Supreme Court Chief Justice Beasley visits RCC

ASHEBORO (Sept. 6, 2019)

Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, paid a visit to the Randolph Community College’s Asheboro Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 3, as part of the Court’s bicentennial celebration.

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Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, speaks at the R. Alton Cox Learning Resources Center auditorium Tuesday, Sept. 3.
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RCC President Dr. Robert S. Shackleford Jr. addresses the audience prior to Beasley’s talk.

RCC President Dr. Robert S. Shackleford Jr. gave the opening remarks in the R. Alton Cox Learning Resources Center auditorium, welcoming those in attendance and pointing out several distinguished guests, including former RCC Trustee Lillian Jordan, local attorney Ed Bunch, and Representative Pat Hurley.

“This is a remarkable moment for Randolph Community College to have the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court visit,” Shackleford said. “Of all the communities all over the state who would love to have the honor of having the Chief Justice she chose us, and we are so privileged.”

District Court judge and RCC Board member Brooke Schmidly, who was instrumental in bringing Beasley to RCC, introduced the Chief Justice, noting Beasley made history in March when she was elected as she became the first African-American woman to lead the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

“I’m truly, truly honored to be here as your 29th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina,” Beasley said to start her talk. “We’ve really been very excited to travel across the state of North Carolina.”

The Chief Justice’s visit was a part of an ongoing bicentennial celebration that includes two more upcoming stops in Randolph County. Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Randolph County native, is visiting RCC on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the R. Alton Cox Learning Center auditorium. On Oct. 1, RCC is live streaming the Supreme Court session from 9:30 a.m.-noon from the old Randolph County Courthouse in the JB & Claire Davis Corporate Training Center, located in the Continuing Education & Industrial Center on the Asheboro Campus. The Court will hear two cases with a 30-minute break in between.

Beasley described her two roles as Chief Justice: leading the Court and leading the judicial branch, giving the audience a brief lesson in state government structure.

She then discussed ways she and her colleagues are looking to improve the judicial branch. Beasley said that, despite the state having a unified court system, the computer systems are not unified.

“One of the things we’re working to do is make our technology advanced enough so those systems can connect,” she said. “It’s important to bring our technology to the 21st Century. We want to catch up with you here at RCC. The fact that I can connect to Wi-Fi here in this building is an advancement that we don’t have in many of our courthouses across the state.”

Beasley said the State Judicial Council is reconvening, bringing representatives of the 6,500 people who make up the judicial branch together to think of ways to improve the judicial system.

“It’s important that we are working in the way that we need to be working so that we’re serving the public in the way that we should be serving the public,” she said.

Beasley then discussed the opioid crisis, noting that last year 2,000 people died because of substance misuse. She said that recovery courts — where those charged with a substance abuse offense can go to be held accountable, but also seek treatment — are key.

“What we really want to do is to make sure that families can be healthy — that people are able to take care of their families and support their families and hold down jobs,” Beasley said. “[Recovery courts] are currently funded all locally. We need to change that. We need to make sure that there is funding whether you live in Randolph County or Wake County. So we want to make sure that people really do have a chance at a second chance for a good life.”

Another improvement Beasley discussed is the beginning of faith and justice round tables across the state that bring together law enforcement, educators, public health workers, judges, prosecutors, and people serving in faith communities.

“They are all working independently to make sure that we decrease crime in our communities and make sure there isn’t gang violence or gangs in our communities,” she said. “What we realize is that our strength is so much better when we come together and solve these problems together. We’re also making sure young people are receiving the kind of resources and other community folks are receiving the kind of resources that they need to make our community successful.”

One example Beasley gave of this partnership is setting up opportunities such as driver’s license restoration clinics in places of worship.

She also discussed the School Justice Partnership (SPJ) which brings together community leaders — including school administrators, the law enforcement community, court system actors, juvenile justice personnel, and others — and develops and implements effective strategies to address student misconduct. SJPs work to reduce the number of suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to the justice system by addressing student misconduct when and where it happens.

“Last year, 11,000 young people were referred from the school system to the Juvenile Justice System,” Beasley said. “That's a lot of good people. What we know is that when young people stay in school, they have a better chance to be successful in their lives. ... We found in New Hanover County, the first School Justice Partnership, the referrals from the school system to the juvenile justice system has decreased by about 61 percent.”

Beasley also referenced Raise the Age, which goes into effect Dec. 1 and means 16- and 17-year-olds who commit crimes will no longer automatically be charged in the adult criminal justice system.

“There’s a lot that's happening in our communities,” she said. “But the most important part of what I do is making sure there’s fairness in our courts. Even more important is that our courts are part of the work of the community and engaged. We want to make sure folks are living the best life they can possibly live.”

The Chief Justice then fielded 10 questions from members of the audience.

Following her talk at RCC, Beasley visited local judicial officials and staff at the Randolph County Courthouse before joining faith leaders and elected officials at First United Methodist Church for a Faith and Justice Roundtable.