EDITORIAL: Son of anarchy: Phil Berger Jr.

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Phil Berger Jr., the son of state Senate leader Phil Berger Sr., threw his name into consideration this week for the state Supreme Court.

Berger Jr. is to Berger Sr. sort of like the Whopper Jr. is to the Whopper — it’s still barely edible, but there’s a lot less of it.

With the retirement of Chief Justice Mark Martin — one of just two remaining Republicans on the bench — next month, the post will likely go to Paul Newby, who will be the sole Republican after Martin’s departure and also the longest-serving justice.

It is Newby’s seat that Berger Jr. desires.

It’s up to the governor to name a new chief justice and appoint a successor to whomever ascends to the post. And it’s unlikely that Gov. Roy Cooper would appoint Berger Jr. to the court, and not just because he’s the offspring of Cooper’s chief political rival.

We haven’t heard much from Berger Jr. lately — not since he lost his bid to replace Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District in 2014 to Mark Walker.

How the son of the most powerful legacy Republican in the state Senate — with the same name! — lost a primary to the pastor of worship and music for Lawndale Baptist Church, a straight-up political newbie, remains barely explicable.

Since then, Berger Jr. has become ensconced in the judiciary. While Walker was being sworn into Congress, Berger Jr. was appointed as a state administrative law judge in January 2015. In 2016 he won an eight-year term on the Court of Appeals, defeating incumbent Linda Stephens, a Democrat, by half a percentage point.

That campaign, by the way, is the subject of an ethics investigation because of allegations of campaign-finance violations — or, at least, it was. The state board of ethics and elections — formed largely by Berger Sr. and his crew — was disbanded this month by the federal courts for being unconstitutional.

But the most telling chapter from Berger Jr.’s rap sheet, the one that truly disqualifies him from serving on the state Supreme Court, lies deep in a Google search of his name, buried beneath pages of meaningless namechecks.

It wasn’t all that long ago, 2011, when Berger Jr., who was then Rockingham County district attorney, was ordered by a district court judge to dismantle an eavesdropping system Berger Jr. had installed in the new county courthouse. The system allowed the DA to listen in on bench discussions between defense attorneys and judges, among other illegal advantages. 

It was never investigated.

While it’s true we do need some Republican representation on our state’s highest court, Berger Jr.’s aspirations should be short-lived.

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