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Grandson of ‘Senator Sam’ running for N.C. Court of Appeals

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Sam J. Ervin IV of Morganton touts his experience as an attorney and his last nine years as a member of the N.C. Utilities Commission as having prepared him for the next step ó a judgeship on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
As an attorney from 1981-99, Ervin handled a breadth of litigation, from criminal cases to personal injury and business and contract disputes.
He routinely appeared before the appellate court and N.C. Supreme Court.
In 1999, Gov. Jim Hunt named him and the General Assembly confirmed his appointment to the Utilities Commission, a quasi-judicial board that regulates investor-owned electric, natural gas, telephone and water and sewer companies in the state.
Gov. Mike Easley reappointed him to a second eight-year term.
Ervin says that most people don’t realize that as a Utilities commissioner, a full-time job, he conducts hearings, reads briefs, rules on procedural motions, hears testimony, writes findings of fact and issues detailed orders that are subject to appeal.
The job of Utilities commissioner is quite similar to that of a judge on the Court of Appeals, Ervin says.
In fact, he hears more oral arguments on the Utilities Commission than a sitting appellate court does, Ervin adds.
The Court of Appeals is made up of 15 judges who serve on rotating panels of three to hear cases usually referred to them from Superior Court.
In the May 6 primary there are two contested seats, currently held by Judge James A. Wynn and Judge John M. Tyson.
Ervin, who is grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., is vying for Tyson’s seat. Tyson seeks re-election and is being challenged in the primary by Ervin, Kristin Ruth and Janet Pueschel.
Wynn faces challenges from Dean R. Poirier and Jewel Ann Farlow.
The two leading vote-getters in each race during the primary vote will be on the general election ballot Nov. 4.
There are three other contested races for the N.C. Court of Appeals that will be on the November ballot. They are not on the primary ballot because they each have only two candidates. In a sixth race for the N.C. Court of Appeals, the incumbent is unopposed.
Ervin was admitted to the N.C. Bar in 1981 after earning his undergraduate degree from Davidson College in 1978 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1981.
Ervin finds that he spends much of his campaign time explaining the makeup of the N.C. Court of Appeals and what it does.
“It’s really, for most people, the last stop,” Ervin said during a recent stop at the Post.
The court hears criminal cases, appeals from the Utilities Commission, personal injury, contract disputes, domestic disagreements and public government challenges, personnel issues and more.
Ervin calls the Court of Appeals “the generalist” in the judicial system.
“I think it’s underappreciated how important it is,” he said.
Ervin said it’s especially important to have someone on the appellate court who has a lot of experience in hearing administrative matters, such as those he deals with regularly on the Utilities Commission.
“If you’re looking at a court that’s basically a collection of generalists, that’s what I was, a generalist,” he said.
This is the first time Ervin has run for public office.
He said he thinks it’s important that through a judge’s written opinion, a plaintiff or defendant understands why the court ruled the way it did. A person’s frustration with the judicial system often comes not so much from losing as it does with a feeling that his case wasn’t completely heard and explained, Ervin said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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