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Berger and his allies pushed the director of the court system to retire
By John Sanford Friedrich
Professional civil service is by definition supposed to be immune from the whims of individual politicians, or even electoral waves. 18th and 19th century America relied on ‘patronage’ to fill the civil service, victorious parties would distribute these jobs to volunteers, donors and other supports. Offices like budget director are within the purview of the governor – and indeed he chose to give the position to his long-time backer, Art Pope.
John W. Smith has been director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) since 2009, and his career stretches back decades. The AOC is how it sounds – it deals with the officework and administration of the court system, such as scheduling cases.
Smith’s tenure at the apex of the judicial bureaucratic system has come to an end, he announced his retirement effective May 1st. He claims that this announcement was only due to the “timing being right” but there is no doubt that Senate leader Phil Berger is delighted at this outcome. Smith used his position last fall to send an instructive memo to the workers in N.C.’s 100 county offices of Register of Deeds that unless the laws changed workers could face disciplinary action for unilaterally refusing to perform marriage license procedures for same-sex couples.
Berger and his allies are seeing to it that the laws in fact do change. With our rivers coated in toxic coal ash and many communities not sharing even the crumbs of the metro regions’ economic growth it is surprising that the second bill introduced this section will permit magistrates to refuse to perform marriages if it offends their religious sensibilities.
A directive allowing such non-performance of one’s job duties coming from the AOC would have opened the way for such tax-payer-funded forms of protest pending legal resolution. Now Berger will have to pass the bill, presumably to be signed by McCrory and then face his future in the courts.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Martin praised Smith’s tenure. Martin had asked for a $30 million increase for the AOC’s budget, claiming that the backlog in cases is not sustainable. The most recent budget makes a counter offer of $16 million, just over 50 percent of the request. Presumably Sen. Barringer’s “business courts” are expedited with the consideration due to corporate persons of import.
Unlike Martin, others in the know had less kind words to say about Smith’s departure under accusations of duress.
“Quite frankly, I'm sure it's going to end up costing the state of North Carolina quite a bit of change because the AOC couldn't take care of their own business,” said Sen. Buck Newton (R-11 Wilson).
Newton will be the focus of an upcoming RestoreNC article.