Charlotte lawyers David Strickland and Kary Watson ousted Mecklenburg District Judge John Totten in May’s primary.
Totten, who had been censured by the N.C. Supreme Court for misconduct on the bench, received less than 14 percent of the vote.
Now Strickland and Watson will face off in next month’s general election to decide who will replace the judge.
Strickland, 36, said he wants to serve the community by using his experience and legal knowledge in the forum he knows best – Mecklenburg’s district courts.
“Mecklenburg County deserves a fair, impartial and knowledgeable judge who will enforce the laws of this state and to help protect the safety of its citizens,” Strickland says. “I can fulfill this role if elected.”
Watson, who has spent most of her legal career handling family court matters, says she will bring “a unique combination of dedication, energy, compassion, specialized knowledge and experience” to the District Court bench.
“In my 11 years of practice, I have seen first-hand the integrity and competence of our judiciary decline,” Watson, 38, said. “It is imperative that qualified, experienced, and compassionate candidates run for, and be elected to, our District Court bench. District Court judges preside over life-changing cases and circumstances in criminal, family and juvenile courts and the effects of a poorly reasoned or unfair decision can be lifelong.”
Totten, elected to the bench in 2008, had received bad ratings for his performance on the bench in a statewide survey of lawyers conducted by the N.C. Bar Association. The 54-year-old judge received a below average score – 2.03 on a scale of 1 to 5 – for his overall performance. He received a 1.98 score for integrity and impartiality.
A rating of 5 is excellent, 4 is good, 3 is average, 2 is below average and 1 is poor.
Watson and Strickland fared much better in a statewide survey by the bar association evaluating the lawyers seeking to oust judges or replace judges not seeking reelection.
Watson got the highest marks. She received a 4.18 rating on her overall performance. She got a 4.47 rating for legal ability, a 4.10 score for integrity and fairness and a 4.03 rating for professionalism.
Strickland got a 3.88 rating for his overall performance. He received a 3.95 rating for integrity and fairness, a 3.81 rating for legal ability and a 4.13 rating for professionalism.
Strickland says he has experience making tough calls on basketball courts as a college and high school referee.
“There are many characteristics that a referee and judge share,” he said. “Both must have a proper demeanor and temperament. Both also must have the ability to listen and communicate to many different individuals and be effective in doing so. After fifteen years of making difficult and sometimes unpopular calls, it’s not hard to understand that there is little difference between a whistle and gavel.”
Strickland said his priorities as a judge would be to ensure that state laws are strictly followed, allowing everyone to have a fair hearing. Another of his priorities, he said, would be to ensure, to the best of his ability, that the public safety of the community is being protected.
Watson believes her experience, both professional and personal, makes her more qualified for the judgeship than her opponent. She points out that she has practiced in magistrate, district and superior courts as well as the N.C. Supreme Court and the N.C. Court of Appeals.
“I am a board-certified specialist in family law,” Watson said. “In a survey of attorneys conducted by the North Carolina Bar Association I received the highest score in legal ability among all non-incumbent candidates running for the Mecklenburg County District Court. My overall performance score was more than nine percentage points higher than that of my opponent, David Strickland.
“I am the mother of two young boys. The perspective gained since becoming a parent has made me more aware of, and empathetic to, the varied circumstances my clients and other litigants find themselves in.”
Watson says her main priority as a judge, regardless of her court assignment, would be to make sure that cases are heard in a timely fashion without compromising litigants’ right to fair hearings.