How we see Supreme Court, Court of Appeals races

The Observer editorial board


Embedded halfway down the November ballot are six important judicial races. Voters will decide one N.C. Supreme Court seat and five N.C. Court of Appeals seats. Here’s how we see those races.

Edmunds vs. Morgan

Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds, first elected to the court in 2000, seeks a third term. He is being challenged by Mike Morgan, a Wake County Superior Court judge. The race is nonpartisan but Edmunds is a Republican and Morgan a Democrat. The winner will join three Democrats and three Republicans on the bench.

Both candidates are well-qualified. Edmunds has spent 16 years on the Supreme Court following two years on the Court of Appeals and seven years as a U.S. attorney. He was recently named chair-elect of the American Bar Association’s Appellate Judges division, reflecting his national stature in the field.

He is widely regarded as smart and dedicated, and has demonstrated his abilities as a justice. And while he is conservative on a bench that is increasingly considered a political player, he has bipartisan support, including from former chief justices of the court.

Morgan has been a Superior Court judge since 2005 and was a District Court judge and administrative law judge for 15 years before that. Those who know him praise his impartiality and integrity and they note his calm demeanor and the dignity he brings to the courtroom.

Both men are qualified, but Edmunds has filled the role ably and has done nothing to warrant being removed. We recommend him.

Berger vs. Stephens

Judge Linda Stephens, a Democrat, seeks another term after 10 years on the Court of Appeals. She is challenged by Republican Phil Berger Jr., son of the N.C. Senate leader.

Stephens has earned a stellar reputation since joining the court in 2006. The first in her family to graduate from high school, she is hard-working and impartial. She has won some of the highest awards in the legal field, and has earned the endorsements of at least a dozen Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges from across the ideological spectrum.

Berger is an administrative law judge and former Rockingham County district attorney. He ran for Congress as a conservative Republican in 2014 and was endorsed by conservative groups such as Tea Party Express. “I know Phil will govern as a Tea Party leader,” now Republican Party leader Dallas Woodhouse said at the time.

We recommend Stephens, who is clearly the most qualified candidate in this race.

Murphy vs. Eagles vs. Buie

Republican Hunter Murphy, Democrat Margaret Eagles and unaffiliated Donald Ray Buie compete to fill the seat of Judge Martha Geer, who stepped down earlier this year.

Eagles is the daughter of Sid Eagles, a former chief judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals, and the granddaughter of a federal appeals court judge. She has been a Wake County District Court judge since 2009, and wins high marks there for her performance. She has presided all over district court and is Wake County’s lead domestic violence judge. Geer, who Eagles seeks to replace, has endorsed her, as have several other appellate judges and justices.

Murphy has run his own law firm in Waynesville since graduating from University of the Pacific law school in 2006. He has done a little bit of everything, from civil litigation to criminal defense to wills and estates.

Eagles has been an effective judge, Murphy has no judicial experience and Buie has run a very limited campaign. We recommend Eagles.

Hunter vs. Jones

Judge Bob Hunter seeks another term on the court. He faces a challenge from Abe Jones, an attorney and former Superior Court judge.

Hunter worked in private practice for 33 years, then served on the Court of Appeals from 2009 to 2014, when Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him to the Supreme Court. He lost his election bid and McCrory appointed him back to the Court of Appeals last year. He is highly regarded by trial judges and has drawn bipartisan support.

Jones, a Harvard Law graduate, was a Wake County Superior Court judge from 1995 to 2012. Those who know him have questioned his work ethic, and he scored poorly in a survey of lawyers, particularly for his administrative skills.

We recommend Hunter.

Dietz vs. Rozier

Both Richard Dietz and Vince Rozier are very impressive, and it’s unfortunate that they are running against each other.

McCrory appointed Dietz to the Court of Appeals in 2014 and he seeks a full eight-year term. Rozier has been a Wake County District Court judge for most of the past 10 years following five years as a prosecutor.

Dietz graduated first in his class at Wake Forest law school in 2002. He was a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in Winston-Salem practicing constitutional law and business law before his appointment to the court. He is the only board certified specialist in appeals on the court, and has personally argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is noted for his intellect and has won bipartisan support.

Rozier is also highly regarded and scored very high marks in an N.C. Bar Association survey of lawyers conducted during his most recent election in 2014. He also earned accolades as an ombudsman to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Both Dietz and Rozier would make strong Court of Appeals judges. We give the nod to Dietz, who is a rare talent with a bright future.

Zachary vs. McKoy-Mitchell

Valerie Zachary, appointed by McCrory to the court last year, seeks her first full term. She is challenged by Rickye McKoy-Mitchell, a Mecklenburg County District Court judge for the past 18 years. Both candidates bring deep, if different, experience, and are well-qualified.

Zachary worked in Charlotte for Kennedy Covington before starting her own firm with her husband (Republican state Rep. Lee Zachary) in Yadkinville, where she worked for 26 years. She practiced in District and Superior Court and is also familiar with other types of cases that come before the court. Those who work with her say she has a sharp mind and a dedicated work ethic.

McKoy-Mitchell is Mecklenburg’s longest-serving District Court judge. Those who work with her and appear before her respect her knowledge of the law, her fairness, her work ethic and other qualities. Her District Court experience prepares her well for the Court of Appeals and her work as a lawyer exposed her to other kinds of issues she would hear on the appeals court.

Both candidates would be effective. We give the nod to McKoy-Mitchell because of her much deeper judicial experience.