State supreme court rules against State Bar

N.C. Supreme Court building in Raleigh- File photo

RALEIGH — The N.C. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the North Carolina State Bar state bar Wednesday in a decision that backed up Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett. Tillett filed a request to dismiss disciplinary action against him by the State Bar, arguing that he had already faced discipline for his behavior in a conflict with his local police chief. Tillett, the police chief and local officials were embroiled in a conflict for several years after Tillet’s son and several friends were pulled over in a traffic stop in 2010. Tillett was accused of trying to have the chief fired, among other actions. In March of 2013, Tillett said he may have been “too aggressive” and agreed to a public reprimand in exchange for the Judicial Standards Commission dropping charges against him. Still, the North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission (DHC) filed grievances against Tillett. His attorneys successfully argued to the high court that the DHC’s complaint amounts to punishing Tillett twice for the same action.”The State Bar is trying to circumvent both the constitution and the prescribed statutory procedure,” wrote Justice Mark Martin in a concurring opinion.The decision sets what many are calling an important precedent, establishing that the JSC has the sole authority to discipline sitting judges in N.C. Wednesday’s decision indicates that the court believes that the state bar disciplining judges creates an inherent conflict and that the independence of the Judicial Standards Commission is paramount in such cases.”The JSC’s sole mission is to ensure that judges conduct themselves in accordance with the Code of Judicial Conduct,” wrote Martin.”Other state supreme courts have long since concluded that a system in which attorneys discipline judges is inconsistent with the goal of judicial independence and is contrary to good public policy,” he added.The high court initially denied a request to hear Tillett’s motion to stop the state bar’s disciplinary action against him, but in October the justices decided to hear the case after all saying, “the quest ion presented by this case to be of such importance that the invocation of our supervisory jurisdiction is warranted.”