More often than we like, the Observer editorial board finds making political endorsements difficult because we are not enamored of either candidate in the race.
It is an encouraging sign for the future of justice in Mecklenburg County that we find endorsements in local judicial races difficult for the opposite reason: nearly all the candidates are qualified.
Mecklenburg voters on Nov. 4 will elect two Superior Court judges, two District Court judges, and a Clerk of Superior Court. In four of the five races, the candidates are of high enough caliber that voters can’t go wrong. In the other, one candidate far outshines his opponent.
Here’s how we see the races.
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Bob Bell has been a Superior Court judge for 17 years. His opponent, Justin Moore, has withdrawn from the race but did not do so early enough and his name remains on the ballot. Moore defeating Bell would be a travesty.
Bell is highly regarded by those who observe his work regularly. He is seen as being fair and honest and having a firm grasp of the law. He has presided over thousands of cases and was an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminal cases for a decade before he became a judge.
Moore, by comparison, was admitted to the Bar just last year. We strongly recommend Bob Bell.
The other Superior Court race is more challenging. Four candidates seek the seat: Carla Archie, John Bowers, David Kelly and Eric Montgomery. All four are capable. We think Archie and Bowers are the strongest two candidates and that either would be a fine choice. We give the slightest edge to Bowers.
Bowers, who was appointed to the seat last month by Gov. Pat McCrory, has been in private practice in Charlotte since 1998. For the past 10 years he has done commercial litigation, employment work, real estate litigation and other work at Horack, Talley, Pharr & Lowndes. He is intelligent and compassionate, and has broad support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Archie is senior litigation counsel for Wells Fargo and president of the Mecklenburg County Bar. She prosecuted criminal cases in the district attorney’s office before joining Wachovia. She also was general counsel for the N.C. Education Lottery. She, too, enjoys bipartisan support and would make an effective judge.
Kelly is an assistant district attorney and has the deepest experience in criminal cases of any of the four candidates. Montgomery was a corporate lawyer for two decades before opening his own practice in 2009.
Two incumbents face challenges from local attorneys. We recommend each of the incumbent judges for another term.
Judge Theo Nixon is defending his seat against Yolanda Trotman. There’s no doubt who’s in charge in Nixon’s courtroom, and he rubs some people the wrong way. But he knows the law and has led several initiatives to make the courts more efficient, such as creating a probation violation court and a mediation court to solve disputes before they lead to a trial.
Trotman has practiced criminal defense and family law at her own firm since 2004.
In the other race, incumbent Judge Casey Viser is challenged by lawyer Alicia Brooks. Viser was a partner at James, McElroy and Diehl practicing both civil and criminal law before being appointed to the bench in 2013. Fellow lawyers overwhelmingly backed him for that appointment, and he lists 24 former presidents of the Mecklenburg County Bar who support him in this race.
Brooks was both a public defender and an assistant district attorney and has been in private practice for 14 years.
Clerk of Superior Court
The race to replace retiring Mecklenburg Clerk of Superior Court Martha Curran presents voters with a difficult choice between two uncommonly strong candidates.
Republican Martha Efird, a Huntersville resident, ran a law practice for 16 years before working as an assistant clerk to Curran in 2011. Efird, who has gone back to private practice, was a legal officer under Curran and assisted her on administrative matters. She has Curran’s endorsement.
Democrat Elisa Chinn Gary is Mecklenburg County’s family court administrator. She is highly regarded in Charlotte’s legal community, not only for capably performing her administrative duties, but for going beyond it with initiatives such as a “self-help center” that gives low-income residents access to legal resources. This year, the Mecklenburg Bar awarded her one of its highest honors, the Julius L. Chambers Diversity Champion Award.
The clerk’s staff, which numbers more than 200, handles about 300,000 legal filings a year and stores all civil and criminal court files. It also has an expanding judicial role that includes contested cases and incompetency hearings.
That means the clerk must be an authority in both administrative and legal matters. While both candidates possess stellar work histories, Efird has more experience with the core responsibilities the clerk faces. Voters can’t go wrong with either candidate, but we give the slight nod to Efird.