If passed, an amendment to the state budget will change Richmond County’s judicial district in 2015, possibly compromising the handling of poor defendants’ cases.
The amendment, proposed by state Rep. Justin Burr, a representative of Montgomery and Stanly counties, would move Richmond and Anson counties to N.C. District Court district 16A, currently comprised of Scotland and Hoke counties. The shift would leave Stanly County alone in District 20A.
The proposed four-county district would be served by six district court judges rather than the current three, but according to 16A Chief District County Judge William McIlwain, adding Richmond and Anson to the judicial district would create organizational problems.
“I’m worried about the people of the county and how we can best operate the court system for them,” McIlwain said. “This just creates a lot of obstacles to getting that done efficiently. What’s most disturbing is how it would affect the way we run courts and how we serve all of the people in the county.”
In Scotland and Hoke counties, the cases of indigent defendants are handled by a public defender, whereas Richmond and Anson counties operate on a family court system. In a family court, indigent cases are managed by a court administrator, who also manages other family cases involving divorce and custody disputes, but assigned to private legal counsel.
Calling the prospect “an administrative nightmare,” McIlwain said that the proposed district would essentially operate on two distinct schedules and sets of rules. No funding has been proposed to enable either set of counties to change from their current system.
“My understanding when all of this was proposed was that if this change is made they don’t intend to hire anybody or fire anybody or change anything about the way it currently runs,” he said. “What this means is that half of our new district would be family court and the other half would be public defender.”
In addition to the change in judicial districts, an earlier version of the budget moved Anson and Richmond counties from the 20A prosecutorial district to 16A with Scotland and Hoke. As Reece Saunders, the current district attorney for 20A, resides in Richmond County, he would have been ineligible for reelection to the position after redistricting had taken effect.
In its current iteration, the budget creates a new prosecutorial district, 16C, for Richmond and Anson counties, leaving only Scotland and Hoke in 16A and Stanly alone in 20A. The disparity between proposed 16A prosecutorial and judicial districts could present further administrative issues.
“It’s not unlike a lot of the things that are proposed in the legislature — it serves the interests and needs of one side of the equation and ignores the needs of the other side,” McIlwain said. “In my opinion, Scotland and Hoke counties get shorted.”
Laurinburg Exchange|Civitas Media