Voters face choice in three NC Court of Appeals races

ablythe@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2012 

  • N.C. Court of Appeals (Bryant Seat) Wanda Bryant Website: www.judgewandabryant.com Home: Durham Education: B.A., Duke University; J.D., N.C. Central University Career: Judge on N.C. Court of Appeals; former Senior Deputy Attorney General of North Carolina; former Assistant United States Attorney; Chair of the Board of Visitors of N.C. Central University School of Law. Marty McGee Website: http://judgemartymcgee.com Home: Concord Education: B.A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1991; J.D., Wake Forest University School of Law, 1995 Career: N.C. District Court Judge, Cabarrus County, 2000 to present; attorney 1995-2000. N.C. Court of Appeals (McGee Seat) Linda McGee Website: www.judgelindamcgee.com Home: Currituck County Education: B.A., UNC-Chapel Hill, 1971; J.D., UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, 1973 Career: Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals , 1995-present; partner in DiSanti, Watson & McGee, 1978-1995. David S. Robinson Website: www.robinsonfornc.com Home: Raleigh Education: B.S., Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service, 1987; J.D., George Washington University Law School, 1990 Career: Special Counsel, Nexsen Pruet law firm. N.C. Court of Appeals ( Thigpen Seat) Chris Dillon Website: www.chrisdillonforjudge.com Home: Raleigh Education: B.S., UNC-Chapel Hill, 1987; J.D. UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, 1990 Career: practicing attorney, 1990 to present. Cressie Thigpen Website: http://judgecressiethigpen.com Home: Raleigh Education: B.S., N.C. Central University, 1968; J.D., Rutgers University School of Law, 1973 Career: Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals , August 2010 to present; Special Superior Court Judge, 2008- 2010 ; president, N.C. State Bar, 1999-2000; partner, Thigpen , Blue, Stephens, Fellers, 1976-2008; adjunct professor of law, N.C. Central, 1991-1992.

Though most voters go to the polls with a pretty good idea of whom they want in the Oval Office, they rarely are as confident about how to judge the judicial candidates on the ballot.

Trying to decide whose name to check on the ballot in the nonpartisan state Court of Appeals race can sometimes be as vexing as knowing who should be the Soil and Water District Supervisor.

This year, three seats are up for grabs on the state Court of Appeals – the arm of the judicial system that reviews thousands of appeals, motions and petitions annually.

Three incumbent judges face relection battles for eight-year terms in a court composed of 15 members who sit in rotating panels of three.

The state Court of Appeals, created by the legislature 45 years ago to relieve pressure on the state Supreme Court, handles appeals from most civil and criminal trials across the state. Only death sentence appeals go straight to the state Supreme Court.

Amid the long-running debate about whether it is better to elect or appoint judges, three incumbents – Wanda G. Bryant, Linda McGee and Cressie Thigpen – have spent much time at forums and candidate meet-and-greet events, campaigning to retain their seats on the bench.

Bryant, who has been on the appeals court since 2001, faces a challenge from Marty McGee, a district court judge in Cabarrus County.

Linda McGee, a member of the appeals court since 1995 and the second-longest serving judge there, faces a challenge from David S. Robinson, a Raleigh lawyer in private practice.

Thigpen was appointed to the state appeals court by Gov. Bev Perdue in August 2010 to fill the seat vacated by James A. Wynn, who was appointed to the federal 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Chris Dillon, a Raleigh lawyer and unsuccessful 2010 Court of Appeals candidate, is challenging Thigpen in a rematch of sorts from 2010 when the two were among 13 who ran for a Court of Appeals seat that had been vacated.

Though the races are nonpartisan, a thread of politics runs through the campaigns.

The three incumbents are well-connected Democrats, who have campaigned together in TV ads.

GOP chapters have sent out messages to their followers.

The Chatham County GOP sponsored an advertisement on a Chatham County chat board recently urging voters to support Robinson, Marty McGee and Dillon, noting the partisan interest in the state Supreme Court with the potential to shift the political balance.

“This election is the most important of our lifetime, and that includes our Judges,” the ad states.

At forums and in campaign literature, the challengers stress Republican themes, often noting their familiarity with the challenges faced by small businesses.

Robinson, who moved to North Carolina in 1990 and works at a law firm with offices in South Carolina, too, is a business transaction lawyer and self-described “conservative candidate.”

Dillon said his work as a community bank executive gives him experience working with small businesses that few on the court have and would help in rendering opinions.

Marty McGee, first appointed to a judgeship in 2000, said no one currently serving on the Court of Appeals has more experience as a trial court judge than he does.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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