Judicial elections ramp up

Judicial elections ramp up

- in Law and the Courts


The General Assembly may finally be winding down this longest of short sessions, but election season is in full swing.

That includes state judicial elections, which in November 2014 will feature contested races for four seats on the Supreme Court, three on the Court of Appeals (plus a statewide election for the seat being vacated by Chief Judge John Martin, who announced his retirement last week), and more than fifty seats on state superior and district courts.

Here’s a quick look at how some of those races are shaping up and where to go to learn more about the candidates.

Know your judges

Judicial races are often the forgotten stepchild during an election cycle, and information about the candidates is often difficult to find.

And coverage, to the extent it exists, typically focuses on the higher profile races at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court level. Judges there also leave their own trail of sorts, revealing philosophies or positions through written opinions.

Trial court judges at the district and superior court levels are just as important, however, and are often the first and only encounter members of the public will have in the court system.

The state bar association sheds some light on judges running for trial court positions in a report disclosing attorney opinions of candidates in contested judicial races.

To read the report and learn more about trial judges running in districts throughout the state, click here.

Campaign money

Fundraising continues in earnest, especially in the Supreme Court races. Each of the candidates for the four open seats have at least doubled the dollars in their campaign treasure chest since the end of June – by and large through individual contributions.

That does not include independent expenditures by outside groups, which shot up in May during the primary contest between sitting Justice Robin Hudson and her Republican challengers Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran.

As reported by the Institute for Southern Studies:

The N.C. Supreme Court race in which Hudson faced two conservative challengers, Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran, was by far the biggest money magnet. The unprecedented level of outside spending in the judicial primary was driven by $899,000 worth of attack ads funded by Justice for All NC, a conservative super PAC-style group.

Justice for All NC’s widely criticized attack ads were made possible largely due to $900,000 in contributions from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has invested heavily in backing GOP and conservative candidates in North Carolina state elections in recent years.

N.C. Chamber IE, the outside spending arm of the conservative-leaning N.C. Chamber, spent $400,486 before the primaries, with $345,000 of that going towards ads that backed Levinson and Doran, the conservative candidates in the officially nonpartisan race.

Spending by outside groups will likely spike again as November grows closer.



Both Hudson’s and Levinson’s numbers grew exponentially, likely because of the hotly-contested primary, as did those of Justice Mark Martin, who was unchallenged for the Chief Justice slot until March, when Brunswick County Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis – a Republican like Martin — switched races.

Lewis had initially filed to challenge sitting Justice Cheri Beasley but pulled out when Republican attorney Mike Robinson joined that race, raising the prospect of a primary contest. She then filed to run for Chief Justice.

In response to accusations of political gamesmanship, Lewis told WECT:

“Well there was some very careful thought and consideration about my qualifications in the seats that were available. Some would call some political gamesmanship had taken place,” Lewis said. “I just decided to weigh my options and my qualifications and decided not to engage in a primary.”

Candidates speak

Candidates for appellate seats turned the tables a bit in June and argued their case for election to attorneys from across the state gathered for the bar association’s annual meeting.

It’s not often that we get to see them speak on the same stage at the same event.

To hear what candidates for the Supreme Court had to say, click on the images below to view each video on the NC Bar Association’s website.

Chief Justice seat:  Justice Mark Martin  and Judge Ola Lewis
Chief Justice seat: Justice Mark Martin and Judge Ola Lewis









Martin seat: Court of Appeals Judges Bob Hunter Jr. and Sam Ervin IV.
Martin seat: Court of Appeals Judges Bob Hunter Jr. and Sam Ervin IV.



Hudson seat: Judge Eric Levinson and  Justice Robin Hudson
Hudson seat: Judge Eric Levinson and Justice Robin Hudson



Beasley seat: Attorney Mike Robinson and  Justice Cheri Beasley.
Beasley seat: Attorney Mike Robinson and Justice Cheri Beasley.

About the author

Sharon McCloskey, former Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch, writes about the courts and decisions that impact North Carolina residents. McCloskey also wrote for Lawyers Weekly and practiced law for more than 20 years. Follow her online at sharonmccloskey.com or @sharonmccloskey.