Judges shouldn’t approach the bench without experience

From Richard Boner, retiring Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, 26th Judicial District:

I am completing my 39th year as a North Carolina attorney and my 27th year as a North Carolina judge. During my professional life, I have tried criminal cases as a criminal defense attorney and represented clients in civil litigation. As a judge, I have presided at the trial of capital first degree murder cases, medical malpractice cases and complex business cases. My years on both sides of the bench have led me to the conclusion that prior trial experience should be required before an attorney becomes a judge.

A judge without prior experience as a trial attorney is akin to a doctor attempting surgery when he has never before held a scalpel. Merely having a law degree and a law license does not qualify an attorney to be a judge. Simply being a Republican or a Democrat does not translate into judicial competence.

There was a time when a person could run for judicial office in North Carolina without ever having attended law school. In 1974, a fire extinguisher salesman ran for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Fortunately, the citizens of North Carolina voted in 1980 to amend the constitution to require that judicial candidates be licensed attorneys.

The time has now come when North Carolina should require that a candidate for judicial office have a required number of years of prior experience as a trial attorney. In the past, some attorneys have been elected to North Carolina judgeships with few, if any, qualifications for judicial office. Subsequent events proved that the public was the ultimate loser in those judicial races.

Judicial campaigns in North Carolina receive little attention from the voting public. Votes in judicial races are often cast with voters having little information upon which to determine whether the candidates are qualified to be judges or justices.

This November, North Carolina voters will be electing justices for the North Carolina Supreme Court, judges for the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Superior Court judges and District Court judges. I urge all voters to obtain information about the level and breadth of courtroom experience of each judicial candidate. Only then can voters have any degree of confidence that the judicial candidates for whom they are voting are competent to wear black robes and to sit in judgment.