Appealing choices

October 7, 2012 

One thing North Carolina voters can be sure of about the three Court of Appeals races on the Nov. 6 ballot: No matter who the winners are, they promise, scouts’ honor, to be fair and never, ever to “legislate from the bench.” That’s the six candidates’ unanimous ruling.

The notion of impartial, respectful judging sits well with voters. And it fits this 15-member court, which largely applies existing precedents to lower court decisions that have been appealed, as thousands are each year.

Fortunately, North Carolina’s practice (since 2002) of nonpartisan judicial elections for appellate court seats, plus the candidates’ laudable willingness to take part in a system of public campaign financing, have tamped down political partisanship and the malignant influence of big money on judicial races. Here are our editorial endorsements for the three Court of Appeals seats up for election.

→ Judge Wanda Bryant has served on the court for 11 years. She has strong Triangle ties – as a Durham resident, a graduate of Duke and N.C. Central and a member of local advisory boards. She has wide-ranging experience in the law, as a federal prosecutor and in the state Attorney General’s Office. She has earned re-election.

Competing for the seat is a veteran District Court trial judge from Concord, Marty McGee. He points out that he has more experience as a trial court judge than any of the Appeals Court judges do.

→ The other McGee on the ballot is incumbent Linda McGee, an energetic, experienced judge. She has served 17 years on the court; before that she practiced law in Boone (although she now lives on the Outer Banks). Outside the courtroom, McGee is an effective advocate for the judicial system. She too merits re-election.

Her opponent, Raleigh attorney David S. Robinson, specializes in business law and says he is “the Conservative candidate.” But there is no compelling case for replacing McGee on ideological or other grounds.

→ In a loose sense, the third Court of Appeals contest reprises a race two years ago, when Judge Cressie Thigpen of Raleigh, then newly appointed to the court, was forced by an ill-conceived state law to run, right off the bat, for his seat in an Instant Runoff election that drew 13 candidates. One of those candidates is his current opponent, Chris Dillon.

Although Thigpen led handily in the first round, he eventually lost the Instant Runoff race to now-Judge Doug McCullough. That seat is not up for election. Instead, Gov. Beverly Perdue appointed Thigpen in January 2011 to a vacant Appeals Court seat, which he is defending now against Dillon, a Raleigh lawyer with banking and real estate experience.

Thigpen has performed well on the court, and has long legal experience and a record of service to the region and state. There’s no good reason to replace him now, even though, as Dillon suggests, Thigpen’s age (66) means he would, if elected, have to leave the court a couple of years before the eight-year term is over. That’s still a long time, and a lot of appeals to judge.

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