Today’s quick quiz: How do you take the county that ranks No. 1 in North Carolina in crime, both violent and property, and make it even more dangerous and the public’s possessions less secure.
By further hamstringing an overloaded judicial system that is expected to mete out justice in significant enough portions to deter criminal behavior.
That is exactly what folks in the judicial system say would happen should a Republican plan to redraw the state’s judicial districts be approved, and Robeson County is combined with Hoke County.
The biggest question appears to be why.
“It’s definitely going to be a disadvantage to Robeson County,” Superior Court Judge James Gregory Bell said. “… It doesn’t make sense. There haven’t been changes like these made in judiciary districts in 60 years.”
There would be one good result: With apologies to the two folks who have announced their candidacy for district attorney, both of whom have excellent credentials, should the maps be approved, Johnson Britt’s retirement would be delayed two years, until 2020 — the date of the next election.
Robeson County, the state’s largest county with 951 square miles, is currently its own judicial district, 16B. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the plan, which was crafted by Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Stanly County, especially in terms of how resources would be allocated.
Robeson County’s District Attorney’s Office, with 12 assistant district attorneys and a like number of clerks, currently can’t shove all the criminal cases through the system because of their sheer number. We believe that contributes heavily to this county’s ranking as the most violent, as there isn’t enough room at the jailhouse to even accommodate all the accused murderers, so some walk freely among us while out on bond.
The long lines at local courtrooms force plea bargains that are necessary for somewhat speedy justice, but are not always to the benefit of the public.
It isn’t clear how resources would be allocated if Robeson and Hoke counties were consolidated, but the Republican-led General Assembly is fundamentally about less, not more. This county already suffers when it comes to resources that can be mustered for prosecution, as the state divvies up based on population without a nod toward the thing that matters most — the amount of actual crime.
Republicans who favor change argue the maps are more uniform, and simply make sense. Critics, including Superior Court Judge Robert F. Floyd Jr., say politics is the driving force, and the intent is to elect more Republicans.
“I’m against losing resources to an act of political favoritism,” Floyd said. “We don’t know everything about how these changes will affect us. When we move resources will we cut back magistrates? Cut back the Clerk of Court offices?”
The plan is likely to be approved by the House, and that could happen today. But passage in the Senate appears iffy at best, and should that chamber even consider it that would not happen until next week.
We are all in favor of rocking the state’s judicial boat, but that could be done by allocating resources on an as-needed basis, and not simply with a headcount that presumes crime rates are the same in Orange and Robeson counties. Were that to happen, we believe the state’s most violent county would become less so.