Electing judges may sound like a good idea, but how’s the average citizen supposed to figure out who to vote for?
All six candidates competing in the Sept. 10 primary have met the minimum requirements for office. And none have been publicly disciplined by the N.C. State Bar, says Carolin Bakewell, counsel to that state agency.
That said, Xpress turned to the experts for help — local lawyers with extensive experience in Buncombe County District Court. Attorneys are notoriously reticent about publicly discussing judges (or potential judges), for fear that it might affect their clients down the road. So Xpress agreed to grant these legal pundits anonymity.
One Asheville lawyer with 20 years’ experience in both the public and private sectors thinks all the candidates are “fairly honest” and have the requisite legal skills to be a District Court judge.
“The real issue is their ability to use reason and judgment and their experiences in life,” he says. “So the question for us is, what candidate best reflects the ideas and sense of justice that this community as a whole expects?”
In addition, he notes, “The best District Court judges are slow to anger and use good judgment.”
But another local attorney declares that the best candidates are those who’ve practiced in all the different District Court arenas — especially family law. In those courtrooms, a judge decides such weighty and personal issues as whether a parent will lose custody of a child or how marital assets will be divided.
“Unless you’ve practiced in a family-law courtroom and you understand the potential pitfalls, I don’t think your orders are going be that effective or insightful,” this lawyer insists. “I think for a District Court judge that’s going to rotate from courtroom to courtroom, the best-suited candidates are going to be general practitioners who have practiced in all of those courtrooms.”
Another experienced attorney cites fairness as a primary requirement for judges. It would be helpful, he says, if they’ve practiced a variety of different kinds of law. And of course, he’d like a judge to be very bright, possess a good grasp of the law, have the ability to sort out competing arguments — and be able apply to the law to those arguments.
But how’s a voter to know? Ask around, he advises.
“If you really don’t know about people in a race, you have to do more digging,” this lawyer suggests. “Ask more than one person, maybe, about their opinions. … In the end, it depends on what you want. Do you want somebody that’s going to be a strict disciplinarian — who’s more a prosecutor — or one who’s less likely to have that bias? What do I want?”