Judicial Elections 2016

Judicial Elections 2016

Politics are such a touchy topic that generally non-political organization’s newsletters stay far, far away from it.  But, what do you do if you are a law firm and the next election includes a number of judicial races the outcomes of which stand to impact your clients for years to come?  For this law firm, the answer is to use the newsletter as an avenue to educate readers about what makes a “good” judge and what the readers should do in terms of their own homework before marking your ballot.  This firm does not view its role as telling anyone for whom they should vote, but rather, what should impact your decision.

Baldly put, the party of the candidate is the least important guideline for selecting a judge.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the North Carolina General Assembly made the decision this year to re-institute party designations in some judicial races.  That some will use that as their sole means of deciding is dis-heartening.

So, what should you look for in your judicial candidates?

  • Temperment – how they will act on the bench – even keel; firm but with compassion; decisive, tempered with empathy; attentive and curious.
  • Experience – Education matters, if a candidate does not reveal when and where they went to college/law school, that should raise a flag; Work Experience – where; what areas of practice, how long, what is their reputation in the legal community – This bullet point is tricky because the schools and majors do not matter in most cases, but can be revealing. Work experience is another area fraught with pitfalls on the surface. There are lots of ways to garner experience and time is but one.  A very intelligent/intellectually-gifted person may be “bench ready” early in a career, but most folks need age to acquire wisdom and knowledge.  Ask questions of those who have not practiced long but make bold claims of their abilities.
  • Work Ethic – North Carolina is blessed with a large number of judges who work incredibly hard. This is not a nine to five job and time on the bench can be deceiving given the amount of research and writing most judges do.  Ask questions and look at past history (job and volunteer) to make certain your candidate is willing to put in the time.
  • Political party – This may give some indication of the candidate’s personal political philosophy and on some hot button legal issues may tell you which line of cases they would follow, but (and this is a huge BUT), if this factor tells you how you think a judge will decide any particular case, then it probably tells you the candidate you do not want to elect. If you find yourself in front of this judge, you want to know that the judge has pledged to be independent from outside influences, fair, unbiased, has no pre-conceived ideas,  and will consider only the facts of the case as they are presented and the case law and statutes which are applicable.  If either party political philosophy or personal opinion is going to color the outcome, then the candidate has run for the incorrect branch of government and fails the first consideration in this list.

RESOURCES FOR VOTERS:

For trial court judges:  http://www.ncbar.org/public-resources/elect-nc-judges/

For all judges:  Ask a lawyer or several lawyers.

–  Nan E. Hannah