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GOP trying to sway state's highest courts; here's how to counter that strategy


Ihis year's election for the state judiciary is the first involving big money funneled through political action committees since the GOP repealed a law that established a N.C. Public Campaign Fund for judicial elections in 2013.

North Carolina is one of just seven states where chief justices are elected by voters, drawing campaign donations from across the country. Candidates for the Supreme Court have received more than $4 million in donations, with more than $1 million going to television ads. Mark Martin has contracted for 383 solo ads worth nearly $100,000, according to the Brenan Center for Justice. His contributions are more than double those of his challenger, Ola Lewis.

For Supreme Court Chief Justice, we endorse Mark Martin, a moderate Republican who was temporarily appointed to chief justice by Gov. Pat McCrory this past August after Democrat Sarah Parker reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Prior to his appointment, Martin had been the court's senior associate justice since 2006.

Martin was elected to the Supreme Court in 1998 after serving on the Court of Appeals. Before his judicial service, Martin served as legal counsel to Gov. James G. Martin, practiced law in a private Raleigh firm and clerked for a U.S. district judge. In his 19-year career on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, he authored more than 400 appellate decisions. He has been endorsed by all five of the living chief justices of Supreme Court, three of whom are Democrats. In his INDY candidate questionnaire, he noted that he believes judges should have more flexibility in sentencing, which we consider a good sign.

Lewis, the senior resident Superior Court judge in Brunswick County, clerked for Democrat Dan Blue when he was speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. A former Democrat, she switched affiliation in 2003.

Sometimes she comes across as a progressive, yet on other occasions she has promoted more conservative ideals, suggesting that the courts could operate with less money. She got in hot water with the GOP establishment when she made an 11th-hour decision to run against Martin, after previously entering the race for Cheri Beasley's seat.

She indicated in a news interview that her decision was influenced by "political gamesmanship." Republicans didn't appreciate her surprising entry into the race, against Martin which has hurt her prospects. Though we support Martin, we did appreciate Lewis' statement in the INDY questionnaire questioning why the State's top court has accepted fewer cases in recent years, a trend that needs to be reversed.

Supreme Court Associate Justice (Hudson seat)

We heartily endorse incumbent Robin Hudson, one of two sitting Democrats on the seven-member Supreme Court. Before becoming a judge, Hudson practiced law in Durham and served as an assistant appellate defender. In 2000 she became the first woman to be elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals without having previously been appointed. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006.

Since 2001, she has served as a member of the Family Court Advisory Council. She is well respected by her peers for her work ethic and ability to resonate with everyday people. During a nasty primary battle, Hudson fought off major PAC money, which was used to produce an unfair attack ad saying she sided with child molesters. Hudson has received the endorsement of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, the Durham People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Hudson's opponent, Eric Levinson, is a former prosecutor and Mecklenburg County Superior Court judge. He is a formidable candidate, having served on the N.C. Court of Appeals before unsuccessfully running for the State Supreme Court in 2006. President Bush appointed him in 2007 to serve as justice attaché to Iraq for the U.S. Department of Justice where he managed the U.S. Government's diplomatic relationships with the Iraqi judiciary. In 2008, he worked in Afghanistan as a courts adviser.

A conservative, he has support of several tea party groups, but on a positive note he was one of the few judges in decades to exercise his limited authority to enter a JNOV—a "judgment notwithstanding the verdict"—in a habitual felon burglary case against a Charlotte defendant. Though the jury found him guilty, Levinson dismissed the charges, contending that the evidence against him was insufficient. Levinson has the endorsements of the John S. Leary Association of Black Attorneys and the N.C. Fraternal Order of Police.

Supreme Court Associate Justice (Martin seat)

The race between our choice, Sam Ervin IV, a Democratic Court of Appeals judge, and Bob Hunter, a Republican recently appointed to fill Justice Mark Martin's seat on the Supreme Court, figures to be one of the most tightly contested of the election. In 2012, Ervin, the grandson of U.S. Sen. Sam J. Ervin, Jr., barely lost his bid for a Supreme Court seat to Paul Newby, who drew more than $2.5 million in outside campaign money and proved to be among the most highly funded judicial contenders in the U.S.

We endorse Ervin, whose background is extensive. After serving as an attorney in a private practice he was nominated by Gov. Hunt for a seat on the NC Utilities Commission. He served as Chair of the Committee on Electricity of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. In 2008, he was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, where he has written more than 550 opinions. He is endorsed by several major organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys, the Durham Committee, the People's Alliance, the N.C. Sierra Club, the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association and the AFL-CIO.

Hunter, who was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008, practiced law for 35 years before becoming a judge, and he currently serves on the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity for the N.C. Advocates for Justice. A potential coalition builder, Hunter is a strong candidate respected by his peers, and his position is buttressed by his appointment to Martin's seat on the high court this past August. His specialties include election, foreclosure and business law, and his career also includes the chairmanship of the N.C. Board of Elections and service on the faculties of Wake Forest, N.C. Central and Elon law schools.

