Four races in Buncombe County's 28th Judicial District involve more than one candidate competing for a judgeship: both Superior Court openings and two of the five District Court positions (Judge Sharon Barrett, candidate Julie Kepple and Judge Rebecca Knight are running unopposed for District Court).

Mountain Xpress asked candidates in the four competitive races to list their most relevant education/experience and briefly state their personal motivation for becoming a candidate. Here are their responses:

Superior Court seat No. 1

Kate Dreher (
Relevant experience: “I have done the actual jury trial work in Superior Court for 20 years. I always appreciated judges who had tried cases themselves before they set out to judge trial work. That provided the right foundation for making accurate evidentiary rulings. That’s the foundation I have.”
Personal motivation: “When very serious crimes are committed against innocent people, including children, these cases go to Superior Court. They are too important to the people involved on both sides, and to the public, to be handled by a judge who has never actually done any trial work of his or her own in Superior Court. I have trial experience, and I have perspective gained from years of working in Superior Court, including my work in crime prevention. I think it is important for the Superior Court judge to have the credibility that comes from working in the trenches.”
Alan Thornburg (
Relevant experience: “Current senior resident Superior Court judge; serve in Buncombe and 16 other counties, presiding over jury trials on a wide range of issues, from murder and sexual assault to personal-injury claims and contract disputes. Graduate of Davidson College and Wake Forest University School of Law.”
Personal motivation: “The view from a judge’s perspective is like no other: One must be absolutely fair and impartial, conducting court efficiently with an even temperament; treating all involved in the proceedings with respect and dignity. Buncombe County deserves a Superior Court judge with experience making the daily, difficult decisions affecting people’s lives; a judge who knows both criminal and civil law from an academic as well as a practical perspective; a judge who has experience in many roles — as a lawyer, as a trial judge, and as a judge who has heard cases on appeal. I have those qualifications and more.”

Superior Court seat No. 2 (instant runoff)

Heather Whitaker Goldstein (
Relevant experience: “Graduate of A.C. Reynolds High School, Duke University and GW Law School; clerked for a federal magistrate judge and practiced civil litigation with the global Jones Day law firm and McGuire, Wood & Bissette in Asheville. Currently executive director of the Asheville Jewish Community Center.”
Personal motivation: “Heather’s candidacy is founded on her commitment to public service. She is the first Buncombe County attorney to receive the N.C. Bar Association’s Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award. As the JCC’s director, she has improved the quality and breadth of services offered; increased financial aid for preschool, afterschool, summer camp and eldercare; and created case-management, counseling and job-coaching programs. As a volunteer, she has worked to eliminate youth bullying, mentor teens, train women as community leaders and increase awareness of mental-health issues. She combines excellence in legal knowledge with personal integrity and experience in community leadership.”
Diane K. McDonald (
Relevant experience: University of Nebraska College of Law (1979); Gretchen Bechtol Lee Scholarship; Thomas Stinson Allen Award for Moot Court; associate editor, Nebraska Law Review. Former legal counsel, Western Carolina University; partner with Lindsay, McDonald, Staples and Knight; Guardian ad Litem attorney. The McDonald Law Office since 2002.
Personal motivation: “I have done numerous trials and many mediations. It takes an individual who has this consistent legal and human contact for 31 years to sit on a bench and make decisions that have lifelong consequences for individuals. I have had broad experience in a wide range of areas of the law, having specialized in family law since 1996.”
Marvin Pope (
Relevant experience: “Wake Forest School of Law, 1970 to 1973; admitted to N.C. Bar in 1973; practiced law for 28 years in all areas of civil, criminal, administrative law, appellate work, state and federal courts. Business experience in construction, real estate and franchise enterprises; District Court judge, 2001 to present.”
Personal motivation: “The Superior Court is the highest trial court in N.C. Buncombe County has a tradition of excellent judges. I want to continue this tradition by offering my legal talents developed over a period of 37 years as a trial lawyer and judge and being fair, impartial and respectful with all citizens who come into the courtroom. When a person is in a civil or criminal trial, this is the most important event in their life. They deserve a judge who will be neutral, honest and apply the law to their specific circumstances. This is the highest form of public service.”

District Court (Brown seat)

Shirley Brown (
Relevant experience: “Phi Beta Kappa honors graduate, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, 1979. First woman assistant district attorney, first woman chief prosecutor in Superior Court and first woman judge in Buncombe County. Twenty years of service as District Court judge, five years in district attorney's office, four years in private practice.”
Personal motivation: “I have received many cards and letters from people telling me how a decision I made has affected their lives. Sometimes they come right up to me in the mall or a restaurant. Occasionally, it’s even someone I have put in jail. All of them have thanked me in some way. These moments of insight and the continued trust and support of the voting public make me firmly believe that I have made a true difference in the lives of the people of my district.”
John Jay Watson (
Relevant experience: “Jay is an attorney with Watson Bailey Ciochina with over 15 years of experience in civil and criminal matters representing individuals, families and businesses. He is also a certified mediator with the courts of N.C. and S.C., and previously worked with the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.”
Personal motivation: “The District Court decides criminal, family, juvenile and civil cases. These cases deeply affect the lives and livelihood of our community. All parties before the court should have confidence that the judge will act fairly and respectfully to all and with due regard for the law. I will work to uphold the law and to consider each case carefully and impartially, with patience, wisdom and knowledge. I ask for your support and appreciate your vote.”

District Court (Young seat)

Patricia Kaufmann Young (
Relevant experience: “Patricia Kaufmann Young was elected District Court judge in 2002. She has presided in family, civil and criminal courts. She has worked in the Buncombe County District Courts for 14 years as a judge and trial lawyer. She graduated with honors from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1994.”
Personal motivation: “My motivation for my candidacy is to continue to serve the people of Buncombe County. Last year 70,000 cases were disposed of in Buncombe County District Courts. A common thread that runs through the cases heard in District Court involves substance-abuse and mental-health issues. As a District Court judge, I participated in the development of court programs to ensure that treatment options are available for individuals, with the goal of helping individuals overcome addiction, reuniting families, reducing crime and keeping our community safe. I assisted in the development of Buncombe County’s Family Treatment Court and the JUST Program.”
Rhonda Moorefield (
Relevant experience: “Graduate of WCU and Stetson Law. Member of N.C. State Bar, U.S. District Court, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court. Certified mediator. Husband Tim and I have five children and six grandchildren. Member of Biltmore Church of Christ and Altrusa Club. Active community volunteer.”
Personal motivation: “I have practiced in every courtroom in the Buncombe County Courthouse, including Criminal District and Superior, Civil District and Superior, Family Court, matters before the clerk, Small Claims, Estates and Juvenile. I have had both jury and non-jury trials. My practice now focuses on family law, criminal defense and civil litigation. I am a certified mediator in family financial settlements. The upcoming retirement of one judge leaves a large void in the remaining judges with recent experience in presiding over family cases. I bring an up-to-date knowledge of family law that will be important for a smooth transition.”

For more information, visit, an online resource compiled by the North Carolina Center for Voter Education.

— Freelance reporter Nelda Holder can be reached at


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3 thoughts on “Benchmarks

  1. Lawrence Kavanaugh

    While this is OK it really does NOT tell me anything at all that I relly want to know about these people such as, What are they. D., R, or I. without this information it is all useless information and tells me nothing as to what they really stand for.

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