RALEIGH — Wake County voters headed to the polls in November will face something they may not expect: judicial candidates who have misdemeanor criminal pasts of their own.
Two Raleigh lawyers who have thrown their hats into the ring --Mark A. Perry and Walter B. Rand -- have been convicted of misdemeanor counts of impaired driving, according to court records. Rand has also come under criticism for the way he has handled indigent clients -- those defendants who are represented by lawyers paid by the state.
Perry and Rand are candidates in two of the three contested District Court races in Wake this year.
Perry faces family law attorney Anna Elena Worley, 37, for the seat being vacated by retiring District Court Judge Shelley Desvousges. Rand is challenging Wake District Court Judge Christine Walczyck, who was appointed to the bench in 2007.
The 17 District Court judges in Wake routinely rotate in and out of courtrooms and hear a variety of cases -- child custody, divorce, juvenile crimes, civil disputes, domestic violence, traffic tickets and misdemeanor crimes. The position pays $106,445 per year and carries a four-year term.
None of the other Wake District Court judge candidates have criminal records, according to a search of court records. None of the lawyers or judges running had disciplinary action by the N.C. State Bar, the state agency that monitors lawyers' behavior.
North Carolina law doesn't prevent someone with criminal convictions from running for judicial office. The state requires only that a person be over 21, have a license to practice law in North Carolina and, in the case of a District Court judgeship, reside in the district he or she is running for.
The Judicial Standards Commission disciplines sitting judges, not candidates for the bench. It has no authority to punish someone for a crime committed previously, said Paul R. Ross, the commission's executive director. Judges are usually suspended or taken off the bench only for convictions of crimes of "moral turpitude" -- crimes that reflect character flaws, Ross added.
Perry, 50, has a 1995 conviction for impaired driving. In addition, he was pulled over Sept. 16 by a Raleigh police officer and again charged with driving while impaired. His breath alcohol content was measured at 0.09, above the legal limit of 0.08.
He apologized after his arrest, and said that the recent death of his father had been on his mind. He urged voters to keep their minds open, because he's only been charged with the offense, not convicted.
"Nobody's perfect in this world," he said.
If elected and convicted of impaired driving after taking the bench, Perry could be subject to a reprimand from the Judicial Standards Commission.
Rand, 45, was convicted of driving under the influence in 1984 and in 1987. He was also charged with impaired driving in 1997, but was found not guilty by a Wake judge, according to court records.
Rand did not respond to several messages left at his downtown Raleigh law office seeking comment. He is not related to state Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville or to Ripley Rand, Tony Rand's son and an appointed Superior Court judge.
The Wake Public Defender's Office has Walter Rand on a rotation of lawyers for indigent clients charged with lower-level felonies and misdemeanors. The office reimburses lawyers with state money for their defense work at $75 an hour. From July 2007 to this past July, Rand received $58,000 for that work, according to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.
The Public Defender's Office has received more complaints about Rand than any other lawyer, said G. Bryan Collins, Wake's public defender.
"There's a pattern of concern regarding Walter," Collins said.
It's not unusual for the office to hear from dissatisfied clients, but judges have also questioned Rand's competency as a lawyer, according to records released by the office as part of a public records request. That's unusual, Collins said.
In 2003, before the Wake Public Defender's Office was created, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens barred Rand from representing indigent clients. "Attorney Rand's conduct demonstrates a lack of competence and a poor understanding of the standards of conduct for criminal lawyers," Stephens wrote in an order.
In an application that Rand sent to the Public Defender's Office, he said he thought he was being punished for his zeal to protect his clients' rights.
After Rand was placed back on the rotation in 2005, Stephens again asked Collins to consider taking Rand off. Stephens said Rand had never met a certain client, had not returned phone calls the client had made to him and did not show up when the client was in court.
The committee decided to keep Rand on the list, Collins said.
In June, Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand told Collins that Walter Rand didn't come to court and that one of his clients had an order for arrest placed on him because the lawyer failed to tell him about his court date.
Walter Rand responded that he had failed to notify clients to report to court three times this year. He acknowledged fault in two of those instances.
(News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)
sarah.ovaska@ newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622