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Appoint judges, get rid of super PAC money

The whopping $800,000 in ads supporting a North Carolina Supreme Court candidate startled Bob Hall, of Democracy N.C., an open-government watchdog group. He called it “carpet-bombing the state.” He said the ad buys by a super PAC for conservative Justice Paul Newby were treating the race against Court of Appeals Judge Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV “like something that can be bought or auctioned off.”

It does have that appearance. We raised that possibility when the N.C. Judicial Coalition was created this summer to help elect Newby. Ervin also has drawn outside support, of about $200,000.

Observers say this race has been targeted for big money because the outcome will dictate the balance on the court – either 4-3 right-leaning or 4-3 left-leaning. Because controversial laws the Republican-led legislature passed last year could wind up before the high court, the balance might matter.

Whether such infusion of such money into judicial elections influence a judge’s independence can be debated. But the amount of special interest dollars flowing into this race highlights again the need to consider appointingN.C. judges. The governor or a bipartisan commission could fill a vacancy, then the appointee could face election a couple of years later, and periodic retention elections thereafter.

Appointing judges might not get rid of the politics in selections, but it can get rid of special interest, super PAC money that has the potential of unfairly tilting the scales of justice.

UNC gives in to public

UNC did the right thing last week by agreeing to drop its appeal of a judge’s order declaring certain records in the NCAA investigation of the school to be public. It’s just unfortunate that the public university took so long to do so. That cost taxpayers (or students) $45,000 in legal fees the school agreed to pay the plaintiffs, not to mention the thousands more in legal fees for the university’s own lawyers.

The Charlotte Observer, the News & Observer and other media outlets had argued the records were public. They were, after all, at the heart of an investigation of a public university and led to severe sanctions against the school.

UNC has balked every step of the way in this seemingly endless saga. That secrecy has made a bad situation worse. Kudos to Chancellor Holden Thorp for finally dropping the fight over these records.

No pre-K money-shuffling

When Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order this month committing $20 million to enroll more children in pre-kindergarten programs, we expressed skepticism about where the money was coming from.

Now, Perdue’s office has revealed the answer, and we’re even more skeptical. The breakdown: $6 million from disabled children from birth to 3; $5 million from an AIDS medicine program; $2.5 million from a program helping foster parents; $5.5 million from federal reimbursements; and $1 million from unfilled state jobs.

At least one advocate who earlier had applauded the move withdrew his support last week and others expressed concern. It’s not clear that the programs for disabled kids, AIDS patients and foster parents have the money to spare.

All this shuffling from one needy group to another could easily end. All it takes is the legislature restoring money for pre-K. Helping at-risk kids when they’re 4 years old is a lot cheaper than dealing with them 15 years later.

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