Clerk takes leave from N.C. Supreme Court while campaigning for state House

Associate Justice Robin Hudson in session of the N.C. Supreme Court in 2021. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

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  • A state Supreme Court law clerk is taking a leave of absence while he runs for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.
  • Tim Longest's boss, Justice Robin Hudson, announced the leave two days after Republican legislators raised questions about Longest's role in a redistricting case.

A law clerk at the N.C. Supreme Court is taking a leave of absence while he campaigns for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Tim Longest’s boss announced that decision in an order issued Sunday.

Longest, the Democratic candidate in N.C. House District 34, has clerked since August 2020 for Justice Robin Hudson, a fellow Democrat. Hudson is the state Supreme Court’s senior associate justice.

The order announcing Longest’s leave arrived two days after Republican legislative leaders filed paperwork questioning his potential participation in a case dealing with state election maps. That case, Harper v. Hall, is scheduled for oral arguments before the state Supreme Court Tuesday.

Legislators had filed a “motion for clarification” Friday about Longest’s role in Harper v. Hall.

“In order to preserve the confidentiality and separation of information concerning the inner workings of a Justice’s chambers, as recognized in the Motion filed by the Legislative Defendants, the Motion for Clarification is resolved as follows: Mr. Tim Longest is taking a leave of absence from his clerkship in the chambers of Justice Hudson, effective 1 October 2022, and has and will have no participation of any kind in the consideration of any case yet to be decided by the Court, including all aspects of this case, until further notice, but at least until after the election of November 2022,” according to the order signed by Hudson.

Hudson then dismissed legislators’ motion as moot.

Legislative leaders indicated on Friday that they would seek Hudson’s recusal from the Harper v. Hall case if Longest had played any role in the case after becoming a state House candidate.

“It would be a clear conflict of interest for anyone in the judicial branch to have meaningful involvement in litigation over legislative district boundaries while, at the same time, running for legislative office,” wrote attorney Phillip Strach. “Accordingly, Legislative Defendants presume Mr. Longest has been walled off from any activity in the remedial phase of this appeal.”

“However, Legislative Defendants have no way to ascertain whether this in fact occurred,” Strach added. “Accordingly, they respectfully request an assurance from Justice Hudson that Mr. Longest has been appropriately screened from any involvement in this matter. Alternatively, if this assurance cannot be made, Legislative Defendants move for Mr. Longest’s recusal from this matter.”

Harper v. Hall will not affect election maps used for this fall’s elections. The case’s outcome could determine whether lawmakers will redraw maps again for the 2024 election cycle.

The Wake County Democratic Party appointed Longest on July 26 to run as the Democratic candidate in House District 34.

“Mr. Longest has been endorsed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters PAC, … an endorsement Mr. Longest has advertised,” Strach wrote. “NCLCV is among the lead plaintiffs in this lawsuit and is appealing the Superior Court’s ruling concerning legislative districts.”

Longest’s district has changed during the legal fight tied to Harper v. Hall. “Thus, this Court’s Harper ruling directly impacts the configuration of HD-34, and its ultimately ruling on this appeal will again directly impact its configuration.”

Legislative defendants “have no way to know whether Mr. Longest is currently involved in this appeal,” Strach added. “Legislative Defendants at this time have assumed that this did not occur and that Mr. Longest has been appropriately screened off from this case. They file this motion
out of an abundance of caution in order to obtain assurance that such screening has occurred.”

“There can be no serious question that Mr. Longest cannot ethically be involved in this case,” Strach wrote.

“If Mr. Longest has not been screened from this case since filing to run for office, in addition to seeking his recusal, Legislative Defendants have little choice but to seek Justice Hudson’s recusal,” Strach wrote.

Plaintiffs filed their own paperwork Friday opposing Hudson’s recusal from the case.

“Legislative Defendants respectfully request that Justice Hudson take appropriate steps to disclose the facts relevant to the conflict of interest of Mr. Longest and take appropriate measures to cure any conflict that may have come into existence at any time,” the motion added.

Longest replaced incumbent Rep. Grier Martin as the Democratic nominee in House District 34. Martin resigned from office on July 8 to take a new job with the Pentagon.

Longest faces Republican Ashley Seshul and Libertarian Kat McDonald in the general election, The John Locke Foundation’s Civitas Partisan Index rates House District 34 as a “safe Democratic” seat.

Hudson is retiring from the state Supreme Court when her term ends this year. N.C. Court of Appeals Judges Richard Dietz, a Republican, and Lucy Inman, a Democrat, are running in an election for the open seat.