A candidate for a Mecklenburg judge’s seat, whom several courthouse officials tried to talk out of running, has suspended his campaign but remains on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Justin Moore filed in February to challenge incumbent Judge Bob Bell for the Superior Court seat in District 26C. In an email last month, Moore told the Observer he suspended his campaign in early August.
Yet when voters start casting ballots next week, they can still pick Moore. State and county election officials said Friday they did not know the 31-year-old Republican had left the race.
Bell, 60, who if re-elected would become the county’s senior resident Superior Court judge, continues to campaign.
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On Friday, Moore did not return a phone call. Bell declined comment.
Bell, a former Duke University divinity student, has spent 17 years on the Superior Court. Before that he worked in private practice and was an assistant district attorney who prosecuted homicides and other felonies. He is registered as unaffiliated.
Moore, an Appalachian State University graduate, earned his law license in 2013. But he has next to no courtroom experience. Moore works at Carolina Legal Staffing, which provides temporary legal services and is headed by former Charlotte City Council member and mayoral candidate John Lassiter.
A North Carolina Bar Association survey in which attorneys rate judicial candidates 1 to 5 on such traits as integrity and impartiality, legal ability, professionalism, communication and administrative skills gave Moore a 1.57. Bell received a 4.25.
After Moore filed for Bell’s seat, some of the county’s Republican elected officials tried to persuade him to drop out.
One of them was District Attorney Andrew Murray.
“A conversation did occur,” Murray said Friday. “My position was if you haven’t practiced law and have not handled a criminal case and you haven’t spent much time in a courtroom, you don’t have the experience level to handle complex litigation as a judge.”
Despite the lobbying, Moore stayed in the race for about six months. When he suspended his campaign, it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, said Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections.
Mecklenburg GOP Chairman Brad Overcash says his party did not pressure Moore into abandoning the race. When Moore first talked of suspending his campaign, Overcash said he told Moore party leaders would support whatever he decided to do.
Lawson said state election officials haven’t heard from the Moore campaign since July, when it filed its second-quarter financial report. It showed Moore had raised $6,412 – the bulk of it from a $5,000 loan Moore made to his campaign. He reported spending $1,284.
If Moore were to be elected, Lawson said he can choose if he wants to serve. If he doesn’t, Gov. Pat McCrory would appoint a replacement.
Judicial races, which are nonpartisan, generally don’t draw the attention of more traditional – and political – campaigns. In Mecklenburg, they will also appear near the bottom of a very long ballot, which raises the odds that some voters will skip the court races entirely.
Moore has not participated in any of the judicial forums held around the county in recent weeks. Bell spoke at one Wednesday when he told the audience that he “abhors” campaigning and thinks forcing judges to run for election is potentially damaging to the courts.
As for his chances against Moore, Bell replied, “Lightning can strike.”