Justin Burr, a state representative who championed a series of efforts to aggressively overhaul the state’s judiciary, will not return to the General Assembly next year. His re-election campaign ended May 8 with a decisive loss to a political newcomer in a Republican primary.
Burr lost by a 56 to 44 percent margin to pharmacist Wayne Sasser. During the campaign, Sasser attacked Burr, a bail bondsman by trade, for sponsoring legislation that stood to financially enrich Burr and other bondsmen. He also pledged to be a voice for local issues in a district that covers Stanly and Cabarrus counties.
Burr, who only narrowly survived a primary challenge in 2016, published a Facebook post saying that he was not surprised by the result and blaming Democrats for loss. (Over the years, Burr has assiduously ignored Lawyers Weekly’s requests for comments on the various judiciary-related bills he’s pushed.)
When the legislature reconvenes May 16, Burr will return as a lame duck while also serving as the point man for an effort to redraw the state’s judicial districts. He is the primary sponsor of controversial House Bill 717, which would scramble the state’s court districts, prosecutorial districts and judicial divisions. The maps became public for the first time last June when Burr tweeted a copy of them less than 48 hours before a rancorous committee hearing on the proposed changes.
An effort to ram the bill through the General Assembly foundered in the face of intense opposition from stakeholders. A slightly revised map still awaits a vote by the full House but is expected to be a major focus for legislators during the short session.
Burr is also sponsoring a bill that would empower the General Assembly, rather than the governor, to fill district court vacancies, and another that would do the same for special superior court judges. There’s no word yet on whether either bill will get a vote.
So far, Burr’s record as a re-shaper of the judiciary has been mixed. He did push through a law that made Stanly County its own judicial district—the smallest in the state—but was unsuccessful in his vendetta to drive District Court Judge Lisa Thacker from the bench. (She now serves in another district.)
A bill that would have let non-attorneys serve as district court judges failed to emerge from committee in 2013. That same year, the state Court of Appeals struck down a state law that had made the North Carolina Bail Agents Association the only entity eligible to provide training for bail bondsmen in the state, a ruling that did not noticeably improve Burr’s opinion of the state’s judicial branch.
But Republicans in Stanly County did not share his antipathy, it would seem.