Local bar association hosts reception for N.C. court candidates

SALISBURY — Candidates for N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races touted everything from their courtroom savvy to experience in writing opinions during a Tuesday evening reception held by the local bar.

The “Meet and Greet” event was open to judges, attorneys, their staffs, Rowan County Courthouse personnel, law enforcement and probation officers. Family members also could attend.

The reception was held in the Messinger Room of the Rowan Museum, which is beside the Rowan County Courthouse.

All the candidates in statewide judicial races were invited. Those attending and speaking briefly to the crowd included Justice Mark Martin, Justice Robin Hudson, Judge Robert N. Hunter, Judge Samuel Ervin IV, Judge William Southern, Judge Lucy Inman, Judge Paul Holcombe and Winston-Salem attorney Michael Robinson.

Judge Eric Levinson was running late, caught up in court matters, but he planned to attend.

State judicial races can be confusing. This year, there are four races for seats on the Supreme Court, including a vacancy at chief justice. Martin, a longtime member of the Supreme Court, is running against Judge Ola Lewis for that seat.

The other Supreme Court seats with races include the seat Martin is giving up to run for chief justice. Ervin and Hunter are facing each other in that contest. They both currently serve on the 15-member N.C. Court of Appeals.

Hudson seeks re-election to the Supreme Court against Levinson and Jeanette Doran, meaning there will be a primary in that contest May 6.

Hudson called it the most important primary no one is talking about.

Robinson is opposing Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley for the seat she was appointed to in 2012.

The N.C. Supreme Court has seven seats in all.

The N.C. Court of Appeals has three contests this year. Judge Donna Stroud is unopposed for the seat she now holds.

For the Robert C. Hunter seat — different from the Robert N. Hunter Jr. seat — Inman and Southern are squaring off.

Judge Mark A. Davis is seeking re-election, and he is opposed by Holcombe.

Salisbury attorney Darrin Jordan introduced the candidates. Jordan, state bar councilor for Judicial District 19C, which takes in Rowan County, said he hoped the people in attendance Tuesday night could carry what they learned of the candidates into the community and help educate voters on their choices.

Here's a capsule look at the candidates who spoke Tuesday:

Over the past 21 years, Martin has judicial experience in Superior Court, the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court and is the only judge in North Carolina to serve at all three levels.

Martin was elected to the Court of Appeals in 1994, then the Supreme Court in 1998 and 2006.

As a Superior Court judge, Martin held court in Rowan County, back in the days when the late Bob Martin was sheriff. He said the voters of Rowan County have always given him strong support in his statewide judicial races.

Five former chief justices of North Carolina have endorsed Martin, who said the job is “not a starter position” for someone such as his opponent who has never served on the Supreme Court. He said the learning curve is steep for new members of the court.

Martin has been the senior associate justice — the justice with the most experience — since 2006.

Martin noted challenges in court administration and a deficit of more than 700 positions statewide. He called for a total reassessment of the state's legal administration through a study similar to the Bell Commission of the 1960s and the Medlin Commission of the 1990s.

Robin Hudson: Hudson said the Supreme Court has seven seats for a reason — to provide for different points of view. Hudson brings 37 years of legal experience to the table. She practiced law for 24 years before becoming a judge.

Her website says as an attorney she represented people, not big government or big companies.

Hudson has served six years on the Court of Appeals and seven years on the Supreme Court, having last been elected in 2006.

Robert N. Hunter Jr.: Hunter has been on the Court of Appeals since 2008. In his 35 years as a Greensboro attorney before that, Hunter said, he “practiced everything that walked in the door.”

Hunter said he was not an ideologue but a pragmatic person who can write an opinion that helps the working bar apply the law in everyday situations.

He joked that his opponent Ervin, is doing a wonderful job on the Court of Appeals and should stay there.

Sam J. Ervin IV: A fourth generation member of the bar from Morganton and grandson of the late Sam Ervin Jr., Ervin said it was nice to see longtime friends in Rowan County.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1981, Ervin practiced law in Morganton until 1999. He said he argued 18 cases before the Supreme Court and 40 to 50 at the Court of Appeals level.

Ervin touted his 15 years of judicial and quasi-judicial experience. He served on the Utilities Commission from 1999 until his election to the Court of Appeals in 2008.

Ervin described his work product as “down the middle” and said he had a reputation for lengthy opinion, only because he wants to make sure people understand the reasons decisions were made.

A onetime newspaper reporter, Inman earned her law degree in 1990, was a law clerk for two years under Chief Justice James G. Exum Jr. then did commercial and civil litigation until 2010.

In 2010, she was appointed a special Superior Court judge, holding criminal and civil court for 40 counties, including Rowan.

“Have gavel, will travel,” she said.

Inman said it was important on the Court of Appeals for a judge to remember what the math teacher always said:

“Don't just give me the answer, show me your work, how you got there.”

William Southern: Southern currently serves as a District Court judge in Surry and Stokes counties — a position he has held since 2008.

Before then, he was an assistant district attorney in the same two counties. Southern also is a certified juvenile court judge.

Southern said he has a great deal of experience working with law enforcement and protecting victim's rights. He comes from a family, he noted, with a strong public service background.

“Public service matters,” he said.

Paul Holcombe: From 1994 to 2008, Holcombe served as a prosecutor in Tennessee and North Carolina, including stints of four years in Cabarrus County and two years in Johnston County.

Since 2009, Holcombe has served as a District Court judge in Johnston, Lee and Harnett counties.

Holcombe said his opponent, Davis, never served as a judge before his gubernatorial appointment to the Court of Appeals.

Holcombe touted his experience working with police officers, arguing cases before criminal juries, making child custody decisions, handling cases in Department of Social Services court and dealing with issues such as child support and mental health cases.

Michael Robinson: Robinson said if the Supreme Court is supposed to be diversified, it needs his experience and background in helping business people in litigation.

Robinson is a managing partner in Robinson & Lawing of Winston-Salem, which includes 16 attorneys and 13 staffers.

Robinson's practice has concentrated on civil litigation, medical malpractice defense, insurance defense, intellectual property matters, corporate litigation and loss prevention.

He is admitted to practice in N.C. State Courts, the three U.S. District Courts in North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robinson said his opponent Beasley, was appointed to the N.C. Supreme Court in 2012 and has authored only one majority opinion during her time on the bench.

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