Mecklenburg District Judge Donnie Hoover’s legal career has spanned nearly four decades. Being a judge, he says, allows him to give back to the community in a number of ways.
“First, it gives me an opportunity to utilize my vast legal and life experience to assure that the citizens of Mecklenburg County receive fair and impartial treatment when they come before the court,” Hoover says.
“Secondly, and just as importantly, it allows me to effect change in the community. As a judge, I have worked hard to identify and remedy issues in the system, and I have also leveraged my position to assist those in need, including veterans and our youth.”
Hoover, 62, will have to overcome a challenge to keep his judgeship.
Alyson Traw, a former Mecklenburg prosecutor who is now the attorney for the Charlotte Housing Authority, hopes to unseat Hoover.
Traw, 34, said she believes in public service.
“As a former prosecutor, I know what this community needs and deserves from judges, and I’m ready, willing and able to step up,” she says. “I have a strong background in real estate law, criminal law and many types of civil litigation which has prepared me well to serve in any of the areas a district court judge might be assigned. Importantly, my life experiences as a mother have added a meaningful perspective that would be invaluable to me as a judge.”
How they rate
Hoover received a 3.85 rating out of 5 for his overall performance on the bench in a survey of lawyers conducted by the N.C. Bar Association. He got a 4.35 rating for integrity and impartiality, a 3.75 rating for legal ability, a 4.31 rating for professionalism, a 3.86 rating for communication and a 3.25 rating for administrative skills.
A rating of 5 is “excellent,” 4 is “good,” 3 is “average,” 2 is “below average” and 1 is “poor.”
Traw, in a Bar Association survey of lawyers seeking to oust judges or replace judges not running to keep their posts, received a 3.58 rating for her overall performance, a 3.59 rating for integrity and fairness, a 3.67 rating for legal ability and a 3.72 rating for professionalism. She got a 3.75 rating for communication and a 3.80 rating for administrative skills.
“My bar survey score in the administrative skills category, along with my endorsement from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police, indicates that the community has confidence in my ability to properly manage the large caseloads we have in Mecklenburg County,” Traw told the Observer. “Without effective docket management, cases can’t be heard and that negatively impacts the ability of the court system to remain a place of justice for all.”
Hoover has a reputation of knowing the law well but of working slowly. His lowest rating in the Bar Association survey was for administrative skills, which includes using courtroom time efficiently and making decisions promptly.
Incumbent touts ‘mastery’
Hoover told the Observer his speed is deliberate.
“In Domestic Court, where I primarily preside now, while managing the daily docket is important, it is also imperative that each party is able to fully present their case,” the judge said. “These are real people with real issues and decisions that are made impact families and children for years to come. I don’t take this duty lightly, so I endeavor to give everyone a fair day in court.”
Hoover says that his more than 37 years of legal experience has equipped him with what he called “a mastery of North Carolina law.”
As a lawyer, he says, he handled virtually every kind of case that comes before the district courts. As a judge the past four years, he’s worked extensively with both domestic and criminal cases.
“This background has equipped me with the technical skills, knowledge, and temperament required to be an effective judge,” Hoover said. “I have consistently demonstrated that I am committed to the efficient operation of our courts, and to the fair, impartial, and respectful treatment of all who appear before me.”
Hoover say he’s committed to extending his duties beyond the time he spends in court. He said he helped obtain a $1.5 million grant for a veterans’ jail diversion program and has worked with Goodwill Industries and The Center for Community Transitions to help ex-offenders find employment.
“My experiences have also allowed me to develop the calm, reasoned and unbiased approach that has served the public well during my tenure on the bench,” the judge said.
Hoover said one of his top priorities will continue to be alternative sentencing and other methods that can be used to help prevent people from remaining in the court system.
“Although we definitely need jails and strict punishments for many offenders, some of the less dangerous offenders could benefit more from programs that treat substance abuse and mental health problems, programs that would provide job training, and other sentencing techniques that would enable them to become productive, law-abiding citizens,” the judge said.
Private, public record cited
Traw says her experience is extensive and varied.
“I am committed to setting meaningful and appropriate bonds for violent and repeat offenders … making sure the court system is a place where victims can go to find justice and making prompt and well-reasoned decisions,” Traw says.
Traw points out that unlike her opponent, she has served as both a prosecutor and civil attorney in Mecklenburg County.
“Having worked both in the private sector and in public service, I can say unequivocally that public service is infinitely more rewarding,” she says.
“I have extensive familiarity with all aspects of our county court system, from the administration, to the victims, to the struggles of those in civil court who don’t have the funds to hire an attorney,” Traw says. “I have worked with them all.”
Traw said she wants to make sure that victims are not re-victimized by the court process and that the courts operate efficiently.
“With over 200,000 misdemeanors and traffic offenses coming through our district court system last year, efficiency is critical to ensuring justice for all,” she said. “Without efficiency, cases must be postponed, which has a negative impact on all, such as people having to take off from work multiple times, victims being too afraid or frustrated to come back to court after the first or second time and the safety of our community being compromised.”