EDITORIAL: Courts Should Be Last Things Cut
"All courts shall be open," reads the North Carolina Constitution. "Every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law; and right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay."
Well, maybe delay.
This week, some here in Moore County -- and uncounted others across North Carolina -- won't be getting their day in court. Some of them are children. In Carthage, Juvenile court for today, and District Court for Thursday, have been canceled.
There is no money to pay judges. The state is broke as it waits for the General Assembly to come up with a budget, so broke that our Administrative Office of the Courts -- cut to 85 percent of what it spent last year -- is barely able to pay staff.
The rotation of judges -- which the state constitution says "shall be observed" -- has been "temporarily" suspended. The state can't pay for travel.
A new state computer system that police use to find out if a person they've stopped is wanted isn't in place in Moore County. Warrants from our county are not being entered, because there is no gas money for trainers. That could cost the life of a law officer who won't know he is about to confront somebody in a traffic stop who is armed and dangerous and wanted. Moore County's warrant won't show in the system the officer checks.
Even ordinary office supplies used by our courts -- legal pads, copy paper, pens and pencils and sticky notes -- are down to what's left on shelves in the state warehouse. North Carolina doesn't have the $200,000 to $300,000 it has been costing the state every month for our courts. When what they have is used up, will DAs, clerks and judges have to use the backs of old envelopes? Or pass the hat?
They don't want to fire anybody and lose highly (and expensively) trained people. District Attorney Maureen Krueger can't hire lawyers she needs to fill two vacancies in her office, so she's having to handle speeding tickets in District Court instead of preparing murder cases. Susan Hicks, our clerk of court, is similarly stuck by the state's absolute hiring freeze.
This is a mess, and it could get dangerous. It is already embarrassing, or should be. Are we so cheap that we won't tax ourselves to do justice? Is there any duty of state government more basic, more essential to a free people, than their right to a day in court? Of course fleeing bank robbers and murderers won't mind. They can afford it -- if we can.
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