On July 13, 2010, the Honorable Allen Baddour, 15-B Superior Court Judge, dismissed all criminal charges against a defendant after 15-B Chief District Court Judge, Joseph M. Buckner, increased the defendant's bond from $1,000 to $25,000, after the defendant gave notice in open court of his intent to appeal Judge Buckner's judgment and sentence.
According to Judge Baddour, the defendant's constitutional right to due process required a dismissal of the charges when Judge Buckner increased the defendant's bond without making any findings of fact, contrary to the United States and North Carolina Constitutions, established law and local rules of court.
While Judge Baddour declined to find that Judge Buckner's conduct was "actually" vindictive or retaliatory, he did find that his conduct had the effect of deterring the defendant from exercising his constitutional right to a jury trial.
Judge Baddour's ruling highlights the difficulty facing civil litigants in Judge Buckner's courtroom. For one, civil litigants are not provided court appointed counsel who can fight costly legal battles on their behalf and then bill the State of North Carolina. Secondly, civil cases are not appealed to superior court but to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, where the average appeal costs between $10,000 and $15,000. Third, civil cases, such as child custody cases, often drag on for years, giving a vindictive judge plenty of opportunity to enter tenditious or even malicious rulings.
After Emily McManaway filed her notice of appeal, Judge Buckner held an ex parte hearing with Attorney Leigh Peek in an effort to keep out of the appellate record all the court documents that were unfavorable to Peek's clients. Their plan did not work when Ms. McManaway appealed from that order as well.
Until it is determined whether Judge Buckner abuses his power by retaliating against civil litigants who desire to appeal his decisions to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Judge Buckner should not be hearing civil cases in 15-B District Court.