The Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act - which has passed the North Carolina senate and will now be considered by the House – has gotten a lot of attention because it would allow Republican leaders to remake a number of powerful commissions and regulatory bodies. But the Act would also eliminate 12 Special Superior Court Judge positions – which got us wondering what a special superior court judge is. So, we asked WFAE's Julie Rose to find out.
Superior court is where the higher-level civil and criminal cases are tried. Think of special superior court judges sort of like the bench for that bench.
"They fill in often times when regular superior court judges take vacation or when we have a particular case that will consume a considerable amount of time," says Todd Nuccio, Trial Court Administrator in Mecklenburg County.
Nuccio relies regularly on special superior court judges to rotate through and pick up slack. Unlike regular superior court judges who are elected to their posts, these special ones are appointed by the governor.
They're back up judges, but they have little time to warm the bench.
State Administrative Office of the Courts Senior Deputy Director Jon Williams says special superior court judges earn the same salary as regular superior court judges and do just as much work - they just don't get to stay close to home.
"A special superior court judge could be in the mountains one week and down in the coastal plains the next and somewhere in the Piedmont the week after that," ways Williams. "They really are the road warriors and they make it possible for us to not cancel court sessions."
Williams says the 12 special superior court judges that would be eliminated under the Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act helped process nearly 20,000 cases last year and prevent a backlog in Superior Court.
If the point of the measure (SB 10) is to save money, as some lawmakers have suggested, the legislative fiscal analyst estimates eliminating those 12 positions would save about $2 million next year. The catch is the state might have to rely more heavily on retired judges to fill in, instead – and they cost $400 a day.