For the second time in three years, Ty Hands must fend off a challenger to keep her Mecklenburg District Court judgeship.
Hands was appointed to a newly created judgeship by Gov. Bev Perdue in 2009. The following year, though, she lost her bid to retain the judgeship. But in March 2011, the governor again appointed Hands to the bench – this time to a vacant judgeship.
The 39-year-old judge is being challenged by Jeff Thompson, who has practiced law for more than two decades and is attacking what he calls “the revolving door of justice” and the inefficiency of Mecklenburg County’s court system.
Hands received high marks in an N.C. Bar Association statewide survey of lawyers evaluating the judges running for re-election. She received a 4.37 rating on a scale from 1 to 5 for her overall performance on the bench.
Her rating for integrity and impartiality was 4.49. She got a 4.27 rating for legal ability and a 4.46 rating for professionalism. A rating of 5 is “excellent,” 4 is “good,” 3 is “average,” 2 is “below average” and 1 is “poor.”
Thompson, 48, didn’t fare as well in a statewide survey conducted by the bar association evaluating the lawyers seeking to oust judges or replace judges not seeking re-election.
Thompson’s overall performance rating was 3.27. He received a 3.43 rating for integrity and fairness, a 3.31 rating for legal ability and a 3.43 rating for professionalism.
Hands says she has a solid reputation for making knowledgeable and impartial decisions. “In criminal court, I hold people accountable for their actions while addressing underlying issues that lead to recidivism,” she said. “In civil and family court, my experiences as a wife and mother help me to make deliberate and innovative decisions.
Hands says she is the second-highest rated judge in the county and believes she has garnered respect and bipartisan support because of her level of knowledge, commitment and passion for what she does. “I impact the lives of people in our community on a daily basis,” she says. “I take that opportunity very seriously and I do it with pride.”
Hands believes she is more qualified than her opponent. “Before I became a judge, I practiced law in every area of District Court and appeared in state and federal court in over 15 counties,” she said. “As a sitting District Court judge, I have presided over thousands of District Court cases.”
Hands said she works to find solutions to address systemic problems in the judicial system and community.
“I have a proven commitment to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community from volunteering countless hours on domestic violence initiatives and boards, mentoring law students and young attorneys and serving on bar committees and boards,” the judge said. “My opponent regularly mentions problems that he sees in the District Court but none of the issues he identifies are affiliated with my service on the bench.”
Hands said her priorities are to continue to make sound legal decisions and rulings and maintain the highest level of respect for those who appear before her.
“By maintaining these priorities,” she said, “I believe it would help to restore faith and trust in our judicial system by giving the citizens what they deserve: a judge who listens, is fair and makes decisions based on the law.”
Thompson said he decided he wanted to be a judge when he was just out of law school.
He recalled helping his father collect a business debt.
“What I remember was that the judge in the courtroom went out of his way to make everyone in the courtroom feel that their case was important,” Thompson said. “Even when he ruled against someone, I could tell that they believed that they had been treated fairly. I recognized then that one day, after accumulating sufficient experience, that that was something I wanted to do.”
Thompson said he’s litigated thousands of civil and criminal cases throughout the state.
“I am unquestionably the most experienced candidate,” he said. “Just like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you get at it. I have been practicing law for two and a half decades. The depth and breadth of my areas of practice make me intimately familiar with all types of cases that come before District Court judges.”
Thompson said that as a small-business owner of his law firm for 13 years, he understands the impact that the court system can have on community residents.
“ Unfortunately, I believe that many of our citizens feel that political connections, rather than the rule of law, carries more weight in our courthouse,” he said. “My pledge to this community is that every litigant in my courtroom will be treated fairly and that his or her case will be decided on the merits rather than on any influence outside the courtroom.”
Thompson said his first priority as a judge would be to instill confidence in the community that laws will be strictly enforced.
“I want to assure our citizens that individuals found to have violated the laws of our state will be punished in a manner to deter repeat violations and to ensure that our community remains safe,” he said. “Our courthouse is a constant revolving door because too often the punishment imposed does not accomplish these simple goals.”
Thompson also pledges to make certain that the court system is run more efficiently.
“Inefficiency in our court system costs hard-working citizens money,” he said. “Our court system is filled with unnecessary waste and red tape. What our court system desperately needs is someone on the bench who is willing to spend a full day dedicated to ruling on the variety of disputes that come before him or her as a judge.”
Thompson said one of the issues in his bid for the judgeship is “whether the voters of Mecklenburg County want the court system to remain at status quo or whether they want to see real change in the administration of justice in our court system.”