N.C. Supreme Court

The race for the state’s highest court features two highly qualified judges, Bob Hunter and Barbara Jackson. Both are well respected by their peers; both are on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Although this is a nonpartisan race, Hunter is a registered Democrat and Jackson is a registered Republican. Thus, if the state Supreme Court should have to weigh in on the General Assembly’s redistricting plan, politics could tacitly come into play.

Hunter has been on the appellate court for 11 years, written more than 1,100 opinions and heard more than 3,500 appellate cases. He also spent 18 years as a state legislator.

Jackson has been on the appellate court for six years. She was Gov. Jim Martin’s associate general counsel and primarily dealt with issues of executive clemency. She was on the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons With Disabilities as deputy general counsel and served as general counsel for Labor Secretary Cherie Berry.

Pros: Hunter has been lauded by the N.C. Press Association for being a longtime advocate for First Amendment rights and open government. As an appellate judge, Jackson has also defended the press, as she noted in her questionnaire. In Womack Newspapers v. Town of Kitty Hawk, she found that certain records were public even though they were held by the town’s contracted attorney, who ran a private law firm.)

WE ENDORSE Bob Hunter because he has more experience than Jackson as a judge. However we also like the idea of more women on the bench. If gender parity is an issue for you, Jackson is your candidate. We count on both of them to put politics aside if a redistricting decision should land in their lap.

Other endorsements: Hunter: N.C. Advocates for Justice, N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys, N.C. Fraternal Order of Police,Wake County Voter Education Coalition, AFL-CIO. Jackson: N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys.

N.C. Court of Appeals

Calabria Seat

Ann Calabria, a conservative incumbent, is running against Jane Gray. WE ENDORSED Jane Gray in the spring and we do so AGAIN.

First appointed as a Wake County district court judge in 2002, Gray was elected in 2004 and 2008. Prior to her service there, Gray spent 18 years in the N.C. Department of Justice and two years as the general counsel to the (pre-scandal) office of felon and former House Speaker Jim Black.

Pros: Though in her questionnaire Gray unequivocally asserted that politics has no place in the courtroom, she also voiced stern disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates of corporate spending in elections.

Cons: Calabria tends to side with corporate interests. We don’t need more of that.

Since Judge Gray has proven herself to be a competent and diligent district court judge with a reputation for fairness and hard work, we feel confident she’ll serve the state well at the appellate level.

Other endorsements: Gray: N.C. Advocates for Justice, N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys, Durham People’s Alliance, Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, N.C. Association of Educators and many more. Calabria: N.C. Police Sheriff Alliance, N.C. GOP.

Elmore Seat

WE ENDORSE incumbent Rick Elmore over his opponent, Steven Walker.

Elmore, who is from Greensboro, was elected to the court in 2002. He specialized in criminal defense and represented indigent clients. He has written 800 opinions for the appellate court.

Walker worked for former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Brady, reading appellate court opinions and recommending how each case should be handled.

Pros: We respect Elmore’s dissenting opinion in the case of the State Employees Association of N.C., who sued former state treasurer Richard Moore over access to records about state pension fund investments. His departure from the majority allowed SEANC to appeal to the state Supreme Court in this public records case.

Cons: None for Elmore; Walker has run an overtly political campaign and talks on his website about the need for conservative interpreters of the U.S. Constitution. He thinks we should vote in judges based on their “family values.”

Other endorsements: Elmore: Durham People’s Alliance, N.C. AFL-CIO, N.C. Advocates for Justice, N.C. Association of Women Attorneys and more.

Geer Seat

WE ENDORSE incumbent Martha Geer. She is running against Dean Poirer, an adjunct law professor at Mount Olive College and Liberty University (started by Jerry Falwell) and an appeals referee for the N.C. Employment Security Commission. He did not turn in a questionnaire.

Pros: Geer has eight years’ experience on the appellate court. During that time, she came down on the right side of several cases, including State v. Rose, in which her opinion specified what law enforcement must do and what a trial court must consider to ensure that checkpoint stops in N.C. comply with constitutional requirements.

Other endorsements: Geer: N.C. Police Benevolent Association, National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter, N.C. AFL-CIO, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus, Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina, N.C. Fraternal Order of Police. Poirer: Can-Do Conservatives of America.

Wynn Seat

This is a late addition to the race after Jim Wynn was appointed to a federal judgeship by President Obama. There are 13 people running for this seat; this race is also subject to Instant Runoff Voting, which means you can rank your top three choices.

