The race for the six open seats on the N.C. Court of Appeals points out a key issue for the 15-member court – rising caseloads in an underfunded court system.
Voters will need to decide who is best capable of dealing with that situation.
All but one of the seats are contested, and at least one of those contests will result in a new face on the bench.
Chief Judge John Martin is running unopposed, while Associate Judge John Tyson did not survive the primary. Appeals court judges serve eight years and receive $131,531 annually; the chief judge receives $133,817 annually.
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Judicial races are nonpartisan – so you can't use a straight-ticket vote to choose your candidate.
The appeals court judges work in three-member panels to review lower court decisions and make sure the law was applied properly. The court's opinions are intended to instruct lower court judges in how to interpret the law. The court does not review death penalty appeals, which go to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Here's a look at each contested seat:
Farlow vs. Wynn
Jewel Ann Farlow, a Gibsonville attorney, is challenging incumbent Jim Wynn, a Cary Democrat, who is seeking his fourth term on the court. Farlow has touted her endorsement by the N.C. Republican Party and says the court needs more impartiality from its judges.
Farlow has no prior judicial experience, and criminal records show she is the only candidate to benefit from a gubernatorial pardon, issued by Gov. Jim Hunt just before he left office in 2001, regarding a misdemeanor trespass conviction she received in 1982.
Wynn touts his experience in noting that the court's heavy caseload requires judges with “demonstrated legal skills in research and writing.” He is one of two African Americans on the court, and he stresses the need for the court to reflect the state's diversity.
Ervin vs. Ruth
Democrats Sam Ervin IV and Kristin Ruth are vying for Tyson's seat.
Ervin is a Morganton attorney who has served on the N.C. Utilities Commission since 1999. He is the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, and says his commission work gives him the gravitas for an appellate court seat. He says he has practiced a wide range of law, and has handled “numerous” appeals to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Ruth, a New Hill Democrat, has been a district court judge in Wake County since 1998. She cites her work in creating a child support court that emphasized helping parents find work and getting them help for drug and alcohol abuse.
Both say the biggest challenge for the court is managing a growing caseload.
Hunter vs. Arrowood
Attorney Robert N. Hunter is challenging incumbent John S. Arrowood of Charlotte. Hunter was chairman of the State Board of Elections when Republican Jim Martin served as governor and advertises an endorsement from the N.C. Republican Party. Arrowood is a former member of the N.C. Democratic Party's State Executive Committee appointed to the appeals court last year by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.
Hunter, of Greensboro, is also a former deputy attorney general, while Arrowood has served on prominent boards such as the N.C. Banking Commission and the N.C. Rules Review Commission.
Beasley vs. McCullough
District Court Judge Cheri Beasley of Fayetteville is challenging incumbent Doug McCullough for a seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
McCullough, an Atlantic Beach Republican, is running for a second term on the court and lists three former chief justices as supporters. He too cites the need to keep the court from falling behind in its heavy caseload.
Last year, McCullough received a public reprimand from the Judicial Standards Commission for driving while impaired on Oct. 7, 2006, in Carteret County. He was the subject of another complaint to the commission in 2007 – that he made openly partisan remarks about another judicial contest. The commission did not punish him, but said an effort was made to “ensure such conduct is not repeated.”
Beasley cites her nearly 10 years experience as a district judge, much of it presiding in family and juvenile courts, and her endorsements from groups ranging from the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers to three of the state's major law enforcement organizations.
Barrett vs. Stephens
Dan Barrett, a Republican from Advance, is challenging incumbent Democrat Linda Stephens.
Barrett is a former chairman of the Davie County Board of Commissioners and an attorney with his own practice. Stephens was appointed to the court by Easley in 2006 and was a deputy commissioner for the N.C. Industrial Commission from 1980 to 1984. She became the first female president of the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys in 2001.
Barrett said he wants to make the court more responsive to the needs of citizens and the rest of the judicial system.
Stephens said the court system suffers from “a chronic lack of funding” and that low-income North Carolinians are particularly hurt by a lack of legal services in civil matters before the courts.