01/07/07 — District Court judge field narrowed to three

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District Court judge field narrowed to three

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 7, 2007 2:04 AM

The search for a new 8th District Court judge has dwindled from five to three candidates. What happens next is up to Gov. Mike Easley.

State law requires the governor to decide within 60 days whom to appoint to the post, but Easley can choose someone other than the proposed candidates -- Will Bland, Tom Brown and Tim Finan.

Eighth District Bar Association president Mark Herring said the only requirement for a candidate is that he or she has a law degree.

Whomever Easley chooses will replace Judge Rose Williams for the final two years of her term. Mrs. Williams accepted a job with the state Insurance Commissioner's Office and began that position last week.

During her time as a district judge, a position she was appointed to by Easley in 2001 to fill another vacancy, Mrs. Williams also worked with the Wayne Family Treatment Court, which was created to get parents off drugs and alcohol and to reunite them with their children.

Mrs. Williams was one of six district court judges who serve the 8th Judicial District that includes Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties. The other five judges are David Brantly, Lonnie Carraway, Beth Heath, Les Turner and Chief District Court Judge Joe Setzer.

Setzer said it has been difficult handling cases since Mrs. Williams' departure, but added that the judges have managed thanks to the amount of notice Mrs. Williams gave before leaving.

"This week has been OK, but we're bringing in emergency judges to help out with the case load," Setzer said.

An emergency judge is usually a retired judge who is willing to hold court to assist the district's case load, Setzer said. He or she can also be a judge from another district who chooses to give up his or her "office day" to hold court.

Office days are given to judges each month to let them research cases, to finish any needed paperwork or to prepare for an upcoming case, Setzer said. All of the 8th Judicial District judges will have limited office days throughout January and into February until Easley makes his decision.

Even after the governor chooses the next district judge, Setzer said it will take some time before that person can sit on the bench. Each of the candidates has his own private practice, which must be closed before any could begin work.

The process to replace Mrs. Williams began last month when every lawyer in the district was notified of the open seat.

Herring said five candidates submitted their names -- Bland, Brown, Finan, Chris Rogerson and Lou Jordan. Each 8th District Bar Association member was given a ballot with all five names and was asked to choose up to three for Easley's consideration. Herring said those ballots were counted Wednesday.

If Easley fails to make the appointment within the 60-day period, state law provides for the district bar nominee who received the highest number of votes to take the seat.

Herring did not disclose the name of the top vote-getter.