OUR TOP ENDORSEMENT goes to Cressie Thigpen. Gov. Bev Perdue appointed him to fill Wynn’s seat in August. (Wynn’s term expires this year, which is why Thigpen is running.) Thigpen was a litigator in state and federal courts for more than 30 years and also a special superior court judge. He is the first African-American to be elected as president of the state bar and was inducted into the N.C. Bar Association General Practice Hall of Fame.

OUR SECOND CHOICE would be Stan Hammer, who has been counsel in more than 40 appeals, both civil and criminal and including several death penalty cases before the appellate court. He served actively for 15 years as a member of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Appellate Rules Committee, which studies the rules governing appeals and recommends changes for the improvement of those rules. He has extensive experience in trial courts both civil and criminal, and served as an assistant public defender in Guilford County.

OUR THIRD CHOICE is Harry Payne, a six-term legislator who served as state labor secretary from 1993–2001. A lawyer, he was appointed to chair the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, where he served seven years. He is now the manager of compliance for the billions of recovery dollars coming to North Carolina.

John Bloss is a friend of open government and as a private attorney, sought the release of sealed court records in the Food Lion v. ABC case. According to the N.C. Press Association, when the request to open the records was denied, he sought review all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

For the past 11 years, Anne Middleton has been in the Appellate Section of the Attorney General’s Office, where her practice of law is before the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. She is the state’s lead appellate attorney for crimes against children and adult sexual offenses. In the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, she handles the most serious child homicide, child physical abuse and sexual assault cases from all across North Carolina.

Wesley Casteen is an attorney and a CPA. His responses to the questionnaire were well reasoned, but he doesn’t have the experience of our top picks.

John Sullivan did not turn in a questionnaire. He does not seem to be running a viable campaign.

Daniel E. Garner is a lawyer with the N.C. Commissioner of Banks. He also served as an appeals referee for seven years on the N.C. Employment Security Commission, which provides employment services, unemployment insurance and labor market information.

Mark Klass ran for the Calabria seat in the spring, but didn’t win. In 2006 he reported to the North Carolina Family Policy Council, a conservative group, that he did not support the right of gay couples to adopt children, and that his judicial philosophy resembled that of Clarence Thomas more than any other U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Jewel Ann Farlow is a Greensboro attorney. She did not turn in a questionnaire.

Chris Dillon is an attorney and vice president of CapStone Bank. He did not turn in a questionnaire.

Doug McCullough is also running. In 2007, he pleaded guilty for driving while impaired the previous year. The N.C. Judicial Standards Commission issued a reprimand, finding that the incident showed a “failure to personally observe appropriate standards of conduct to ensure that the integrity and independence of the judiciary shall be preserved.”

Pamela Vesper is an auditor/ investigator for the North Carolina Real Estate Commission. That’s an important job, but we’re not sure that has fully prepared her for the appellate court.

Other endorsements:

Thigpen: N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Advocates for Justice, National Association of Social Workers–N.C. chapter, N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, Durham People’s Alliance.

Hammer: N.C. Association of Educators, N.C. Advocates for Justice, N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, Durham People’s Alliance

Payne: Durham People’s Alliance

Vesper: Equality NC

Campaign finance:

Thigpen: He qualified for public financing by raising seed money in small donations from at least 225 contributors. According to the N.C. Board of Elections, he has raised nearly $50,000and that’s before any public financing kicks in.

Hammer: He raised nearly $12,000 from doctors and lawyers through early September.

Payne: His $1,315 was an in-kind payment to himself to pay the candidate filing fee.

Like Payne, Casteen’s and Vesper’s only funds are $1,315 for an in-kind payment to themselves to cover the candidate filing fee.

Middleton: $2,500 raised, mostly from other attorneys and in-kind contributions to herself.

Garner has raised $1,412 from himself and his family.

McCullough has received $1,535, mostly in small donations, although a paralegal and an attorney at the Stubbs & Perdue law firm, where McCullough is also an attorney, gave $500 each.

Bloss and Dillon have raised no money; Farlow has raised $50.

Sullivan did not file a report.

Wake County

District Court 10

WE ENDORSE Dan Nagle, an assistant district attrorney in the Wake District Attorney’s office. A conservative, he has 28 years’ experience in the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.

