Judicial Qualifications Are Not Well Known
In recent years, North Carolina’s system for choosing judges has been alternately praised and condemned.
The praise comes from those impressed with the state’s 2002 reforms for electing appellate court judges, changes that allowed candidates to qualify for public financing.
To date, the reforms have largely prevented large sums of special interest money from pouring into races for the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court. Other states have had a different experience, seeing huge amounts dumped into court races, often by groups interested in the outcome of cases decided by the judges up for election.
The condemnation is aimed at the fact that North Carolina even holds judicial elections. Many people who work in the legal community want a system of judicial appointment, arguing that the reforms do nothing to improve voters’ knowledge of the judicial candidates whom they elect.
When it comes to the outcome of judicial races, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that gender and ballot position are more important than qualifications.
But less political will to change the system exists today than a decade ago, when state legislators regularly debated the issue.
This year, North Carolinians will elect four judges to the state Court of Appeals and one justice to the state Supreme Court. Two contested primaries will be held to whittle the nonpartisan races down to two candidates for the fall.
Court of Appeals Judge Ann Marie Calabria faces two challengers, Superior Court Judge Mark Klass and District Court Judge Jane Grey, in a bid to keep her seat on the court.
Calabria has been on the court since 2003. Prior to her election, she was a District Court judge in Wake County. She previously practiced law in Cary and Fayetteville, and worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Klass, who lives in Lexington, has been a Superior Court judge since 1999. He previously worked both as a private practice lawyer and as an assistant district attorney.
Grey, who lives in Raleigh, has been a Wake County District Court judge since 2002. She worked in the state Attorney General’s office for 18 years and as general counsel to the House speaker for two years.
In the other contested primary, Court of Appeals Judge Rick Elmore faces three challenger: state Supreme Court clerk Steven Walker, Hillsborough lawyer Leto Copeley and Lillington lawyer Alton Bain.
Elmore has been on the Court of Appeals since 2003. Prior to his election, he was a private practice lawyer in Greensboro.
Walker has been clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Ed Brady since 2005, his first position after getting his law license that same year.
Copeley has worked as a private practice lawyers since 1998 and is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Bain has been a partner in a Lillington law firm since 2001 and worked as a clerk to the Court of Appeals in the mid-1980s.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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