Three judicial races on primary ballot

Three judicial contests — one local and two statewide — will appear on the ballot for the May 4 primary in Buncombe County (see below). All told, they involve 10 candidates about whom voters may know very little.

"Judicial races receive very little attention," notes Weaverville resident Kathleen Balogh, who is president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.

Accordingly, she lauds the state's 2002 Judicial Campaign Reform Act, which established optional public funding for candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals and made all state judicial races nonpartisan. The program also produces voters guides (such as the one the State Board of Elections mailed recently to residences across North Carolina). The 2010 Primary Voter Guide profiles the statewide judicial-primary candidates and also lists those general-election contenders who aren't involved in the primary.

Candidate participation has increased each election cycle since the law took effect in 2004, and this year, all 12 state judicial contestants have declared their intent to take part in the program. (Unopposed candidates do not receive campaign funding.)

North Carolina is one of 39 states with some form of elected judgeships, and now one of 15 in which judges are elected on a nonpartisan basis. Gubernatorial, legislative or commission-based appointments determine judgeships in the remaining 11 states.

North Carolina's legislation, says Balogh, has even inspired judicial reform elsewhere: New Mexico and Wisconsin have already established programs partly based on the N.C. model, and West Virginia and Washington have similar programs in the works, she reports.

To be eligible for potential public funding, however, North Carolina candidates must first survive the primary. The top two vote-getters in each race will proceed to the general election in November. Here are the primary candidates (for additional information, check out the Voter Guide online at http://sboe.state.nc.us).

N.C. Court of Appeals (two seats)

Three primary candidates are vying for one of the open seats:
Anne Marie Calabria: Morrisville resident; currently an N.C. Court of Appeals judge and mediator;
Jane Gray: Raleigh resident, currently a District Court judge;
Mark E. Klass: Resident of Lexington, N.C., currently serving as Superior Court judge.

Four primary candidates are competing for the second seat:
Alton D. (Al) Bain: A general-practice attorney residing in Lillington;
Leto Copeley: An attorney who lives in Hillsborough;
Rick Elmore: Raleigh resident, currently an N.C. Court of Appeals judge;
Steven Walker: Selma, N.C., resident currently serving as clerk to Justice Edward Thomas Brady, N.C. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, at the local level, Buncombe County's District 28 has only one judicial primary. (Candidates for the other open seats either face no opposition or have only one opponent, in which case both candidates automatically advance to the November election.)

Candidates for the District 28 Superior Court seat are listed below, along with biographical information taken from their individual Web sites or professional profiles. Currently, local races don't qualify for public funding.

Buncombe County Superior Court, District 28

Three primary candidates are competing for this seat; the top two will proceed to the general election:
Kate Dreher: Currently an assistant district attorney, Buncombe County; graduate, University of Pennsylvania; law degree, Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America; clerk to appellate judge, prosecutor and civil litigator in Pennsylvania; Buncombe County district attorney's office, 1990 to present; board-certified state criminal law specialist 1994;
Marvin Pope: Currently a Buncombe County District Court judge (District 28); Lenoir Rhyne College 1970; Wake Forest Law School 1973; private practice in Asheville, 1973 to 2001; appointed to District Court (District 28), 2001; certified as family court and juvenile court judge; elected to District Court (District 28) 2004 and 2008;
Alan Z. Thornburg: Currently a Superior Court judge (District 28); B.A. in history, Davidson College, 1989; law degree, Wake Forest University, 1996; law clerk, Judge Sam J. Ervin, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 1996-97; aide to U.S. Sen. Terry Sanford and private practive in Asheville, 1997 to 2004; appointed to N.C. Court of Appeals in 2004 (lost subsequent election to Barbara Jackson); appointed to N.C. Board of Transportation 2005; appointed to District 28 Superior Court 2009.

Freelance reporter Nelda Holder can be reached at nfholder@gmail.com.

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