NC Appeals Court Allows Priest Sex Abuse Lawsuit to Proceed

appeals_courte95b14e8-a3b6-4432-8dc2-06907a37fa6bRALEIGH–A three-judge panel has ruled that a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh over an allegation of child sexual abuse by a priest can move forward.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected arguments made by lawyers representing Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and the Raleigh diocese that allowing the lawsuit to advance would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The case involves allegations that the Rev. Edgar Sepulveda of Santa Teresa Mission in Beulaville engaged in sex acts with a 16-year-old boy. Sepulveda was criminally charged in 2010, but Brunswick County prosecutors later dropped the case.

Efforts to reach Sepulveda by phone and email received no response. A spokesman for the Catholic diocese said Sepulveda remains on administrative leave, barred from visiting any parish or school.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Capital Tonight May 6: Limits on Judicial Campaigns

cap_tonight_5615On Capital Tonight: Should there be limits on judicial campaigns? Are judges politicians? The US Supreme Court addressees those questions. We talk Dan Vock of Governing Magazine about a recent decision, and we ask former state judges Eddie Greene and Bob Orr their thoughts on partisan judicial races and more. Watch the program here.

NC House Considers Shifting Judicial Races Back to Partisan

Judge_GavelRALEIGH–Republicans want candidates for North Carolina appellate court judgeships to reveal their party affiliation on the ballot.

The House scheduled floor debate Thursday to shift races for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals back to being partisan races.  They’ve officially been nonpartisan races for more than 10 years.

Bill supporters say the party labels help voters know more about candidates and boost turnout for these races.  Democrats speaking out on the measure in committee this week said partisanship should stay out of matters of justice.

The races became nonpartisan in 2004 at the same time Democrats in charge of the General Assembly at the time created a voluntary public financing program for the appellate races. That program has since been repealed.

– Associated Press

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal on NC Election Law

SCOTUSWASHINGTON—The nation’s highest court is rejecting an appeal on North Carolina’s election law.

The Supreme Court passed up a chance to review the law that opponents say limits the ability for African-Americans to vote.

Last year, the Federal Appeals Court in Virginia blocked a part of the law that eliminated same-day registration during early voting in North Carolina. A trial is set for july in the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups and the issue of voting restrictions could return to the Supreme Court before the  2016 elections.

New Chief Justice Addresses Lawmakers, Stresses Importance of Funding Court System

nc_supreme_courtRALEIGH — It has been 14 years since a chief justice came before lawmakers to talk about the state’s judicial system. New Chief Mark Martin asked leaders to restart the tradition, and in his first address, told the legislative branch the court system has many needs, chief among them is funding.

“By way of illustration, one county’s annual budget for the public school system in fiscal year 2014-15 is nearly $1.5 billion. The entire justice system budget, for all 100 counties, is only $464 million,” said Justice Mark Martin.

Over the past six years, the operating budget for the court system has been reduced by over 40 percent which has in turn meant the workforce has been cut by 10 percent, or about 600 people.

Less workers, means less people to do the work, which creates backlogs.

“Many of you are business owners and understand that a business cannot bring itself out of the red through efficiencies and innovation alone, it needs investment if it is to succeed. The same is true for the judicial branch,” said Justice Martin.

This is not a new problem though. In the last 25 years, the judicial system has exceeded more than three percentage of the total state spending plan.

Lawmakers say they acknowledge the need for more funding in the courts and believe it is an issue that can be addressed this year.

“I think we can make some adjustments, whether it is substantial or not is going to be relative. You know the judicial branch has done very well taking the money and using it very wisely. And we identified some areas where we can shift some money in JPS and probably have it more appropriately spent to some real needs,” said Rep. Tim Moore, N.C. Speaker of the House.

And they say the fact Martin wanted to come address lawmakers, it shows he is willing to work them to help make improvements.

Martin says he will convene a multi-disciplinary commission to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of North Carolina’s justice system, and to make recommendations for how to strengthen our courts within the existing administrative framework.


Religious Objection to NC Gay Marriage Leads to Bill Debate

gay_marriageRALEIGH–The state House is quickly taking up Senate legislation giving North Carolina magistrates and other judicial workers the ability to refuse to carry out duties for same-sex marriages due to their religious objections.

A House judiciary committee scheduled debate Wednesday on the measure, which cleared the Senate last week. Senate leader Phil Berger filed the bill in response to a local magistrate quitting his job rather than presiding after federal judges struck down North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban in October.

The proposal would prevent a magistrate or assistant or deputy register of deeds from performing duties for all marriages for at least six months.

Opponents of the exemption say public officials can’t pick and choose which duties they’ll execute and consider it thinly-veiled discrimination.


