Unless you spend your days in a courthouse, there’s often precious little information available about judicial candidates, which presents difficulties for voters and editorial boards alike. Beyond saying that they’ll be fair and impartial, the candidates themselves are generally mum about their ideologies, leaving us to assess them based on their backgrounds and experience—and, thanks to the legislature’s recent moves, their party affiliation.

N.C. Supreme Court: Anita Earls

After Mike Morgan won a seat on the Supreme Court in 2016—likely thanks to Republicans who accidentally voted for him—lawmakers tried to game the system first by requiring candidates to have party identification and then eliminating primaries, thinking that would give incumbent Republican Barbara Jackson a better shot at reelection. Enter Christopher Anglin, a “former” Democrat who changed parties to run as a Republican and, quite possibly, split the Republican vote, thus giving Democrat Anita Earls a clear shot to victory. Republicans then tried to head Anglin off by passing a law that wouldn’t allow him to appear as a Republican on the ballot, but the courts wouldn’t stand for it. So here we are.

Republicans have good reason to be suspicious of Anglin. Even so, there’s schadenfreude in seeing them hoisted by their own petard. And if Anglin succeeds is paving a path for Earls, he’ll have done the state a favor.

There’s much daylight between the two main candidates: Jackson twice voted to uphold racially gerrymandered legislative districts, while Earls has successfully advocated against gerrymandering at the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson feels North Carolina’s courts aren’t becoming too politicized, while Earls rightly points to political attacks aimed at undermining an independent judiciary. Both candidates speak of equal access to justice. But Earls recognizes existing inequities in ways Jackson does not.

This is one is easy. Earls’s resume—with experience at the U.S. Justice Department, the State Board of Elections, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—demonstrates a commitment to equality and integrity. We believe she will apply the law with knowledge, fairness, and compassion. We endorse her.

N.C. Court of Appeals, Seat 1: John Arrowood

Judge John Arrowood is serving on the Court of Appeals for the second time in his career, having been appointed to unfinished terms by governors Mike Easley and Roy Cooper. The Democrat previously worked in private practice and as a staff attorney at the Court of Appeals and has a breadth of experience in both criminal and civil cases. His challenger, Andrew Heath, is currently a Superior Court judge, a seat he was appointed to by McCrory. Before that, he advised McCrory as state budget director, and before that, he was chairman of the state Industrial Commission.

Heath has an impressive resume, especially for someone who graduated law school just twelve years ago, but it’s bested by Arrowood’s decades-long legal career. And, given efforts to chip away at the judiciary, he’s too politically connected for our comfort.

Arrowood has the experience and temperament needed for the seat.

N.C. Court of Appeals, Seat 2: Tobias Hampson

In this race, there are two Republican candidates—Jefferson Griffin, a District Court judge in Wake, and Sandra Ray, a District Court judge for New Hanover and Pender counties—and one Democrat, Toby Hampson, who heads up the appellate division at a Raleigh law firm.

Ray has held her current position for fourteen years. On her campaign’s Facebook page, she touted that she isn’t endorsed by the state GOP as a sign of her independence (the party backs Griffin). Griffin was appointed to his seat and then elected to a full term. He’s also a captain in the North Carolina Army National Guard, a role in which he advises fellow soldiers on legal matters.

But Hampson is the most qualified candidate. We were impressed by the care he took in describing the access gap faced by many who come in contact with the courts, and his ideas for closing it. He is well-versed in appellate matters, as the Appellate Practice Group Leader at his firm, a member of the N.C. Bar Association Appellate Rules Committee, a member of the bar’s Appellate Specialization Committee, and a former Court of Appeals clerk.

N.C. Court of Appeals, Seat 3: Allegra Collins

Republican Chuck Kitchen is a former county attorney who currently serves as town attorney for the town of Holly Ridge as well as general counsel for the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority. He touts his nearly four decades of experience litigating cases in both trial and appellate courts in these roles. But he pales in comparison to Allegra Collins and her impressive resume. 

Collins specializes in appellate law, representing clients in both civil and criminal matters before appellate courts. She clerked for Court of Appeals Judge Linda Stephens and later worked at the state Supreme Court preparing appellate opinions. At Campbell Law, she teaches appellate brief writing, among other subjects. She is also a member of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Appellate Rules Committee and vice chairwoman of its Appellate Practice Section. We endorse Collins.

N.C. Superior Court 10D, Seat 1: Keith Gregory

This race pits Democratic incumbent Keith Gregory against Matt Van Sickle, who has no party affiliation. Gregory, a former assistant district attorney and assistant public defender who served eight years on the District Court, was appointed to this seat earlier this year by Governor Cooper to replace Judge Donald Stephens, who retired. Van Sickle is an experienced attorney who promises to bring fresh eyes to the bench, but we see no reason to deny Gregory a full term.

