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New law merges Stanly, Montgomery for legal district

A year after N.C. Rep. Justin Burr proposed new judicial and prosecutorial districts, recently enacted legislation sealed those changes that consolidates Stanly and Montgomery counties.
Stanly will no longer be a standalone county and Montgomery will no longer share a district with Randolph County. Stanly and Montgomery will jointly represent prosecutorial district 28 and judicial district 20A, courtesy of House Bill 717 and sponsored by Burr, R-Stanly. A merger also means personnel changes, both in the district attorney’s office and on the bench.
Stanly County District Attorney Lynn Clodfelter welcomed the merger and applauded Burr for crafting the legislation.

Lynn Clodfelter

“I believe the greatest advantage of the merger of Stanly/Montgomery counties into a single prosecutorial/judicial district is the resulting combination of citizen access to and response from the court system as a whole for both counties,” he said. “This merger will also give Stanly and Montgomery counties some additional security to remain as an independent prosecutorial/judicial district in the future.”
A Stanly and Montgomery merger reduces the likelihood of the pair being linked to a larger consolidation later, Clodfelter added.
When Stanly became a judicial and prosecutorial standalone county in January 2015, there were concerns then whether it could maintain the status given its modest population of about 60,000 residents.
Nevertheless, Stanly benefitted as a standalone district. It afforded “a more efficient prosecutorial response and court access, both in the criminal and civil divisions,” Clodfelter said.
“We are able to bring criminal prosecutions to resolution and address victims’ concerns much more efficiently than in the past, and as many criminal matters, such as charges involving domestic violence, also include civil issues such as child custody, it has been my observation that these issues have moved through the civil division more efficiently as well,” he added.
“Presently, our judges and prosecutors remain in Stanly every day, and are personally aware of the status of the cases in the other courts, and are able to address them as becomes necessary to bring the issues or charges to conclusion,” Clodfelter continued.
Montgomery County and its population of about 30,000 shares a prosecutorial district with Randolph County and its population of approximately 150,000, which continues to grow due to its proximity to Greensboro.
Montgomery joins Randolph and Moore (90,000 population) counties in a judicial district.
“By merging Stanly and Montgomery counties together, we have a combined population that makes us comparable to many other districts in the state, while reducing the caseload to some extent from the prosecutorial and judicial districts with whom they are presently joined,” Clodfelter said.
Because of the merger, the district attorney’s office will gain an additional prosecutor, bringing the total number of assistant district attorneys from five to six.
“I plan on maintaining an assistant district attorney on a full-time basis in Montgomery County, to again provide immediate access to a prosecutor as may be needed by a judge, law enforcement officers, or the general public wanting to address an issue,” Clodfelter said.
The merger means two more judgeships, one for District Court and another for Superior Court, for the combined district.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, there will be three District Court judges instead of two. A second Superior Court judge will be added in 2021, with an election for the seat in 2020.
An election for the District Court judge occurs in November as filing for the office begins at noon Monday through noon Friday.
Clodfelter’s Chief Assistant District Attorney Thai Vang plans to file for the newly created judgeship for the 20A District Court.

Thai Vang

“My decision to file for district court judge is the result of the merger,” said Vang, a Montgomery County Republican. “I’ve been with this prosecutorial district since 2008, when it was originally Stanly, Anson and Richmond.”
Despite the loss of a prosecutor, Clodfelter praised Vang as a deserving candidate for the bench.
“While the loss of Thai’s experience and knowledge will be a substantial one for both me and the prosecutorial office as a whole, I whole heartedly support Thai in this decision,” Clodfelter said. “Thai understands the law, he appreciates the citizens and the life challenges of both Stanly and Montgomery county, and I believe he will make an excellent District Court judge.”
Other counties are affected by House Bill 717.
Scotland County joins Anson and Richmond for prosecutorial district 21. Hoke County leaves Anson, Richmond and Scotland to merge with Moore County to form judicial district 19D.
Onslow County goes from a standalone district into a three-county district with Duplin and Jones to form judicial district 4.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the legislation only for lawmakers to overwhelmingly override his veto.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.