Editorial board endorses Fickling, Mann for district judge

The Observer editorial board


Seven candidates are vying for two seats on the Mecklenburg District Court bench. In both races, the top two vote-getters advance to the November ballot.

District court judges play a vital role in the community, handling divorces, child custody and child support cases along with thousands of misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses a year.

Mecklenburg has 21 district judges, and their races are nonpartisan, which means they aren’t subject to party primaries.

District Court 26

Incumbent Christy Mann, who has 10 years experience as a district court judge, faces a challenge from two political newcomers, James Cyrus and George Bell. The top two vote-getters will appear again on the ballot in November.

Cyrus specializes in immigration law in Charlotte and says the district court judge can help underserved people, including immigrants and youth, better understand how to navigate the judicial system.

Bell, a senior partner of a Huntersville firm, calls himself a “strict constructionalist” and says he’s running because he believes too many judges, including Mann, do not closely follow the law in their rulings.

Mann, however, has performed thoughtfully and ably on the bench, according to her peers. Of the three competitors, she received the highest ratings in an N.C. Bar Association performance survey. In that survey, legal peers gave Mann the highest grades of the three in every category, including integrity and impartiality, legal ability and administrative skills.

Mann, a senior family court judge, also is highly regarded in the Charlotte legal community. She has earned another term.

Four compelling candidates seek to fill the open seat created by the retirement of Judge Charlotte Brown-Williams.

Paulina Havelka, a former court clerk, knows the court system from the ground up, and has a broad array of civil and criminal court experience as an attorney.

Aretha Blake, a former Charlotte School of Law dean, offers an impressive history of community service and civic leadership.

Tracy Hewett, a supervisor in the public defender’s office, has nearly two decades of experience weighing witness credibility and navigating jury instructions. Having handled 20 jury trials by herself and 10 as co-chair, she makes a formidable candidate.

So is Faith Fickling, however. The Legal Aid attorney scored highest of the four candidates on the N.C. Bar Association’s ratings in every category.

Her rise from childhood poverty to a career defending the poor reflects a compelling mix of grit and altruism. That, coupled with her strong legal ratings, suggests a potentially exceptional jurist who can balance legal wisdom with personal empathy. We recommend her highly.

Register of Deeds

Incumbent Democrat David Granberry is running against first-time candidate Fred Smith to lead the office that maintains public records and issues initial marriage license certificates.

Granberry is seeking his third four-year term. He’s made the office more user-friendly, but he’s probably most known for criticizing Republican legislation allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of involvement in same sex marriages. Although some might be uncomfortable with Granberry’s declaration that the law was “not the moral or correct thing to do,” we appreciate the unequivocal message his statement sent to the LGBT community.

Smith has 20 years of government service, mostly as a parole officer and investigator for the public defender’s office. He says a 2011 audit showed dozens of problems with the Register of Deeds office.

Most predated Granberry’s tenure, however, and he has responded with concrete steps to improve the office. We believe Granberry’s experience and performance merit another four-year term.