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The governor, lieutenant governor, and eight elected executive department heads form the Council of State. Ten other executive department heads appointed by the governor form the North Carolina Cabinet. The state’s current governor is Democrat Bev Perdue, the first female governor of the state. The North Carolina General Assembly, or Legislature, consists of two houses: a 50-member Senate and a 120-member House of Representatives. For the 2007–2008 session, the current President Pro Tempore of the Senate is Democrat Marc Basnight (the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina is the President of the Senate); The House Speaker is Democrat Joe Hackney.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the state’s highest appellate court; it numbers seven justices. The North Carolina Court of Appeals is the only intermediate appellate court in the state; it consists of fifteen judges who rule in rotating panels of three. Together, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals constitute the appellate division of the court system. The trial division includes the Superior Court and the District Court. All felony criminal cases, civil cases involving more than $10,000 and misdemeanor and infraction appeals from District Court are tried in Superior Court. A jury of 12 hears the criminal cases.

Civil cases—such as divorce, custody, child support, and cases involving less than $10,000—are heard in District Court, along with criminal cases involving misdemeanors and lesser infractions. The trial of a criminal case in District Court is always without a jury. The District Court also hears juvenile cases involving children under the age of 16 who are delinquent and children under the age of 18 who are undisciplined, dependent, neglected, or abused. Magistrates accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors, accept guilty pleas for traffic violations, and accept waivers of trial for worthless-check cases among other things. In civil cases, the magistrate is authorized to try small claims involving up to $5,000 including landlord eviction cases. Magistrates also perform civil marriages.

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