District Court Judge Lunsford Long is suspending his re-election campaign to avoid aging out of office.
Since 1971, North Carolina’s mandatory retirement age for judges has been 72, meaning Long would only be eligible to serve one year if re-elected this fall.
The state’s mandatory retirement age for judges “doesn’t make sense,” Long said. “I thought they were going to change it,” he said.
Long said he saw “a lot of support” to raise the mandatory retirement age when he began his campaign, but that the effort “fizzled out” over time. On May 24, Long sent a letter to the Chatham County Bar Association announcing his decision.
“I feel like I just learned how to be a judge, and now I have to stop,” said Lunsford, who was appointed in 2009. “People at 72 are not old anymore.”
If Long aged out, the governor would appoint his replacement. That’s something Long hoped to avoid by suspending his campaign, he said.
“The Governor would have unfettered discretion in his appointment,” Long wrote. “I do not wish to risk having a replacement who does not share our Bar’s values and who does not carry our Bar’s approval. Therefore, I have decided not to pursue re-election.”
Long said he thinks the law, which offers compensation and retirement allowances to judges who age out, is not a good use of state funds.
“My predecessor could still be working and is paid to sit at home,” he said.
Now, public defender Sherri Murrell is the only actively campaigning candidate left in the race for the nonpartisan seat. Long wrote that Murrell is “well qualified” to replace him.
“I would not have felt comfortable with my decision were this not so,” he wrote.
A former District Bar president, Murrell now serves as an assistant public defender for District 15B covering Orange and Chatham counties. Before that, she spent about two decades as a lawyer.
Murrell said she was “excited and grateful” for the opportunity to replace Long but is “not taking anything for granted.”
“It takes some pressure off, but I’m still going to events,” she said. “I think it’s important to hear the concerns and experiences of the voters.”