Justices agree to forum

October 17, 2002 

It's on.

Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, his election opponent, Appeals Court Judge Bob Hunter, and Supreme Court Justice G.K. Butterfield have agreed to participate in a candidates forum Oct. 23 sponsored by the N.C. Center for Voter Education at the UNC-Chapel Hill law school.

The center is still working on the details but plans to have a panel of questioners and a moderator from out of state.

The question of a public debate or forum featuring Orr, a Republican, and Hunter, a Democrat, has been hanging around for a couple of months. Each has been accused of a violation of judicial standards this year by a member of the opposing party.

The voter education center decided to step in as the organizer.

The original idea was to focus on judicial ethics, so it made sense to invite more candidates, said Chris Heagarty, executive director of the center.

Candidates should expect questions about judicial campaigning, the Judicial Standards Commission and other topics, Heagarty said.

Butterfield's opponent, Fayetteville lawyer Edward Brady, has not responded to the center's invitation to participate.

A money-losing debate

The good news for Guilford College, a small liberal arts school in Greensboro, is that it canceled a planned debate between U.S. Senate candidates Elizabeth Dole and Erskine Bowles before shelling out $40,000 in TV production and lighting costs. The bad news is it will not recover about $5,000 in promotional and other expenses.

Guilford was to host a debate Saturday in Dana Auditorium but backed out Oct. 11 -- two days after finding the candidates wanted a much different format than planned.

Guilford's Dana Auditorium seats 1,000 people, but the candidates informed the college and the other sponsor, the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation, that they wanted a "theatre-in-the-round" format that allowed no more than 75 people selected through polling "undecided voters."

That meant finding another location on campus and reconfiguring it to serve the candidates' purposes, in about a week's time.

Ty Buckner, Guilford's college relations director, said that was not enough time to pull it together.

Guilford also resisted for other reasons. Buckner said the debate would not have been open to its 1,150 students and the public, and he had no feedback from the candidates about the college's plans to invite reporters from more than 20 newspapers and TV stations.

"It's a loss for voters, and in all honesty, it's a loss for the candidates," Buckner said. "We had statewide TV lined up, an event that would have made good TV with an audience with some energy. What more can I say?"

Both candidates have insisted they would work hard to set up a debate this Saturday at another location, but as of Wednesday, nothing had been announced.

Despite the disappointing outcome, Buckner said Guilford would welcome an opportunity to hold a statewide debate, perhaps in 2004. Another U.S. Senate seat comes up for election then, along with the governor's.

By staff writers Lynn Bonner and Dan Kane. Bonner can be reached at 829-4821 or lbonner@newsobserver.com.

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