Kris Bailey is a perennial candidate for various judicial positions. He served from 2000–2004 as a Wake County district court judge and was not re-elected. He ran for the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2006 and was badly defeated by incumbent Bob Hunter after Bailey struggled to find support for his campaign. He has based much of his current and past campaigns on a pledge not to take campaign donations from lawyers. Certainly, that’s an admirable stance to take, given the conflicts of interest inherent in judicial elections, but it isn’t enough to merit our endorsement. We do like the photo on his website featuring him and Richard Petty.

District Court 10

WE ENDORSE incumbent Keith O’Brien Gregory and see no reason to unseat him. Gregory has been a prosecutor, public defender and criminal defense attorney. He was appointed to the seat by Gov. Perdue last February. His term expires this year, which is why he is running.

Woofer Davidian is a graduate of Regent University School of Law, which was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. In his private practice, he deals with family law, criminal/ traffic cases and general civil litigation.

Other endorsements: Gregory: N.C. Police Benevolent Association. Davidian: many attorneys and former judges.

District Court 10

WE ENDORSE James Fullwood, the longtime incumbent. A former prosecutor, he was in private practice and also founded the Wake County District Court Drug Court, which he presided over. He is currently assigned to child abuse, neglect and dependency court and is on the juvenile justice planning committee.

Brad Sahl is his opponent. He did not turn in a questionnaire, but his website emphasizes that he will not stand for frivolous matters being brought before the court. Sahl says he will take a hard line against those who seek to abuse the court system. Frivolous suits clog up the court calendar and cost taxpayers money.

Other endorsements: Fullwood: N.C. Association of Women Attorneys.

District Court 10

WE ENDORSE Vincent Rozier, who already serves on the District Court. His questionnaire showed compassion, knowledge of and commitment to family, domestic and juvenile justice issues, which are the bulk of district court cases.

Michael Denning is his opponent. A former Marine, he’s in private practice with the Shanahan Law Group handling civil litigation, including general business, contract disputes personal injury and state court criminal defense matters.

Other endorsements: Rozier: N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, N.C. Police Benevolent Association, Raleigh Wake Citizens’ Association.

Durham County

District Court 14

We endorsed Kerry Sutton in the primary because the other candidates for this seat, Doretta Walker and Freda Black, gave us pause.

Sutton did not advance to the November election, and now WE ENDORSE Doretta Walker. She does have a commitment to juvenile justice and improving that system. On her questionnaire she also noted that, if necessary, she would remove a child from the home if the home environment or parents posed harm to the childeven though that might be an unpopular decision.

Walker is currently an ADA in the Durham County District Attorney’s office. We do take issue with what we consider a frivolous case against a resident of an affordable housing complex, in which he allegedly pirated DVDs. Walker lost the case in Superior Court.

Black, the local attorney who gained notoriety for her prosecution of Michael Peterson, who was found guilty of murdering his wife, was fired by then-District Attorney Mike Nifong in 2005. She has since lost two bids for the Durham District Attorney’s office and has a somewhat checkered history. After her first loss to Nifong in the 2006 Democratic primary, Black refused to concede the loss and ditched a press conference.

Black also erroneously convicted Erick Daniels on robbery charges without a shred of incriminating or physical evidence, relying instead on the victim’s eyewitness testimony. After the Indy investigated the case, Daniels, a juvenile at the time of his conviction, was later freed by a judge who found that he had been wrongfully convicted.

Black did not return our questionnaire.

Other endorsements: Walker: Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham, N.C. Association of Women Attorneys.

District Court 14

WE ENDORSE Brian Aus. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill Law School, he has an impressive résumé of high-level criminal and civil cases. He is highly respected in the local legal community. He delivered some of the most thoughtful and in-depth responses to our candidate questionnaire, displaying a keen understanding of the issues that district court judges face.

He professed a concentration on treatment and prevention for nonviolent drug offenders and said the courts need to do a better job of identifying and handling cases of mentally ill offenders. He also puts his money where his mouth is, volunteering as an instructor for the STARR Program for substance abuse treatment in Durham.

Patricia Evans is a Durham lawyer who worked for the Durham District Attorney’s office. She currently practices criminal law in District and Superior Court.

Other endorsements: Evans: Friends of Durham, Durham People’s Alliance.

Superior Court

This contest is an embarrassment of riches, and regardless of whom you vote for, you can’t go wrong. WE enthusiastically ENDORSE Elaine Bushfan, Michael O’Foghludha and Jim Hardin for Superior Court.

