- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


Oct. 25

The Charlotte Observer on special interest affecting the state Supreme Court:

First it was the 2012 banjo picker, with a goofy but clear message backing Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby: “He’s got criminals on the run . got ‘em running scared. . Walk the line or you’ll do hard time, criminals best beware.”

Then it was an ominous ad in 2014 attacking Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson as a friend to child molesters. “Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson sided with the predators. took the side of the convicted molesters. Justice Robin Hudson: Not tough on child molesters, not fair to victims.”

Now, in 2016, with another Supreme Court election there’s another inappropriate ad, this one targeting Justice Bob Edmunds. Edmunds, the ad says, “wrote the decision supporting his party’s discrimination” in a redistricting case. Edmunds was part of a “power grab” that “was all about race.”

All three ads were funded by shadowy independent groups who don’t disclose their donors - but who definitely have an agenda. Such groups are pumping millions of dollars into North Carolina’s judicial races, undercutting the judiciary’s credibility and giving voters the impression that judges and justices are for sale.

This is a predictable symptom of the way we select judges in North Carolina. Judges have to win the most votes, like any other politician. So they raise money and benefit from special interest money, like any other politician.

The ad against Edmunds essentially depicts him as a racist, which is unfair. Edmunds did write the 4-3 decision upholding the legislature’s 2011 redistricting map. But the attacks on Edmunds ring a bit hollow, given that the 12th District was twice drawn by Democrats with racial motivations. The district Edmunds and the court upheld was quite similar to the one Democrats had previously drawn. That map, while flawed in our opinion, was also pre-cleared by the Obama Justice Department.

All this brings to mind a study by two Emory Law School professors released last year. Joanna Shepherd and Michael Kang found that judges are tougher on criminal defendants because they don’t want to be targeted as soft on crime in TV ads during their re-election campaigns. The more ads aired during Supreme Court elections in a state, the less often justices side with a criminal defendant on appeal. Most of the independent money is concerned with issues other than criminal appeals, but donors know the soft-on-crime message is the most effective way to doom a judge’s election.

The result? Ads like those for Newby and against Hudson. The ad against Edmunds is a cousin, making race an issue in a campaign that pits a white incumbent against a black challenger.

None of this helps achieve justice. North Carolina should reform its approach to judicial selection, starting by reinstating public funding.

That would at least help candidates combat unfair attack ads and offset the millions in special interest money that currently corrupts the process.




Oct. 26

The Fayetteville Observer on fixing the Affordable Care Act:

It’s enough to scare you into a heart attack: Across the country, premiums for health-insurance policies bought through the Affordable Care Act are skyrocketing. The price hikes will average about 25 percent in the coming year.

Here in North Carolina, Blue Cross and Blue Shield says its Obamacare premiums will jump an average of 24.3 percent, pretty much matching the national average. Blue Cross is the last insurer offering policies in all 100 counties.

The actual cost of the health insurance is still less than the Congressional Budget Office estimated back in 2009, but that won’t stop the critics from singing their funeral dirge. It’s also the critics - including the governor and legislative leaders - who have done all they can to make Obamacare fail here, despite the troublesome fact that the plan has Republican roots in Romneycare.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed the rate hikes on Tuesday, vowing again to replace the program with “something better.” That’s the critics’ continuing problem: They vow to replace it, but have yet to produce a plan. The Affordable Care Act has plenty of flaws, but it has extended health insurance to millions of Americans who were previously uncovered. Whether we fix it or replace it, we can’t take that coverage away.




Oct. 26

News & Record of Greensboro on paying a wrongfully convicted inmate:

LaMonte Armstrong, although innocent, was convicted of murder and imprisoned for 17 years because of evidence contrived by Greensboro police.

He’s been free for four years, thanks to the Duke University Law School Wrongful Convictions Unit. In 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory issued a pardon of innocence. The state paid $750,000 in compensation for Armstrong’s years behind bars.

One more legal action was pending - until last week. The Greensboro City Council voted to settle Armstrong’s civil lawsuit against the city for $6.42 million.

About half that amount will be covered by insurance, but taxpayers will bear the rest of the cost. The settlement could have an impact on the property tax rate or the level of services the city will be able to provide.

Yet, it could have cost more. A jury, after hearing in detail how the murder case was developed against Armstrong, might have awarded a greater sum.

The City Council’s responsibility was twofold: To protect the taxpayers, as much as possible, from financial liability; and to offer fair compensation for wrongs done in the city’s name.

Is $6 million the right amount? There is no sure or easy answer to that question.

“We’re really happy to have this behind LaMonte,” his Chapel Hill attorney, David Rudolf, said after the settlement was announced. “But it will never compensate him adequately for what he went through. You can’t compensate him adequately for that.”

That goes beyond the 17 years in prison, the lost earnings, stolen opportunities, separation from family and friends. It was also the indignity of the investigation, the allegations, the trial. Being branded a murderer. What is the right price for that?

Armstrong was first identified as a suspect in the 1988 murder of North Carolina A&T; professor Ernestine Compton by a tipster. Only years later did police actually make a circumstantial case against him, but when a key witness tried to retract testimony, detectives allegedly threatened him. Armstrong was convicted in 1995.

A palm print taken at the crime scene did not match Armstrong but in 2012 was used to identify a different man - Chris Caviness, who was convicted of another 1988 murder in Greensboro and died in 2010. If the palm print had been correctly analyzed in the first place, Armstrong might never have been charged. The state crime lab was at fault, but its mistake didn’t excuse police who built a shoddy case against Armstrong.

Taxpayers who may resent the large settlement should nevertheless be pleased that Armstrong is using his experiences to help others as a counselor in Durham. At 66, he is remarkably content and gracious.

“It seems to me that the more I continue to be of service to my fellow man and help people, the more that God continues to serve me,” he told the News & Record’s Taft Wireback last week.

The city was right to make amends for the wrong done to this man. The $6 million is going where it is owed.



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