Supreme Court Associate Justice (Beasley seat)

We endorse Cheri Beasley, a Democrat appointed to the court by former Gov. Bev Perdue in 2012. Beasley, the only African-American on the supreme court, is seeking her first full term on the bench. She has been a fine judge, and has a broad background, having served as a public defender, prosecutor and Cumberland County district court judge for nearly 10 years.

Prior to her Supreme Court appointment, she served for four years on the state Court of Appeals, where she was the first African-American non-incumbent woman to be elected statewide. She has taught at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and the UNC School of Government, and has been active in the community, particularly in the areas of women and children, and in the arts. She is endorsed by several organizations, including the People's Alliance, the Durham Committee, the NC Advocates for Justice, the AFL-CIO, the National Organization of Women and the N.C. Police Benevolent Association.

Mike Robinson, the slight underdog, is a conservative Republican attorney from Winston-Salem, well-versed in business law, medical malpractice and insurance defense. A civil trial attorney for 33 years running on a conservative platform, he is well-regarded by his peers, but he has no judicial or criminal law experience. He has been endorsed by the N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, the N.C. Troopers Association, the N.C. Defense Fund, and former Chief Justice Beverly Lake.

Court of Appeals Judge (Hunter seat)

Democrat Lucy Inman, whom we heartily endorse, is running a strong campaign against Republican opponent Bill Southern, a conservative district court judge in Stokes and Surry counties.

Inman, a talented litigator who takes on complex cases as a special superior court judge, has engaged in aggressive fundraising and secured a bevy of endorsements from prominent judges, including former Supreme Court chief justices Beverly Lake, Henry Frye, Burley Mitchell and James Exum.

A Raleigh native, Inman has presided over 1,000 cases across all 100 N.C. counties. Earlier in her career she clerked for Chief Justice Exum and served for four years as a Superior Court judge. She spent 18 years as a civil trial lawyer.

Southern, a former public-school teacher and assistant district attorney from a family of politicians, was elected to the district court bench in 2008, and reelected in 2012. He has been an NRA member and fellow of Art Pope's John Locke Foundation. Southern has been endorsed by the N.C. Trooper Association and the N.C. Fraternal Order of Police.

Court of Appeals (Davis seat)

We endorse incumbent judge Mark Davis, a Democrat who is serving out the remainder of the term of Cheri Beasley; she vacated the seat when she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012. Prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeals by Gov. Perdue, Davis served as special deputy attorney general for four years, along with a 13-year stint in private practice. He also served for two years as general counsel to the governor and clerked for a U.S. district judge. He has secured several endorsements, including those from the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys, Advocates for Justice, the Police Benevolent Association, the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys and four former Supreme Court chief justices.

Davis' opponent is Paul Holcombe, a Republican who has served as a district court judge for Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties since 2009. He began his career as an assistant district attorney general in Tennessee, and then as a prosecutor for Cabarrus and Johnston counties. He is endorsed by the N.C. Troopers Association.

Court of Appeals Judge (Martin seat)

Nineteen candidates have filed for this seat, making it difficult to predict the winner. Democrats should be worried, though, because two of the party's leading candidates—our endorsement John Arrowood, a Charlotte attorney, and Keischa Lovelace, a deputy industrial commissioner, an former assistant appellate defender—could split much of the vote, allowing a Republican like John Tyson, a former Court of Appeals judge out of Cumberland County, to win.

Arrowood, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals by Gov. Easley in 2007 before losing his seat in the next election, and Lovelace have each earned major endorsements; Arrowood has earned the support of State Democratic Committee, the Wake County Democratic Party, the People's Alliance and the AFL-CIO; while Lovelace has the backing of the Democratic Party's African-American Caucus and the N.C. Advocates for Justice.

Abe Jones, a former Superior Court judge, prosecutor and criminal and civil trial attorney with a strong record on civil rights; and Raleigh attorney Tricia Shields, who received the endorsement of the NC Association of Defense Attorneys, are also strong Democratic contenders.

As we did in 2008, we endorse Arrowood. He has appellate judicial experience and has served on the state Banking Commission, Rules Review Commission, the N.C. Railroad Company and the N.C. Arts Council. He has also served as a special superior court judge and clerked for the Court of Appeals.

Tyson, a right-wing ideologue, served on the Court of Appeals from 2001 until 2009. For the past two years, he has served as chairman of the State Ethics Commission, Although endorsed by the N.C. GOP, he has critics within his own party, and some contend that a stronger GOP candidate would be Marion Warren, a Brunswick County district court judge. Chuck Winfree, a Greensboro attorney and former State Board of Elections member, is also a formidable Republican contender.

Other Democrats include Raleigh attorney Marty Martin; Hertford attorney Daniel Patrick Donahue; District Court Judge Lori Christian; and Raleigh attorney Betsy Bunting.

Rounding out the Republican field are Raleigh attorney Elizabeth Scott; Haywood County trial attorney Hunter Murphy; New Bern attorney Ann Kirby; Raleigh bankruptcy attorney Jeffrey Cook; and Yadkinville lawyer Valerie Johnson Zachary.

The unaffiliated candidates are Raleigh attorney Jody Newsome; Raleigh attorney Sabra Faires; and Brad Donovan, a Raleigh deputy industrial commissioner and former Court of Appeals staff lawyer.

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