N.C. Superior Court 14B, Seat 3: Josephine Kerr Davis

This seat opened up when Judge Elaine O’Neal took a position at N.C. Central’s law school. It’s the only contested Superior Court race covering Durham County, and because Superior Court judges rotate among jurisdictions, it could also have an impact statewide. Vying for the seat are Dawn Baxton and Josephine Kerr Davis.

Baxton joined the local Public Defender’s Office in 1999 and since 2006 has been the senior assistant public defender. She has also trained lawyers through N.C. Central and the UNC School of Government, and served on the county Board of Elections. Kerr Davis has been an assistant district attorney in Durham for eight years. Before that, she worked with the state Department of Justice, the Fayetteville Public Defender’s Office, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, and the Land Loss Prevention Project.

Both candidates are experienced and principled. Both have demonstrated commitments to equity, fairness, and mitigating the harms of court involvement.

That said, Durham is poised to make major strides toward criminal justice reform, and we think Kerr Davis would help make the most of that moment. Through her involvement on People’s Alliance Race Equity Team and a recent driver’s license restoration program, she has already demonstrated an ability to do that work enthusiastically and effectively.

N.C. District Court 10D, Seat 2: Rebecca Edwards

This race is a free-for-all, and for that you can thank the legislature’s decision to eliminate judicial primaries. Fight candidates are on the ballot—two Democrats, two Republicans, and one with no party affiliation. Of them, we’re most drawn to Democrat Rebecca Edwards, a family law attorney who speaks openly about the abuse she suffered as a child and has chaired the N.C. Bar Association’s Family Law Council Children’s Issues Committee since 2014. Edwards has a powerful biography, having been on her own at age fifteen after growing up in an abusive and repressive environment. Fifteen years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree, then a law degree. Now she’s running for judge, pledging never to marginalize people and to keep people from falling through the system’s cracks. We believe she’ll bring to the bench empathy for those who wind up in her courtroom—and that’s an important trait.

N.C. District Court, Court 14, Seat 1: Dave Hall

Both candidates for this seat are experienced, albeit in very different ways.

Dave Hall brings ten years of legal experience, first as an indigent defense attorney and more recently as a civil rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. He is well-known in Durham for his work with the FADE Coalition fighting racially disparate policing; representing the family of Frank Clark Jr., who was killed by Durham police in 2016; and with the Clean Slate expungement program.

Judge Fred Battaglia worked in private practice for three decades and has served on the District Court since 2014, a role that has included presiding over the Drug Treatment Court. He was in the spotlight earlier this year after acquitting three people accused of toppling a Confederate monument downtown, angering people who saw the act as mob violence, and then suggesting to members of the county Republican Party that the prosecutor had failed to prepare for the case, angering people who thought the charges were illegitimate in the first place.

Hall’s body of work demonstrates his commitment to equity, community, and justice, and we believe he would be more effective in instilling those values in Durham’s courts than Battaglia. We endorse Hall.

N.C. District Court Judge, District 14, Seat 5: Jim Hill

In his sixteen years on the bench, Judge Jim Hill has lobbied the state for more local court funding, ruled against a requirement that people pay a fee for court-appointed lawyers, and helped establish a program to divert people with mental illness from Durham courts. But he’s also a Republican, and thanks to the General Assembly forcing him to have a party ID by his name, he’s probably going to lose.

Though his reelection might be a lost cause, we’ll support him anyway, given his record and reputation—though he has sometimes been criticized for a disrespectful courtroom manner.

Should he lose, though, challenger Clayton Jones will fill Hill’s shoes well. He’s spent thirteen years with Public Defender’s Office and two in the District Attorney’s Office. If elected, he says his philosophy on the bench would be “judicial activism”—which is reflected in his views on money bail and excessive court fines and fees.

One reply on “Endorsements 2018: Our Picks for State and Local Judicial Races”

  1. I don’t understand how you gather a few facts and go with it. Rebecca Edwards was a Republican for her whole life until she switched to Democrats a few weeks before registering for the judgeship. She is not endorsed by the Wake Co Democratic Party. I asked her on FB what she liked about the Democratic Party platform and she replied that I could find her anywhere at the polls, she made a major complaint against the actual Democratic contender and then blocked me from her Facebook account. I have the screenshot. You all are generally confused about your endorsements. Some are decent but some are so ill-examined. I used to like your endorsements but they have been failing for quite some time.

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