Wray on judicial consolidation: ‘It’s not a done deal’

Fight continues against consolidating Halifax, Northampton into single district

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 6:00 am | Updated: 4:58 am, Thu Aug 1, 2013.

The possible consolidation of the Roanoke Valley’s two judicial districts is not a done deal.

State Rep. Michael Wray, D-Gaston, who serves as Deputy Democratic Leader in the State House of Representatives, said as legislators in Raleigh continue to work out a budget, the proposed consolidation of Judicial District 6A — Halifax County — and Judicial District 6B — Northampton, Bertie and Hertford Counties — is far from being passed.

“We still have not negotiated a budget,” Wray said. “Tax reform right now is the No. 1 issue to be worked out, but as far as consolidation goes, we’re going to fight it on the House side.”

Wray said State Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Rocky Mount, and State Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Tarboro, are on board fighting consolidation in the Senate, as well. Additionally, Wray said, some high-ranking Republicans in the Senate are against the proposed consolidation, which also includes other districts in the state.

“It’s not a done deal,” Wray said. “It’s a long way from being a done deal.”

Wray said the district attorneys from the local districts, Valerie Asbell in 6B and Melissa Pelfrey in 6A, as well as judges in both districts, have said their case loads are already high enough, and consolidation would mean an unwieldy amount of work.

Wray’s assertion that district consolidation is far from done comes in the wake of objections from Roanoke Valley boards of commissioners.

“(Consolidation) will put the D.A. of Halifax County running against the D.A. from Northampton County,” Halifax County Commissioner Vernon Bryant said during the board’s June 24 meeting, when the commissioners voted to draft a letter to the General Assembly voicing their objections. “Furthermore, it will jeopardize an already-overburdened court system.”

Board Vice Chair Rives Manning also voiced his opposition, stating in days past, when Halifax County did not have its own judicial district, the burden was “unworkable.”

The Northampton County commissioners also have made their opposition known during their meeting last week in Jackson.

Board Chairman Robert Carter said consolidating the districts would cut jobs at a time when the unemployment rate is too high. He also said general harm would result to the Roanoke Valley’s court system.

“We need to be expanding to cut down on the case loads that face the court systems,” Carter said.

The Northampton County board’s resolution asserted turning the two districts into one would create “undue hardship on citizens, lawyers and law enforcement to gain access to the District Court Judge and District Attorney.”

Wray said the local delegation will continue to “adamantly fight” against judicial district consolidation.

“We’re fighting this because it would negatively impact the districts,” Wray said. “It’s not a done deal until it’s signed, sealed and delivered and we’re still at least a couple of weeks from getting a budget finalized.”

Senators Bryant and Jenkins did not return calls Friday for comment for this story.

— Staff writer Lauren Horsch contributed to this report.

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