In Cumberland County today, prosecutors are arguing that Gregory Weeks, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for the county, should be disqualified from hearing claims under the Racial Justice Act. Weeks is a 23-year veteran of the bench – who also happens to be African-American. Of course, prosecutors aren’t saying that they want Weeks off the case because he’s black. They claim that Weeks should recuse himself because he has presided over some of the death penalty trials in question, and therefore might be a witness. If this were the State’s true motivation, it seems that they would also have moved to recuse Judge William Wood, who is presiding over Racial Justice Act claims in Forsyth County. Wood, who is white, has also been the trial judge in a death penalty case affected by the RJA.
Duke University law professor Jim Coleman says, “It looks like they’re trying to get rid of an African-American judge and have the case heard by someone who likely would not be African-American…They’re accused of manipulating the jury on the basis of race. It’s ironic that they would do something that looks like they’re trying to … manipulate the judge who would hear the case [for the same reason].”
The State made its motion on the eve of the first real test of the RJA, a hearing that was to take place before Judge Weeks on November 14th. That hearing may now be delayed. The State’s motion is highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented. Attorney Ken Rose says, “I’ve been doing this 30 years. I’ve never seen a judge recused for that reason.” Judge Weeks has retained his own lawyer, Fred Webb, to argue that it is inappropriate to call a judge as a witness under these circumstances.