11/03/06 — Meet the candidates

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Meet the candidates

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 3, 2006 1:45 PM

With Election Day just five days away, candidates at every level are making a final push to get their supporters to the polls on Tuesday. For judicial candidates, though, that effort is more a matter of letting people know who they are and where they will be on the ballot.

That's why four of this year's 12 candidates were at Wilber's Barbecue in Goldsboro on Thursday afternoon -- that, and the food of course.

"I stop here all the time," N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter said. "I've known Wilber for years, and I asked him and he said we could stop here.

"I always get the barbecue, but I think I might go for the chicken livers today."

But the food wasn't the only draw for the candidates. Wilber's also gave them a place to meet and greet people from all over the region.

"We're the only statewide races this year, but our races are nonpartisan, so that means they need to turn the ballot over and look for us," N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Linda Stephens said. "We have just a few days left, so we're going to try and get to as many places and shake as many hands as we can before the last day arrives."

"People have to know to look for individual names," N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Robin Hudson added.

Traveling in a leased R.V., the five Democrat incumbent candidates kicked off their final push across eastern and central North Carolina Thursday. They will be traveling until Sunday. The only one not at Wilber's was N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker, who visited Goldsboro earlier this week.

"We're excited about this final push," N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson said. "I think one of the best things about this tour is we are together.

"It (the election) has been grueling, but we're sharing energy and that togetherness has helped energize us for the remaining time."

Traveling together also is allowing them to reach more voters than they could alone.

"We know each other very well and we're supporting each other because we are experienced, sitting judges," Mrs. Hudson said. "We don't have any political agenda. We just want to have fair and impartial judges on our courts.

"I don't talk about specific issues. I don't think it's appropriate. I think to take positions on issues is inconsistent with the oath we take to base our decisions only on the laws and the Constitution."

And with none of the other four willing to discuss specific issues or cases, that pledge to serve fairly and impartially has become the core of their campaigns.

"The reputation I have for being fair and impartial and independent is what the citizens should demand of judges," said Mrs. Stephens, who is running for re-election against Donna Stroud, a judge in the 10th Judicial District.

Mrs. Stephens, like the other incumbents, also is hoping voters will consider her background and credentials.

She was appointed to her seat on the Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Hunter, who also is running for re-election for the Court of Appeals, has held his seat for eight years.

He is campaigning against Kris Bailey, the current general counsel to the state auditor.

"My opponent has not been on an appellate court," Hunter said, noting that he has heard about 2,400 cases and worked on nearly 800 opinions in his eight years.

On the Supreme Court level, Mrs. Timmons-Goodson is running for re-election against Eric Levinson.

She was appointed to the court earlier this year. Levinson is an associate judge on the Court of Appeals.

Mrs. Timmons-Goodson, however, also emphasizes her 21 years of judicial experience -- compared to Levinson's 10 -- as qualifying her for the seat.

Ms. Parker also is pointing to her Supreme Court experience.

The senior justice on the court, Ms. Parker has held her seat since 1993. She was appointed chief justice earlier this year. Her opponent, Rusty Duke, is the senior resident Superior Court judge for District 3A.

And finally, two Court of Appeals judges are facing off for the third Supreme Court Associate Justice seat -- Mrs. Hudson and her opponent, Ann Marie Calabria.

In this race, Mrs. Hudson is touting her 30 years of legal experience, both as a judge and as a lawyer appearing before the Supreme Court. Mrs. Calabria, on the other hand, has been a judge for 10 years -- three on the appeals court.

But for at least some of the potential voters at Wilber's, seeing the candidates was as helpful as knowing their opinions and backgrounds.

"I'm interested in the judge races because they do impact the way we live," Goldsboro resident Betsy Wisniewski said. "We were interested in getting to know the candidates a little -- what they stand for, why they want to be elected. It's an opportunity to learn what makes them tick."

She also said that seeing them out campaigning could help swing some people's vote.

"They're known now. It's nice to put the name with a face," she said.

For more information about the judicial candidates visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections Web site at www.sboe.state.nc.us.