 12 to 13 if Gov. Roy Cooper signs House Bill 1001 into law. The same legislation allows for the number of District Court judges in Robeson County to increase from five to six.
County District Attorney Matt Scott attributes the successful passage of the legislation to long hours working for its passage with the county’s General Assembly delegates: Sen. Danny Britt Jr., a Republican from Lumberton, and Rep. Charles Graham, Democrat from Lumberton, and Rep. Brenden Jones, Republican from Columbus County who also represents part of Robeson County.
Scott said he and the lawmakers met multiple times in Raleigh and in Robeson County and spoke for many hours over the telephone.
“I am glad to see this work has been at least partially successful in the form of legislation increasing the number of District Court judges and assistant district attorneys,” Scott said. “Currently in Robeson County we have … over 4,000 felonies pending and over 17,000 misdemeanor offenses pending within our judicial system.”
The additional positions will help his office address the cases pending in local courts quicker and more efficiently, he said.
“Additional resources have been desperately needed to address the crime problem in Robeson County, and I believe this is a major step in the right direction,” Scott said.
The legislation, if signed into law, means the county District Attorney’s Office will have three vacancies to fill, he said. The goal is to have them filled within the next month.
The District Court judge would be selected in an election and be seated in January 2020.
Britt said he was in Raleigh on Wednesday fighting for the legislation; the day before, Scott joined him in Raleigh.
The legislation creating the extra ADA slot and the extra District Court judge position is, “An act consistent with House Bill 966 of the 2019 regular session providing the resources necessary to implement the legislation known as Raise the Age,” HB 1001 reads in part. The Raise the Age legislation, which also has been sent to Cooper for his approval or veto, is an initiative to keep non-violent juvenile offenders out of adult criminal court.
Britt, a former prosecutor said, “Thankfully, we were able to overcome Gov. Cooper’s ridiculous ultimatum and pass Raise the Age funding. This initiative will hopefully give teenagers a chance to make something of their lives after non-violent offenses. A young man or woman’s future shouldn’t be destroyed because of a mistake they made at 16.”
The Raise the Age legislation is one of several that were portions of the state budget vetoed by Cooper and have since been passed separately by the General Assembly. Cooper vetoed the budget in June 28, one day after the spending plan received final General Assembly approval, because it did not contain an expansion of Medicaid.
Another piece of legislation that has cleared the General Assembly and could help clear the judicial backlog in Robeson County would allow for expanded use of emergency judges. The legislation was given final Senate approval on Thursday and a final OK in the House on April 11. It had not been sent to Cooper as of early Thursday evening.
According to the legislation, a District Court or Superior Court judge can apply to be an emergency judge of the court from which he or she has retired if he or she has not reached the mandatory retirement age but has retired after having completed five years of “creditable service.”
“Each of these bills were in the original budget vetoed by the govenor,” Britt said on Facebook. “Members from urban counties such as Guilford and Wake county delegation even including Robeson County native, Dan Blue, spoke out against the additional District Sourt judge being allocated to Robeson County.
“Despite this opposition from a Robeson native who often expresses his understanding for the needs of Robeson, we were successful. … My hope is that with this legislation and other changes which are ongoing that we may be able to dig ourselves out of the hole which we have gotten in Robeson County.”
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]