Changes may be coming to the Guilford County court districts according to state Rep. Jon Hardister, who is House majority whip and serves on the North Carolina House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting.
He said, “In reviewing the judicial districts in North Carolina, it is clear that we need to update and streamline the system. My focus is on the judicial system in Guilford County, which desperately needs to be updated.”
According to Hardister, the largest of the five judicial districts in Guilford County, 18 C, has 129,000 residents, and the smallest, 18 A, has 62,000. He said that having one district more than twice the size of another in the county was unacceptable and that the districts need to be redrawn.
Hardister is proposing not only that the district lines for the five districts be redrawn so that they are more balanced, but also that the method of electing District Court judges be modified.
Currently, the five Superior Court judges run in their respective districts, but all 14 District Court judges run countywide.
Hardister said that for the voters to try and keep up with 14 District Court judges was a daunting task. He added that it was expensive, time-consuming and sometimes frustrating for the District Court judge candidates to have to run countywide in a county with a population of over 500,000.
What Hardister is proposing is that the number of District Court judges in Guilford County be raised from 14 to 15 and that three judges be elected from each of the five court districts. He said this would be more equitable for the candidates running for judge and for the voters.
Judicial candidates often get lost on the ballot, particularly in presidential election years, and a large percentage of voters don’t bother to vote in the judicial races. With each district having roughly 100,000 people, there would be a much better chance that the voters would know the candidates and it would make it much easier for the candidates to get to know their voters.
Hardister noted that Guilford County has said that it needed more District Court judges, and adding one would help with the problems of the overloaded court system.
Chief District Court Judge Tom Jarrell recently said that judges were coming to court sick because they knew the backlog they would create if they didn’t.
Hardister said that judicial reform is one of the items the state legislature can take up during its October session, and if the details can be worked out by then, he hopes to have a bill ready for the General Assembly.
The judicial districts in Guilford County haven’t been redrawn since 2001, according to Hardister, and in those 16 years they have gotten out of whack.
He noted that, according to the state constitution, the legislature should redraw the judicial districts “from time to time” in order to establish a “convenient” number of districts.
Republicans have gotten in a lot of trouble with the courts for the legislative districts they have drawn, with a revised map of state House and Senate districts having been presented to the federal court this month.
However, Hardister said this was not a partisan issue but simply a commonsense issue. He said the current districts just don’t make sense in 2017, and he thinks electing District Court judges from the judicial districts would improve the electoral process.