Recent judicial redistricting, along with moves to cut what a General Assembly committee decided was unnecessary spending, will leave Surry and Stokes counties with one less superior court judge.
The post held by Andy Cromer, which was up for reelection this year, will be eliminated if the General Assembly’s present budget bill is ultimately passed. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the billed on Wednesday, but the GOP has a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state legislature. The Senate voted to override the veto Thursday. The Republican-dominated House is expected to consider an override vote this week.
90th House District Rep. Sarah Stevens, of Mount Airy, said the move was not directed at Cromer.
“We removed two superior court judge seats around the state,” she said, adding the second one served Alamance and Caswell counties.
Stevens, who sits on the judicial redistricting committee and serves as speaker pro tempore in the House of Representatives, said the committee used a formula supplied by the state Administrative Office of Courts to determine how many superior court seats were needed, and where they should be.
She said the formula considers case load, severity of cases, administrative duties, and other factors in determining how many superior court judges are needed in a given district.
Stevens said there simply wasn’t enough work to justify having two judges serving Surry and Stokes counties, according to the formula. She said the same formula showed that only three judges were needed for the Alamance and Caswell courts, where four judges now work.
Locally, she said once the proper number was determined for Surry and Stokes counties, eliminating Cromer’s seat instead of one held by Angela Puckett was a simple decision.
“He’s up for reelection. We can’t terminate a judge mid-term…these are eight-year terms…(and) Angela Puckett just won her seat two years ago.”
Stevens said had they not acted now and waited until Puckett’s seat was up for reelection, the state would have spent between $600,000 and $700,000 more in associated costs that aren’t needed.
The Mount Airy-based representative said one former Mount Airy attorney has accused her of playing politics with the selection, with plans to later bring the seat back and appoint a conservative Republican to the post. Cromer was a Democrat until earlier this year, when he switched parties.
John Gardner, a Mount Airy native and attorney who lives in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has made that accusation in several lengthy posts on his Facebook page, alleging that Stevens is planning on having another, more right-leaning judge appointed.
“I don’t have that power,” she said. “I don’t appoint judges.”
The move to eliminate the seats are part of the budget bill hammered out in secret by the Republican leadership in Raleigh. Many members of the legislature never saw the budget — including members of the GOP — prior to being presented with the bill last week and asked to vote on it, without time to study the spending package.
While moves such as the changes in judgeships were included, Republican leaders did not allow any amendments or changes to the budget — it was presented as a straight up or down, take-it-as-is or leave-it bill.
Attempts to reach Cromer for comment were not successful.