Survey evaluates local judges; Clontz faces primary challenge

Survey evaluates local judges; Clontz faces primary challenge-attachment0

A new survey by the N.C. Bar Association rates the performance of local judges, shedding light on elected officials that are often hard for voters to evaluate. Judge Ed Clontz received the lowest scores of any Buncombe County District Court justice. And he’s the only incumbent facing a fight to keep his seat on the bench.

The survey asked local attorneys to evaluate the District Court judges on a range of factors, such as overall performance, legal ability and administrative skills (see chart above). Participating attorneys were granted anonymity, which allowed them to provide honest answers without fear of retaliation from the judges they regularly present cases to. More than 100 of them provided responses to nearly all of the questions.

The idea behind the effort is to provide information about the candidates from those who know them the best, says Charles Burgin, a retired Marion lawyer who serves on the N.C. Bar Association committee that produced the survey.

“One of the real problems with the election of judges … is that generally the public does not know who the candidates are,” says Burgin. “How in the world do you vote for a judge if you don’t know what kind of person they are? If you don’t know if they have any legal ability whatsoever, you don’t vote for them in an informed fashion. So this is an effort to cure that.”

Buncombe County’s District Court judges are charged with dealing with a wide range of important matters, from property disputes to domestic relations. Nearly all local misdemeanor cases fall under their jurisdiction, as well as probable cause hearings in felony cases. And judging by lawyers’ responses in the survey, three of the five incumbents are performing below state averages in every category: Judges Susan Dotson-Smith, Patricia Kaufmann Young and Clontz.

Judge Julie Kepple received the highest marks, followed by Judge Ward Scott. Both earned scores that exceed state averages in every category.

While all five are up for re-election, Clontz is the only incumbent drawing opposition this year. Formerly an Asheville attorney, Clontz was appointed by then-Gov. Bev Perdue in 2011 to fulfill the term of Sharon Barrett, who left the seat in order to accept a job on the Superior Court. Clontz was previously Buncombe County’s chief assistant clerk of Superior Court, and prior to that, he was assistant clerk and magistrate.

Clontz faces a primary challenge from two local attorneys: J. Matthew Martin and Thomas Amburgey. Martin previously served as associate judge of the Cherokee Court, the tribal court for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Amburgey has worked as a prosecutor for the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office since 2007.

All three candidates will vie for a four-year term on the bench. The top-two vote-getters in the May 6 primary will move on to battle in the Nov. 4 general election. Like all judicial elections in North Carolina, the race is nonpartisan.

Burgin says his committee is currently exploring how to provide voters with information on the challengers. At the very least, the N.C. Bar Association will put out another report before Election Day with “biographical information” about them, he says. The nonprofit educational organization is also hoping to release a survey in April evaluating Superior Court justices across the state.

“I think the public does care about having the best judges we can get,” says Burgin.

To see how judges in the rest of North Carolina were ranked see the entire survey here.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

2 thoughts on “Survey evaluates local judges; Clontz faces primary challenge

  1. James L. (Larry) Smith

    Just remember that this evaluation is by lawyers, not by the public or by anyone who is familiar with and studies the judicial corruption which infects Buncombe County.

    What do district court judges do? Well, I’ll tell you what some of them do. They commit violations of fundamental ethics, engage in high crimes and misdemeanors, and destroy the public’s confidence in the judicial office. Here are a few examples: Susan Renfer illegally raised bonds without cause when defendants gave notice of appeal, pitched fits and engaged in tirades of abuse in the courtroom, and committed malicious assaults. Victoria Roemer illegally jailed a married couple for being behind on their rent. Sam Cathey, Julie Kepple, Steve Cogburn, and Ed Clontz teamed up to commit extrinsic fraud by interfering with a party’s efforts to defend himself in a NCGS 50-C case. Ed Clontz struck the man’s discovery (interrogatories and requests for admissions) by reciting falsities as reasons for it.

    In a previous case Clontz had signed a patently corrupt show-cause order for contempt before the defendant had notice of the _ex parte_ temporary restraining order. Sam Cathey did not recuse himself although in a companion case, with the same plaintiff as party, he acknowledged in open court that he should disqualify himself and refuse to sit on that case.

    Sam Cathey unlawfully altered a district court judgment after the case was firmly lodged in the Superior Court- he had sentenced the defendant to 30 days, suspended for one year, costs, and probation; but then after the case was already on appeal for trial de novo and he had no authority, he forged a new judgment sentencing the defendant to 30 days imprisonment. This case was later dismissed by DA Ron Moore, but what if the defendant, unaware he had been corruptly re-sentenced, had requested the judge in the Superior Court to remand the case for compliance?

    Julie Matthiessen Kepple committed spoliation by removing filed exhibits favorable to the defendant, found facts which were not in evidence, and corruptly permitted and encouraged the plaintiff to reframe the lawsuit and testify over the defendant’s objection to new probata for which he had received no notice in the allegata.

    Judge Calvin Hill and other 28th judicial district judges often lock the doors to their courtrooms, closing them to the public without cause and in violation of both the US and NC Constitutions. These are not juvenile cases. Julie Kepple has on several occasions removed peaceful spectators from her courtroom and sicced her bailiff on them, without cause, and even made parties to leave until their case is called.

    Calvin Hill is notorious for fabricating facts, making findings of fact and conclusions of law, and signing judgments that do not speak the truth. Hill’s findings are neither justified by the pleadings nor the evidence. There is ample documentary proof of this corruption.

    And now that the discipline of corrupt judges has been removed from public inspection and the public’s right to know and hidden behind a cloak of secrecy by the NC Supreme Court in a backroom deal with our legislators, the corruption in our judiciary will metastasize. You can already see and smell it after the Judicial Standards Commission became extinct.

    There are many more judges to expose here for their malfeasance and corruption, but space and time do not permit. Among other corrupt district court judges, just to name a few more, are Fritz Mercer, David Fox, Susan Dotson-Smith, and Patricia Kaufmann-Young. In a world with true justice some of these judge should not be in robes but in prison.

  2. Harold Johnnesson

    Wow! If I truly believed that the majority of the judges in District 28 are corrupt, then I would be just as corrupt for believing this foolishness. While some of the judges may display poor judgement or perform their duties in manners that may not be acceptable to a few, it does not mean that they are corrupt!

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