Mecklenburg Co. Judge Speaks Out About Driving School, Says Court Needs to Do Things "Right Way"
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Safety and Health Council of North Carolina operates driving schools across the state and here in Charlotte. Drivers pulled over for minor offenses can opt to take the class and avoid paying traffic fines and higher insurance rates. Until recently, the school was promoted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers.
The officers, some of whom were also being paid to teach the classes, have been ordered by the police attorney to stop promoting the school. There were also concerns that clerks in the courthouse were handling administrative work for the driving school that, under state law, can only to be done by a judge.
“When FOX news broke the story and I started having a lot of attorneys come to me as a judge and say 'Judge Smith, something needs to be done about this. Apparently we're in violation of the law,' that's what prompted me to write the letter,” says District Court Judge Tim Smith. Smith, who is running for re-election, wrote to the attorney general and asked for guidance on the issue.
On Friday, the AG's office responded, and spelled out the letter of the law. By then, Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell had already stepped in and straightened out the issue of clerks doing the work of a judge. It remains to be seen if she takes further action.
Smith says, "I think it had become so ingrained in our system that no one really thought we were doing anything wrong."
FOX Charlotte asked Smith's opponent in next week's election, Matt Osman, for his thoughts on the driving school. Osman says, "I'm happy to discuss this matter after the election, but I feel that this close to November 2nd the issue has been politicized by and for the benefit of the candidate rather than the benefit of the people of Mecklenburg county."
"It's important because our court systems need to have integrity and we need to be doing things the right way,” insists Smith.
Long time DA Peter Gilchrist, who has declined to go on record about the school, helped forge the relationship between it and the court about 20 years ago. Voters will choose his replacement next Tuesday.
And back to the issue of the police officers possibly engaged in the unauthorized practice of law: the state bar has several options if they decide the officers were doing that. They could seek criminal charges, issue a cease and desist order, send a letter of caution or the bar could decide to do nothing.