Judging the judge

Imagine trekking to court after being nabbed with a speeding ticket. Or finding yourself in a court battle over who should be awarded custody of your child. Wouldn’t you want a say in who will decide your case? You do have a say, actually.

This fall, voters will choose who will fill two contested seats in Buncombe County District Court — where those and other sorts of cases are decided.

District Court is the setting where most people are most likely to encounter the court system. Along with traffic cases and custody disputes, District Court judges also decide cases involving juvenile delinquents, domestic-violence situations, misdemeanor offenses and civil cases in which less than $10,000 is at stake.

To help voters, a free forum featuring local District Court judicial candidates will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22, in the fifth-floor courtroom of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The 28th Judicial District Bar and the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County are cosponsoring the event, which marks the first judicial candidate forum in recent memory.

“Part of what the League is trying to do is educate the community about why they should be interested in these type of races,” notes Marsha Bate, chairwoman of the local League’s voter-education committee.

Six candidates have filed to run in the nonpartisan primary — to be held Sept. 10 — for a seat on the bench currently filled by retiring Chief District Court Judge Earl J. Fowler Jr. The contenders are: Rodney Hasty, Calvin Hill, Patricia A. Kaufmann Bert Neal, John M. Olesiuk and Roger T. Smith. The top two vote getters will compete in the general election in November, according to the Buncombe County Board of Elections.

In addition, two other candidates are vying for another seat on the District Court bench: Shirley H. Brown (the incumbent) and Susan E. Wilson. The pair will face off in November’s general election.

Fowler will moderate the forum, which will feature a Q&A session, including questions submitted from the audience, Bate says.

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