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.

Chief Justice Addresses #RaisetheAgeNC Again at Press Conference

On Monday, Chief Justice Mark Martin held a press conference at the N.C. Legislative Building to offer updates and remind the public of the importance of North Carolina raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.  Martin and other speakers revisited the benefits of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, House Bill 280, which was introduced in March, and echoed the recommendations on juvenile justice reinvestment presented in the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice’s final report.

As expected, after the attention H280 received in March and the recent move by New York to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, there was tremendous support again for N.C. to move forward with the bill.  Judge Martin was joined by Former Rep. Tom Murry, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, Former Lt. Gov. James Gardner, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, Former Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey, who now has a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, along with several others in support of raising the age.

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Chief Justice Martin stated that over 90 percent of parents thought that the maximum age for juvenile jurisdiction was already 18, and while there are 11 counties where young people are diverted to the juvenile system, 89 still remain where they are not.

Comparisons were made to other states, illustrating the disadvantages youth in N.C. face when measured against states such as Tennessee, where young people under the age of 18 are not automatically turned over to criminal court for minor offenses.  Former Lt. Gov. Gardner even pointed out how competitive the job market already is for young people today, whether they have been involved in the justice system or not, referring to his grandson who is an Eagle Scout with no criminal record.

Sheriff Harrison stated that he believed raising the age is needed in N.C., but he also acknowledged that money would be needed to make the necessary transitions.  He emphasized his belief in the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act saying, “I think this initiative will stop some crime… I know it will.”

Murry drove home the point, saying, “We already have Raise the Age in every state.  Now we need to bring the promise to N.C.

Additionally, with the anniversary of In re Gault close at hand, William Lassiter, Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice at the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety stated, “The Gault decision was one of the precursors to raising the age.  It really has effected how the juvenile justice system has been set up in our country, and North Carolina is kind of lagging behind because we haven’t raised the age.  So, it would be sweet justice if we could pass Raise the Age on the 50th anniversary of Gault.”

NCCALJ Presents Final Report to the Chief Justice

On March 15th, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice (NCCALJ) released its final report to Chief Justice Mark Martin during a ceremony at the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Chieft Justice Receives Final Report

The NCCALJ was convened by Chief Justice Martin in September 2015, tasked with reviewing the N.C. Judicial System and making recommendations for improving the administration of justice.  The sixty-five members of the Commission were divided into five committees, with each committee presenting its own final assessment in one of five areas after conducting thorough research, consulting with experts, and engaging in collaborative discussions, as well as gathering input from the public.

This report includes the recommendation to raise the juvenile age to 18 for all crimes except violent felonies and traffic offenses.  You can review our previous summary of this recommendation for the juvenile reinvestment plan on our blog, or you can also view the Criminal Investigation and Adjudication Committee’s final report here.

In addition to the recommendation to raise the juvenile age, the Criminal Investigation and Adjudication Committee’s report includes recommendations for improving indigent defense services, pretrial justice and criminal case management.  The other committees cover Legal Professionalism, Public Trust and Confidence, Technology and Civil Justice.

“The Commission’s recommendations create a framework for dramatic, systemic improvement in the administration of justice in North Carolina,” said Chief Justice Martin.  “The work of this blue-ribbon Commission will help ensure that North Carolina’s Judicial Branch meets the needs and expectations that the people of North Carolina have for fair, modern and impartial courts.”

The N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, along with other components of the Judicial Branch, will implement the Commission’s recommendations.

For more information, you can find the final report and the appendices here.  For inquiries from the media, please contact Sharon Gladwell at sharon.e.gladwell@nccourts.org or 919-890-1394.