10/29/08 — Officials: They didn't endorse judge

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Officials: They didn't endorse judge

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 29, 2008 1:46 PM

Three of the county's top elected courthouse officials have repudiated comments allegedly made by a magistrate campaigning for Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell that they are endorsing Braswell's re-election bid.

Clerk of Court Pam Minshew, Sheriff Cary Winders and District Attorney Branny Vickory all said they have been contacted by numerous people concerning comments allegedly made by Magistrate Bonnie Hill.

Vickory has first-hand knowledge of the comments -- he overheard Ms. Hill tell some people that Winders was supporting Braswell of Goldsboro who is being challenged by Arnold O. Jones II of Pikeville.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hill, who said she has being taking vacation time to campaign for Braswell, denied that she ever made the comments being attributed to her. She said she had simply said that the three officials and Braswell worked well together.

She called complaints to the News-Argus about the issue a "waste of time" and "petty" and an indication of just how hotly contested the race has become.

Ms. Hill said she did not remember using the word endorse, and if she did, it was meant to indicate that the three officials and Braswell worked well together.

"I do say that the sheriff, district attorney and clerk all support each other because we are all judicial officials," she said. "I have not tried to imply anything. Judge Braswell told us not to use the word endorse. We were told by him that there had better not be any negativity, that we were to concentrate on his credentials."

Paul Roff, executive director of the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, said his agency has no statutory authority over magistrates. Just who exercises such oversight is "vague," he said.

Magistrates, Roff said, are nominated by the clerk of court, appointed by the senior resident Superior Court judge and the chief District Court judge is their supervisor.

In Wayne County, that is Judge Joe Setzer, who agrees about the vagueness on oversight.

However, he said that his understanding is that magistrates may campaign for someone as long as they do so on their own time.

Meanwhile, no complaints about the comments have been filed with the Wayne County Board of Elections.

"Our office has not received complaints about any particular candidate or group of candidate workers," said Vickie Reed, Wayne County Board of Elections director.

Vickory said he had been headed out of the area on Oct. 20 when he received a phone call about the comments. Vickory said he had reached Snow Hill, but turned around and went to the Woodmen of the World one-stop voting location at Belfast.

"I heard her (Ms. Hill) tell some people -- she did not see me walking up -- that the sheriff was endorsing Judge Braswell," Vickory said. "I called her on it. I told her, 'I hope you aren't saying that about me.'"

Vickory said Ms. Hill said she was making the statements because she had been told by a "good source" that Vickory, Ms. Minshew and Winders were supporting Braswell.

Vickory said Ms. Hill refused to say who gave her the information, but said it was not Braswell.

Vickory said he could not recall her exact wording, whether she used "endorse" or "support" but took it to mean endorse since that was what he was being told by others who had spoken to Ms. Hill.

Ms. Hill also told Vickory that she had heard the sheriff had a Braswell sign in his yard.

"My yard looks like a restaurant yard," Winders said.

Winders said he has a "big yard" and that he tells anyone that they are welcome to place signs there. One of the signs there now is for Jones. Winders said he had told Braswell it was all right to place one of his signs, too, but that one had never been placed.

Winders said he had received "many calls" including ones on Friday, Saturday and Monday and had received an e-mail about the comments as well.

"I am not endorsing anyone," Vickory said. "That is not good business. We have got to work with whomever is elected. We have got to be neutral."

Mrs. Minshew said she had been made aware about the comments by one of Jones' campaign workers. Mrs. Minshew said Jones' campaign worker was "very upset" over the comments.

"I am not endorsing anyone," Mrs. Minshew said. "I like both of them fine. I called him (Braswell) and told him what was going on and that I was not endorsing anyone."

She said Braswell was very cordial and told her he knew that. She said Braswell told her, "I will take care of it."

Winders said he, too, had spoken to Braswell as well as to Ms. Hill.

"I told him I was not endorsing anyone," Winders said.

Winders said Braswell told him he would "take care of it."

Winders said Ms. Hill told him she was telling people that that he, Vickory, Ms. Minshew and Braswell work well together. However, Winders said what he was hearing was that the three were endorsing Braswell.

"We cannot, will not endorse anyone for Superior Court judge," Winders said. "As long as she is saying that we work together that is a fair and legal statement. It is our job to work together."