Historic Celebration Honoring N.C. Supreme Court’s African-American Justices

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(From top, left to right) Justices Morgan, Timmons-Goodson, Beasley, Wynn, Frye, and Butterfield were honored on Aug. 31st (*Picture originally from NCAOC)

On Aug. 31st, the Historic Celebration Honoring the African-American Justices of the Supreme Court of North Carolina was held at the Law and Justice Building in Raleigh.  During this celebration the Honorable Henry E. Frye, James A. Wynn, Jr., G.K. Butterfield, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Cheri Lynn Beasley, and Michael Rivers Morgan were recognized for their service.  Many people came out in support of the event, and rooms were also provided at the N.C. History Museum and the Court of Appeals, while the event was also live-streamed on Facebook.

Wanda Bryant, senior associate judge of the N.C. Court of Appeals, presided over the event, opening the ceremony by acknowledging each judge in the order of their service and encouraging the audience to join her in giving the six honorees a standing ovation.  Following Bryant’s introduction, Rev. Dr. Dumas A. Harshaw, Jr., senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, gave the invocation before Chief Justice Mark Martin approached the podium to welcome everyone.  Martin acknowledged the current justices, the history of the N.C. Supreme Court, and spoke briefly about the service of each of the honorees individually.  During his speech, Martin also thanked Wynn for administering his oath to office and cheerfully welcomed the retired Frye back to the court.

Calvin Murphy, emergency judge of the N.C. superior court and a former N.C. business court judge and former president of the N.C. State Bar, gave the occasion.  Murphy gave a more detailed history of the role of African-Americans in the N.C. judicial system, pointing out that the six African-American justices had all been appointed over the past 34 years, and two of only seven women to serve on the N.C. Supreme Court were African-American.

Kaye Webb, retired general counsel of North Carolina Central University and a former president of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, recognized the guests and Ken Lewis, former law clerk to Chief Justice Frye, introduced the African American justices before speakers came to the front to give remarks.

Introducing former Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., District Judge Herbert Richardson was the first speak.  “If the public is to have equal access to justice, they must have equal access to the bench,” Richardson said in a powerful speech.  “You cannot find justice if you cannot find your people.”

When Hunt took the stage, he discussed how change is necessary to achieve greatness.  “When we don’t rock the boat, we stop moving forward,” Hunt said in the closing of his speech.  “Keep rocking the boat until N.C. is all that it could be, all that it would be, all that it should be.”

On behalf of the infirm former Governor Michael F. Easley, his son, Michael F. Easley, Jr., spoke after Hunt, echoing the need for representation of all people in the justice system.  “It is only by diversity that the court is held in the esteem that it is.” Easley said.  In his own closing, Easley borrowed a quote from Civil Rights champion Martin Luther King, Jr., which was paraphrased from Minister Theodore Parker’s 19th-century sermon, saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  He then thanked the honorees for bending the metaphorical arc.

Former Governor Beverly Eaves Perdue followed Easley, opening her speech by recounting her first embarrassing experience in front of judges to the audience’s amusement.  Perdue said that while she once thought that the fight for equality of race and sex, among other things, had been already won, the same issues persist today, but it is important that North Carolinians above all others maintain a spirit of optimism.

Governor Roy Cooper, who was unable to join the presentation in person, gave his speech via video presentation, thanking the justices for their service and for being an inspiration to others.

Following the governors’ speeches, Attorney General Joshua Stein, State Senator Daniel T. Blue, Jr., and Justices Butterfield, Timmons-Goodson, and Frye all took to the podium, echoing the importance of diversity, legacy, and positivity and the history of the N.C. Supreme Court.

In closing, Rev. Dr. Maurice A. Harden, pastor of Rush Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Raleigh, gave the benediction and all attendees were invited to a reception hosted at the governor’s office.

OJD Joins Facebook!

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It is our pleasure to announce that as of yesterday the Office of the Juvenile Defender is now on Facebook!  We have heard suggestions from the N.C. juvenile defender community and we have finally created a page for people to have discussions, share their own posts, and leave questions and concerns for us through Facebook now.  We encourage everyone to please like and follow us now at https://www.facebook.com/NCOJD!

“From In re Gault to Raising the Age: There is Always Room for More Justice” by Guest Blogger Matt Herr

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As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of In re Gault this month, it is a great opportunity to take stock of how far we have come and where we stand on juvenile justice issues in North Carolina today.

In re Gault enshrined in American jurisprudence an important due process “floor” for juveniles by recognizing that they have at least the same due process rights as adults in our criminal justice system. As a result, juveniles today are receiving more due process protections in our courts.

North Carolina’s juvenile justice system also has made numerous reforms over the past two decades and is more focused on rehabilitation than it has been ever before. This means that more young people are getting set back on track and held accountable for their actions without having their lives upended and their futures put at risk.

It also looks like 2017 may be the year that North Carolina joins the rest of the country in “Raising the Age.” As of last month, North Carolina became the last state in the country that automatically prosecutes both 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, no matter how minor the offense. The data on our current approach consistently shows that it leads to worse outcomes, makes our communities less safe, and costs taxpayers more.

Disability Rights NC cares about this issue because a significant number of the youth in our criminal justice system have disabilities. Moreover, children with disabilities already have a hard enough time accessing housing, education, and employment during those crucial transition years into adulthood and beyond. When we further saddle those children with the 1,000 “collateral consequences” of having an adult criminal record and the trauma of incarcerating them with adults—where they are significantly more likely to be physically or sexually victimized and manipulated by gangs—we set those children up for failure. It increases their future reliance on government assistance and makes it more likely that they will resort to future criminal activity and re-enter the criminal justice system. That ends up costing North Carolina taxpayers even more in the long run and has serious repercussions for families throughout our state.

We are privileged to be part of a broad coalition focused on Raising the Age this year—including the North Carolina courts, the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender, law enforcement, and stakeholders in every corner of the political spectrum. We are working to support the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (HB280), which would Raise the Age to 18 in North Carolina for all but the most serious, violent felonies. It would keep 97% of the youth who get mixed up with the law in the juvenile system and get our kids the supports they need to grow into successful, contributing members of society. That bill passed the North Carolina House last week with overwhelming support. It now moves on to the Senate, where we will continue the work of bringing meaningful change to North Carolina’s youth.

Young people in our criminal justice system, and particularly those with disabilities, are the most vulnerable defendants in our criminal justice system. That will never change. Nor will the fundamental truth that the law is at its most when it protects the least of us. If there is one lesson we can learn from working with these kids—whether through protecting their basic rights, making practical reforms to focus on rehabilitation, or recognizing under the law that they are, in fact, children—it is that there is always room for more justice.

Matthew Herr is an attorney and policy analyst with Disability Rights NC. Follow him at @MattHerrTweets.

Statewide Juvenile Defender Call, December 7th, at 1 pm

Our next statewide juvenile defender call will be Wednesday, December 7th at 1:00 PM. Call in number is 919-890-2204. Topics will include an update on the status of the Raise the Age proposal (hint – Sheriff’s Association is supporting!),an introduction to Marcus Thompson, our new Communication and Office Manager,and upcoming communications survey, a discussion about probation and what you can do for your client, and any other issues you’d like to discuss. Looking forward to our discussion!