And we highly recommend Dan Read.

Bushfan, a longtime district judge, is committed to curbing juvenile crime, and her advocacy for children is tireless. She co-founded Restoration Institute for Leaders, a course recovery/ drop-out prevention program for high school students.

She also is willing to take a controversial stand on the process of expunging criminal records. She writes in her questionnaire: “The process of expunging a criminal record is very limited and should be expanded for persons who have convictions for certain nonviolent offenses who have satisfied the requirements of the court and have had a period of time of good behavior. Having a conviction on one’s record is a life long brand. For certain convictions, it is appropriately so. However, I believe it serves as a barrier for people who have been convicted of certain nonviolent offenses and who are motivated to change their lives around and become productive citizens. A person convicted of a nonviolent offense who has satisfied the courts and has had a period of good behavior should be allowed to have their record expunged. It should not serve as a scarlet letter for life.”

If elected, Bushfan would be the first African-American woman on the Durham Superior Court.

O’Foghludha, managing partner at the firm of Pulley, Watson, King & Lischer, has been a practicing attorney for more than 27 years and has tried civil and criminal cases in Superior Court, including jury trials.

His judicial philosophy is thoughtful and articulate. “A good judge applies the law as it is, not as he or she feels it should be. Judges should be even tempered, and treat all litigants and counsel with respect. A good judge is not afraid to make decisions, and renders timely decisions after giving due consideration to the written materials and the oral arguments presented to the court … A good judge does not give any greater deference to either side that appears before the Court. A good judge is hardworking and generous of his or her time to the litigants and counsel who appear in Court. A good judge is available to conduct the legitimate business of the Court, consistent with the ethical limitations prohibiting ex parte contact, at all hours of the day. A good judge has considerable experience in the law, and has the intelligence to understand the legal arguments that are presented to the Court. A good judge is balanced, temperate, and has no political agenda.”

A member of the Access to Justice campaign, O’Foghludha is concerned about judicial fairness to low-income people. “I am acutely aware that people of all economic backgrounds should have access to the justice system,” he writes.

Hardin, currently a superior court judge, is seeking to retain his seat. A former colonel in the Army Reserve, Hardin was also a highly respected Durham County District Attorney and prosecuted the controversial Michael Peterson murder trial.

Hardin is especially concerned with judicial decisions dealing with evidence and cites a case in his questionnaire in which he ruled that the Union County prosecutor’s office personnel broke discovery requirements, which violated the defendant’s constitutional rights such that he could not receive a fair trial. Hardin dismissed the assault case of the habitual felon; after his ruling was appealed by the prosecution, it was upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court.

Dan Read, a private practice attorney, is principled, thoughtful and fair. He is an advocate of open government and, in his questionnaire, dissented from Hardin in the highly publicized case in which the State Employees Association of N.C. sought disclosure of public documents about pension investments made by then-treasurer Richard Moore. Hardin declined to allow SEANC to look at the documents in the judge’s private chambers and threw the case out. (The Court of Appeals agreed.)

Read also is concerned about long mandatory prison terms for repeat offenders, especially drug addicts. He cites an instance in which one of his clients had a crumb of cocaine in his pocket (automatically a felony), and because of prior drug convictions he was sentenced to eight years in prison for being an habitual felon. “I would be willing to consider setting such a sentence aside as cruel and unusual and substituting a regular felony sentence,” he writes.

Chris Shella and Jim Hughes are also good choices. Shella has served in a district attorney’s office and prosecuted gang crimes at the Superior Court level. He has tried serious felony cases in jury trials in Superior Court. He has also used the stipulations of the recent Racial Justice Act in death penalty trials.

Hughes is in private practice handling general civil, domestic and criminal cases. He has tried civil and criminal cases in both district and superior courts, including jury trials. He is also a certified mediator.

Like Bushfan, Hughes’ public service is also impressive. A former VISTA volunteer, he worked as a paralegal to the Legal Aid attorney. He organized public housing tenants into a public housing tenants’ rights organization. In addition, he worked on constructing houses in a program that is modeled much like Habitat for Humanity is today.

Other endorsements: Bushfan: Durham People’s Alliance, Friends of Durham. Hardin: Durham People’s Alliance, Friends of Durham. Mike O’Foghludha: Durham People’s Alliance, Friends of Durham.