John Bowers got a month’s head start on the job he wanted when Gov. Pat McCrory appointed the Charlotte attorney to finish out a term on the Superior Court bench in Mecklenburg County.
Now, Bowers has to win the job outright, and he is part of one of the strongest fields on the county ballot for the Nov. 4 general election.
There’s Carla Archie, president of the Mecklenburg bar and a Wells Fargo attorney.
There’s David Kelly, a veteran county prosecutor who handles murder cases.
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There’s also Eric Montgomery, a former corporate attorney and now a sole practitioner who counts the late civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers as a mentor.
All four are making their first run for office in Mecklenburg County, hoping to become the full-time replacement for the retiring William Constangy for the District 26B bench seat.
Bowers, 43, is the only Republican seeking the nonpartisan seat. The Myers Park High and UNC law school graduate says he feels “called” to the Superior Court, which he describes as “one of the most important and unheralded positions in our community.”
Bowers got his first close look at the courts when he interned for former state Supreme Court Justice John Webb, working on civil and criminal cases. Returning to Charlotte, he launched a 16-year legal career with a series of firms, focusing on complex civil litigation and appeals work that placed him in superior courts in more than 40 counties in the state. He also has played a major role in writing the state’s appellate procedural rules.
That experience separates him from the others in the field, Bowers says. He promises to be “fair, thoughtful and respectful” of those in his courtroom. He also says he will follow the law, not his opinions of what the law should be.
“The judges I most respect are not the ones who always agreed with me, but ones who took the time to understand all sides of a case … and who applied the law in a fair, learned and measured manner,” Bowers says.
“It is my top priority to be that caliber of judge.”
Archie grew up in Danville, Va., the daughter of school teachers. Her mother was once elected the town’s mayor. She received her law degree from William & Mary, launching a 20-year legal career that includes a seven-year stint as a Mecklenburg assistant district attorney. At 28, she was put in charge of that office’s felony drug unit.
Later, she was an assistant general counsel for Wachovia and then senior litigation counsel for Wells Fargo. She also served as assistant executive director and general counsel for the North Carolina lottery. As president of the county bar, she heads the umbrella group of 5,000 practicing attorneys.
Now Archie, 44, wants to be a judge. She says her leadership positions and her experience with civil, criminal and corporate law have prepared her well.
She says she will be fair, hard-working and willing to listen to all sides before making tough decisions.
“I have a deep respect for the rule of law and a strong commitment to fairness,” she says. “My experience trying cases before superior courts across the country gives me first-hand knowledge about the position I am seeking, the types of cases that will come before me, and the important role of the superior court judge.”
Kelly, the youngest candidate in the race, says the choice is actually quite simple.
“Voters are electing a trial judge in this race,” he says. “The number of criminal trials … far exceeds the number of civil jury trials. Electing any of my opponents means electing a judge that lacks recent substantial criminal … and jury trial experience of any type.”
Kelly, 35, decided to become a prosecutor during his last months of law school and joined the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office 10 years ago. He tries murder cases and has the bipartisan endorsements of his boss, District Attorney Andrew Murray, a Republican, and Democratic Sheriff Chipp Bailey, among other courthouse notables.
The UNC Charlotte and Wake Forest law grad says he has spent most of his career in Superior Court and has more trial time there than any of his opponents.
As a judge, he says he would abide by the same guidelines that he stuck by as a prosecutor.
“I commit to follow the law as it is, not as I might like it to be,” he says. “I know … how to make hard decisions about serious cases and do so fairly and efficiently.”
If there’s a word to describe how the 48-year-old Montgomery sees the job of judge, it’s “accessible.”
Judges, he says, must be accessible to all corners of their communities. Legal protection must be accessible to all races and incomes.
“That’s why I’m running,” he says. “I want to make the bench better by giving more people access to justice.”
Montgomery graduated from West Charlotte High School and was junior class president and a three-year captain of the football team at N.C. Central. He earned his law degree from Marquette University.
His law career started on the corporate side, with stints at Flagstar Corp. in Spartanburg, S.C.; SCANA Services in Columbia; and seven years as assistant general counsel for Bank of America in Charlotte.
In 1995, he was elected to the Spartanburg school board, and was chairman of the planning commission in Columbia.
In 2011, Montgomery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to public records. During the recession, Montgomery says he lost his corporate attorney job and was unemployed a year before starting his own firm.
The experience, he says, “made me a more compassionate attorney. I understand the challenges my clients face when trying to achieve their dreams.”
He says he learned from watching Chambers on how the law can change a community for the better. He wants to do the same.
“I am committed to Charlotte,” he says. “Everything I’ve done in my life is to try to enhance and better the lives around me.”