Gov. Beverly E. Perdue’s Judicial Nominating Commission had the whiff of political hocus pocus from the get-go: When the supposedly bipartisan 18-member commission was formed earlier this year, she packed it with 16 fellow Democrats.
But the panel created to allegedly take politics out of the naming of new judges suddenly became a hindrance in recent days, after N.C. Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson announced she would leave the bench in mid-December. Perdue declared that she intended to quickly choose the justice’s successor, even if that meant sidestepping her shiny new commission.
The departure of Timmons-Goodson, one of three Democrats on the seven-member court, put Perdue in an awkward position. She’s leaving the governor’s mansion in about a month to make way for Republican Pat McCrory. The commission, which was formed to present the governor with a list of three people to choose from when judicial openings occur, has taken an average of nearly two months to screen and select those candidates. You see the problem here.
“I think it would be very difficult for the commission to perform its function before [Perdue] leaves office,” said JNC commissioner Burley B. Mitchell Jr., a retired chief justice of the state Supreme Court who practices at Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice in Raleigh.
The commission’s chair, Edwin M. Speas Jr. – who also served as Perdue’s general counsel – sent the governor a letter shortly after news of Timmons-Goodson’s retirement broke, in which he suggested that “in this circumstance you may want to consider modifying or suspending the Commission’s role in filling vacancies for the remainder of your term.”
Speas, a partner at Raleigh’s Poyner Spruill, added that the commission, which helped Perdue fill three judicial vacancies since January, “has served a valuable function for our State” and hoped that it wouldn’t be dissolved.
Perdue can disband the commission simply by rescinding her own executive order that created it. McCrory, who takes office Jan. 1, will also have authority to rescind the order. Calls and emails to his office were not returned.
Meanwhile, outgoing Court of Appeals Judge Samuel J. Ervin IV, a Democrat who lost a high-profile and expensive election bid to unseat Republican Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, seems to be a likely candidate to replace Timmons-Goodson.
But he said “it’s way too early to worry about that,” adding “that’s a call for the governor to make.”