New Leandro judge sets criteria for responses ahead of NC Supreme Court deadline

Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson is shown in this photo from the N.C. Judicial Branch

RALEIGH — The newly appointed judge in the long-running Leandro case gave instructions to both parties in the case ahead of the April 20 informational deadline imposed by the N.C. Supreme Court in a March 18 order. 

Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson was appointed to oversee the case on March 21 by Chief Justice Paul Newby.  Robinson was first appointed to the seat in 2016 by former Gov. Pat McCrory and was re-appointed in 2021 by Gov. Roy Cooper. 

The N.C. Supreme Court’s March 18 order instructed Robinson to examine the impact of the 2021 biennial budget on his predecessor retired Judge David Lee’s funding order. Lee’s order directed three state agencies go around the legislature to transfer $1.7 billion from the state’s coffers. 

The N.C. Court of Appeals blocked Lee’s transfer order in December of 2021. 

Robinson has instructed the defendants to provide his court with their assessment by April 4 of just how much of the $1.7 billion is impacted by the 2021 budget. 

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) filed to become intervenors in the case last December. The attorney representing them, Attorney Matthew Tilley, indicated they believe $900 million out of the $1.7 billion was funded. 

After the plaintiffs file their response on April 8, final briefs will be due to Robinson by April 11. A hearing has been scheduled for April 13 at 9 a.m. in Raleigh.  

On March 25, Robinson issued a supplemental briefing order, much of which appeared to be centered on how much of  the funding ordered by Robinson’s predecessor has already been fulfilled through state budgets. 

Robinson’s order wants to know “The amount of funds remaining in the General Fund currently both in gross and net of appropriations in the 2021 Appropriations Act.” 

An attorney with the N.C. Department of Justice handling the case for the state gave an estimate that the state budget might fulfill “30-35% “of Lee’s funding order, however lawmakers say as much as $900 million of the $1.7 billion has already been covered through budgets. 

This supplemental briefing order also seems to underscore that Lee’s order directing three agencies other than the legislature to transfer the funds is not a valid avenue.  

Robinson’s supplemental briefing order also seeks “The effect of the appropriations in the 2021 Appropriations Act on the ability of the Court to order the Legislature to transfer funds to the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Instruction, and the University of North Carolina System.”  

The State Controller’s office had previously objected to Lee’s order. Linda Combs, the head of the State Controller’s office, said her office has never been involved in the Leandro case and that Lee’s $1.7B order would be in violation of state law. Lawyers representing the controller’s office argued a legislative appropriation was needed before they could authorize such a transfer. 

About A.P. Dillon 656 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_