2 Mecklenburg attorneys hope to topple District Court Judge Christy Mann


The incumbent

Mecklenburg District Judge Christy Mann. She is the county’s only sitting judge with opposition this election year.

The candidates

The top two vote-getters in the March 15 primary will appear again on the November ballot for the District 26 seat.

▪ George Bell, senior partner of a Huntersville firm and a registered Republican, says he wants to return consistency and “conservative values” to the court to restore the public’s trust.

▪ James Cyrus, who was raised in New York and on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, says his familiarity with different cultures has prepared him to better serve the diversity of those using the courts.

▪ Christy Mann, whose three-decade legal career includes 10 years as a Family Court judge, says she has valuable experience from handling “thousands of cases affecting the lives of families and children.”

About the office

The county has 21 district judges who hear civil and misdemeanor criminal cases, along with matters involving child custody, divorce and juvenile defendants. In most cases, the judge also serves as jury – delivering a verdict at the end of testimony. Judicial elections in North Carolina are nonpartisan, which means voters consider all of the candidates at once instead of first selecting one from each party.

About the candidates

The N.C. Bar Association rating, in which the candidates’ peers assess them on a five-point scale for integrity and impartiality, legal ability, professionalism, communication and administrative skills, scores Bell at 3.69; Cyrus at 2.56; and Mann at 4.31.

Here’s more about the three. Their answers have been edited for brevity.

▪ George Bell

Why he is running: I will bring conservative values back to the bench, while treating people equally regardless of race, gender or background.”

Most important trait for a judge: Consistency. “For most crime victims or those facing a custody battle, a District Court judge is the very last hope. We need judges committed to following the law who will not pander to special interest groups. An inconsistent judge robs the public of any faith they had in the judicial system.”

His most important case: A divorce settlement that Bell recently helped get overturned by the N.C. Court of Appeals. “The wife, who has very little money, may now petition the court for much needed spousal support and an equitable distribution of her husband's assets,” Bell says. “In this case, justice and truth prevailed over money, greed and power.”

What has prepared him for the bench: With a practice built around District Court, “I have handled thousands of traffic, DWI, and criminal cases,” says Bell, who describes his experience as the most well-rounded in the field.

His biggest frustration with the Mecklenburg courts, and what a judge can do to help: “It is very frustrating when judges do not follow the law but rather liberally interpret the law to fit their own beliefs. I would be a conservative judge and uphold the law and the Constitution.”

▪ James Cyrus

Why he is running: “To help bridge the gap between the community and the judiciary and criminal justice system.”

Most important trait for a judge: Integrity. “One must apply the law to fairly to all people regardless of their wealth, religion or ethnicity. A judge must also have the wisdom to unearth the nuances of the case when the facts are not always self-evident.”

His most important case: One featuring a client with a permanent physical disability. “I worked with his company and the industrial commission to reach a fair settlement. I also helped him with vocational opportunities and counseled him through his hardship. ... I continue to mentor him.”

What has prepared him for the bench: International experiences and his legal practice have exposed him to “a rich diversity of culture. It is essential for a judge to experience diversity and to be reminded that the people who stand before him/her are from all walks of life and may have unique cultural life experiences” that must be considered with the law.

His biggest frustration with the Mecklenburg courts, and what a judge can do to help: “The cookie-cutter sentencing model. The same punishment does not fit every crime. ... If rehabilitation or treatment is an option, it should be considered.”

▪ Christy Mann

Why she is running: “To continue to serve the citizens of Mecklenburg County as the Senior Family Court Judge.”

Most important trait for a judge: Impartiality. “It is the right of all citizens to have their case determined by the facts and the law and not based on a judge's own personal beliefs. A fair and impartial trial is the foundation of our democracy.”

Her most important case: “As a Family Court judge, all of my cases are important. The decisions I make on a daily basis impact the lives of children and families regardless of their race, ethnicity or economic standing.”

What has prepared her for the bench: Her parents, Mann says, taught her the value of “hard work, personal responsibility and treating each person with respect and dignity.” As a judge, she says she has heard thousands of cases affecting families and children in which she has tried to give “fair, prompt and well-reasoned decisions.”

Her biggest frustration with the Mecklenburg courts, and what a judge can do to help: The lack of available court time. “I began to start my cases earlier and schedule matters during the normal lunch break. Over the years I have been able to hear more cases.”.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

George Bell

Age: 37

Family: Wife and law partner Hannah Bell; children, Cooper, 9, Cate, 6, Madeline, 4

Party: Republican

Education: Cornell University, Regent University School of Law

Political experience: This is his first run for office

Favorite movie about the law or courts: “My Cousin Vinny”

James Cyrus

Age: 37

Family: Wife, Malaika Cyrus; children Luca, 8, Zion, 6, Tsajai, 18 months

Party: Democrat

Education: UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. Central University law

Political experience: This is his first run for office

Favorite movie about the law or courts: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Christy Mann

Age: 55

Family: Divorced

Political party: Democrat

Education: University of Southern Mississippi; University of Mississippi law

Political experience: District judge from 2005 to present

Favorite movie about the law or the courts: “The Verdict”