While this election cycle for seats on NC's statewide appellate courts is comparatively calm with only one NC Supreme Court seat on the ballot, there are three NC Court of Appeals judgeships that also have to be filled by voters. Here is the lineup, as I see it, with emphasis on candidates' appellate judging experience and right to know issues.
NC SUPREME COURT: THE RACE FOR THE SEAT CURRENTLY HELD BY JUSTICE BARBARA JACKSON
By virtue of experience and credentials, incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson leads the three-candidate field running for the only NC Supreme Court seat on the 2018 ballot. Jackson, well known for her early career service as General Counsel for the NC Dept of Labor, earned undergrad and law degrees at UNC-Chapel HIll and a master's in judicial studies at Duke Law, spent 6 years as a NC Court of Appeals judge and the last 8 years as an associate justice on the NC Supreme Court. Notably, while Jackson served on the Court of Appeals, she authored the unanimous opinion in Womack v Kitty Hawk public records case. In that case, the town was sued for failure to release public personnel and other records in possession of the town attorney. Jackson, joined by Court of Appeals judges Geer and Calabria, recited the key rules for interpreting the Public Records Law and held that Kitty Hawk had been validly sued for access to the records.
Neither of Jackson's opponents show any judging experience at the appellate level or any judicial experience at all, for that matter. Candidate Anita Earls earned her law degree at Yale in 1988 and has long experience in civil rights litigation. The remaining candidate, Chris Anglin, graduated from Elon Law School in 2011 and has been in private practice in Raleigh for 7 years.
NC COURT OF APPEALS: THREE RACES
Seat 1 - Incumbent Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood faces Wake Superior Court (trial) Judge Andrew Heath. Judge Arrowood graduated from UNC-CH Law School and has served on the Court of Appeals with distinction for more than a decade. His opponent, Judge Heath, a former state budget director and Chairman of the NC Industrial Commission, is running for what would be his first job as an appellate judge. Of the two, Arrowood is the most qualified for the position.
Seat 2 - While none of the three candidates -- Wake District Court Judge Jefferson Griffin, Toby Hampson, and Wilmington area District Judge Susan Ray -- has experience as an appellate judge, Hampson is a certified appellate specialist who has spent virtually an entire career in private law practice before the NC appellate courts. District Court Judges Griffin and Ray have solid records as trial judges. However, it's Candidate Hampson, who also clerked for Court of Appeals Judge Wanda Bryant and others on the court, who is best qualified for this job.
Seat 3 - This race matches three more candidates with no prior appellate judging experience. Chuck Kitchen, former County Attorney for Alamance and Durham counties, has the most experience with NC open government law (public records and open meetings law), though not all of it positive for the public and press. Michael Monaco, another candidate, was in private practice in a small firm near Raleigh for 15 years. But the last candidate, Allegra Katherine Collins, who has spent her 12 year career in Raleigh as an appellate lawyer in private practice while teaching appellate practice at Campbell Law School, is the most qualified of the three to be a judge on the Court of Appeals.
I trust this summary helps you and your readers gauge these important, 2018 statewide judicial races.
[John Bussian is Raleigh-based media lawyer, who serves as First Amendment and Legislative Counsel to the NC Press Association]