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Raleigh, N.C.-Many of North Carolina’s senior trial judges are calling on the state Supreme Court to rescind its controversial 2003 overhaul of state judicial conduct rules and start over. Among the most controversial changes in the rules, which took effect in April, are those allowing judges to solicit campaign funds personally instead of seeking them indirectly through a committee and dropping a prohibition against judicial candidates promising how they would rule on cases or issues if elected [NLJ, Oct. 13, 2003]. “It’s ludicrous,” said veteran Superior Court Judge James Downs of Franklin, N.C. “It doesn’t do anything but give the scent of hustling money from behind the bench. It’s demeaning to the position.” The executive committee of the state Conference of Superior Court Judges has urged the Supreme Court to set up a commission of judges and lawyers to consider another revision of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which the high court rewrote without warning in April. They took effect at that time. “The changes are antithetical to the operation and the appearance of an honorable, independent, and impartial judiciary, and are not in the best interest of the public or the judiciary,” the Superior Court judges told the Supreme Court in a written resolution. “The changes appear to have little, if any, support among the bench, the bar, or the public at large,” they added. Bar echoes judges The revised rules should be dropped immediately, the judges said, and the old, stricter ones reinstated for now. The state’s district court judges, who handle lower-profile cases, reached the same conclusion in October. The North Carolina Bar Association is considering making the same recommendation this month. A bar association committee has endorsed the idea of scrapping the new rules and appointing a commission to start over “for the purpose of addressing and hopefully eliminating any threats to the integrity of the judiciary.” Chief Justice Beverly Lake Jr., who had invited North Carolina Superior Court judges to comment on the code changes, didn’t like their answer. “I didn’t think it was helpful,” Lake said. “A very significant number of Superior Court judges have told me the same thing-that it was not speaking for them.” But critics of the changes praised the trial judges’ response. “Your trial judges and bar should be very proud of the way they’re responding to the court’s out-of-the-ballpark error,” said Roy Schotland, a Georgetown University Law Center professor who has advised the American Bar Association on state judicial codes. “Contrast Georgia, where their fine Supreme Court came up with proposed revisions and put them out for public comment-and the bar and judges didn’t respond,” he said.

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