District Court judge candidates share judicial philosophies during forum

Published 12:07 am Thursday, April 14, 2022

SALISBURY — Four Republicans running for two Rowan County District Court judge seats talked judicial philosophy and access to justice during a candidate forum hosted by the local party at the Rowan Public Library on Tuesday night.

The Rowan County Republican Party is hosting a series of candidate showcases in advance of the primary. Early voting starts on April 28 and the primary is scheduled for May 17.

Cynthia Dry, a child protective services attorney for Rowan County Department of Social Services, is running against local attorney Lauren Hoben for seat No. 2, currently held by retiring District Court Judge Charlie Brown. Chris Sease, a local attorney, is running against incumbent Kevin Eddinger for seat No. 1.

Since incumbents Beth Dixon and James Randolph are running unopposed for seats 2 and 4, respectively, they did not participate in the forum.

Each of the four candidates fielded more than a handful of questions posed by former Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Anna Mills Wagoner. She asked each candidate about their experience.

Hoben, who practices in the areas of criminal defense, family law, wills and estates, and traffic infractions, said there is no area of District Court that she has not handled a case in during her career thus far. Dry detailed her experience as an assistant district attorney before highlighting the 17 years she has spent as the county’s child protective services attorney, a job she currently holds. Dry said her background as a prosecutor combined with her current position with DSS gives her a unique perspective.

Sease, who practices criminal and family law, joked that he’s “in court so much I’m afraid the county is going to start charging me rent” while speaking about his work in the courthouse. Eddinger, who was first elected as a District Court judge in 2002, said he’s been doing the job for the past 20 years and was a practicing attorney for the 22 years prior to that.

“I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but there’s no substitute for 42 years of experience in the law, 20 years as a District Court judge,” Eddinger said.

Wagoner asked the candidates how they would handle unruly behavior in their courtrooms.

Eddinger said he’s held people in contempt of court before and wouldn’t be afraid to do it again.

“I have held attorneys, plural, in contempt of court,” Eddinger said. “I didn’t want to, but you have to do it if you want to or not if the situation demands it.”

Sease said holding people in contempt of court is a judge’s “major weapon,” but he applauds judges who use it with restraint and said it depends on the situation.

“For some people, it’s the most important days of their lives and some people forget how to act on the most important days of their lives,” Sease said.

Dry said she would be respectful of all parties while also maintaining the formal setting of a courtroom. She said judges need to be more strict on behavior in the courthouse and courtroom.

Hoben said judges should hold people in contempt when individuals come into the courtroom impaired or disruptive, but she also believes that contempt was being “over-utilized” by some judges, including Brown. She said she’s seen judges hold law enforcement officers in contempt because they were responding to an accident while court was in session. Likewise, she said she’s seen judges give show cause orders to attorneys because they were in another courtroom for another trial at the time. Both instances an overreach in her opinion.

Candidates were asked why they decided to run for the position and if they’d ever run before.

Sease, who hasn’t sought office before, said he felt called to run because he wants to be a “force for good” in the community. Sease said it’s always been his intention to run for District Court judge and he doesn’t take running against a seated judge lightly.

Eddinger said he is looking for “one more term” while mentioning his four decades practicing law.

Dry ran for judge two decades ago in Davidson County and said she lost by about 300 votes. This time around, Dry said she’s “much wiser,” stronger and is ready for the position.

Hoben hasn’t run for office before and said she doesn’t enjoy it, but is running because she believes the “community deserves better.”

“I didn’t like what I found myself coming home and talking to my husband about what I saw taking place in our court system,” Hoben said.

When asked to identify what they believe is the main obstacle to justice, Hoben said the biggest challenge is time in court. It’s frustrating, Hoben said, to have a trial start one day and then not be resumed until months later because access to judges and jurors is precious. Dry pointed to resources allocated to the court system as being a roadblock. She said she’d like to see more funding and resources infused from the state level into local courts.

Eddinger said prep time for trials is an impediment, although it is necessary. Sease highlighted “access to justice” is the primary obstacle. He specifically mentioned people who come into the courthouse without attorneys and how that may prevent them from having their say in court. He said that goes “hand-in-hand” with court time and said cases that drag on for one reason or another prevent access to justice.

Wagoner asked candidates how they would handle defendants who choose to represent themselves in cases.

Patience, kindness and respect is key in those situations, Eddinger said. He contended that everyone has a right to walk into a courtroom with or without a lawyer. You can’t advocate for those people, Eddinger said, but you can help educate them. Sease said he’d be kind, but firm while holding them to the same rules as he would a lawyer. He’d treat them how he would like to be treated in the situation.

Dry said they have to follow the same rules, but said she wouldn’t demean or criticize them. Hoben said there are “wonderful” local attorneys who provide guidance to people who are representing themselves if those attorneys are asked to do so by a judge.

During one of the final questions of the night, Wagoner asked each candidate to explain their judicial philosophy in layman’s terms.

Sease said he follows the acronym “KISS,” which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. He said he’s constitutionally based, community centered, family focused and equitably driven and a believer of the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Eddinger kept his philosophy simple as well, saying “the essence of due process is an opportunity to be heard” and asserting that he’s a proponent of the adage: measure twice, cut once.

Dry noted she’s a constitutional conservative and said her philosophy is to “seek truth and do justice in every case, and if you do that, then things are going to come out well.” Hoben, also a constitutionalist, said she believes in giving everybody the opportunity to be heard and treating them respectfully.

The next Republican candidate forum for North Carolina House District 83 will be held on Thursday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Laureate Center, 401 Laureate Way, Kannapolis.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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