Chief Justice Gives First Speech to NC Legislature Since 2001

courtRALEIGH—The new chief justice of the state Supreme Court is giving lawmakers his evaluation of North Carolina’s judicial system in a formal speech.

The legislature invited Mark Martin to give a “State of the Judiciary” address Wednesday afternoon. This marks the first time since 2001 a chief justice has made such a speech to a joint House-Senate session since I. Beverly Lake Jr. did so in 2001.

Court spending is likely to be on Martin’s mind. He’s made restoring funds cut by the General Assembly since the Great Recession a top priority.

Martin has served on the court since 1999. Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him chief justice following the retirement of Sarah Parker last August. He was elected to a full eight-year term in November.


Judge Sees NC Schools Move as Weakening Learning Standard

RALEIGH—A Superior Court judge is hearing from state school leaders about whether or not North Carolina is providing all students with a sound, basic education, as required in the Constitution.

It stems from the Leandro case, dating back 20 years, to address poor student performance and a lack of educational rigor—particularly in lower income and rural school districts.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. got his annual court update to make sure North Carolina is adequately providing all students a sound, basic education as required by law – and helping students who aren’t performing at grade level, instead of just advancing them through the system.

“It’s about the children who are the beneficiaries of a constitutional right to get this kind of instruction every single day and if it’s not there, their constitutional right is being deprived every single day,” said Manning.

The judge questioned whether the state lowered its standards for students to advance to the next grade level when North Carolina changed from a four-point proficiency scale, where a score of three was performing at grade level, to a five-point scale, with a student still being allowed to advance to the next grade with a score of three.

“When we look at what level three is today, it is a significantly higher standard than level three has been in the past,” said Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland.

A deputy state superintendent testified the state simply built into the five-point proficiency scale what had previously been a universally applied standard of error for the tests.

She explained a student who now performs at a proficiency level of three still isn’t quite performing at grade level, but is close enough to advance to the next grade. However this level three performance is still much higher than the old, level three.

“The standards we have now are more rigorous than the standards in the ABC’s and again, will continue to be. So level three is constantly moving up. I’ve never seen it move backwards,” said Garland.

However school leaders did admit the state still has an achievement gap, where some classifications of students don’t perform as well as others and the state is still struggling to get all students at least at grade level.

The hearing will continue Thursday. Judge Manning is not expected to make an immediate ruling. But after hearing all the testimony, he will decide if the state is meeting it’s constitutional requirement to provide a sound, basic education for all students or if the state needs to do things differently to meet that requirement.

– Heather Moore

New Leaders Could Help Recuperate NC Court System Funding

RALEIGH—After years of spending cuts, leaders within North Carolina’s court system say it is time for lawmakers to increase funding.

The state’s new top judge, Chief Justice Mark Martin, is leading the effort to restore funding for salary increases and operating costs.

The court system said operating funds dropped 41 percent since 2008.

Martin may have good luck with the new legislature and attorneys are holding the top jobs in the General Assembly for the first time in more than 20 years.

Appeals Court Upholds Ruling on Abortion Law

RALEIGH — Abortion rights activist are celebrating on Monday following a decision handed down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The move affirms a district courts previous ruling that a portion of the state’s 2011 Women’s Right to Know law is unconstitutional.

The debate over abortion rules and regulations continue in the Tar Heel State as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down the portion of the law requiring providers to show and describe an ultrasound to pregnant women receiving an abortion.

“The doctors who brought this case forward with our coalition partners said no, you are interfering with the doctor patient relationship, and the exam room is no place for political propaganda,” said Melissa Reed, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Opponents of the law like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU say forcing doctors to show and describe an ultrasound to unwilling patients is an infringement on their rights and doctor’s freedom of speech.

“What this law required is for doctors to really to become the mouthpiece for the state, to enforce shaming and demeaning visual displays of an ultrasound, regardless of the woman’s decision without respect to whether she was a victim of rape or incest or had a developing pregnancy with grab fetal abnormalities,” Reed added.

But pro-life supporters of the law say doctors often perform the mandatory ultrasound, but never share the information with the patient and believe it only better educates those receiving the medical procedure.

“Abortion is a life altering decision for a woman and a life ending decision for her unborn child. So we believe women deserve to have all of the information that’s available before they make such a life altering decision,” Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition said.

Most of the Women’s Right to Know law that originally went into action in 2011 remain today, but a judge stopped these ultrasound speech and display requirements before they ever took effect.

“We believe that denies information to the woman that is pertinent to their decision,” Fitzgerald added.

And now it’s up to the state to decide if they’ll appeal the decision again which could send this case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Other parts of the law that require providers to perform an ultrasound and wait at least 24 hours before performing an abortion are still in effect.

– Caroline Blair