Three vie for chance at seat on bench
By Gary Popp
Published in News on April 30, 2012 1:46 PM
Only one of the five district court seats on Wayne County ballots will be contested in the May 8 primary.
Incumbent Lonnie Carraway of Snow Hill is facing challenges from two lawyers for his seat on the 8th District bench.
The top two of the three candidates in the May primary will advance to the November general election.
Carraway pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence of prescription drugs last year and the entrance of two challengers likely stems from that misstep. But Carraway said he believes voters will judge him on his years of service and not on one mistake.
"I hope (voters) will look at all the factors, not just look at that conviction, and at who I am and how I have done in court," Carraway said.
Opposing Carraway are Kinston attorney Annette Turik and Assistant District Attorney Ericka James.
The 8th District includes Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties.
Incumbent judges David Brantley, Les Turner, Charles Gaylor and Tim Finan face no opposition in their bids for another four-year term. Judge Beth Heath's seat does not come up for election until 2014.
Caraway said he is basing his campaign on his nearly 30 years of courtroom experience.
"I think specifically having the experience of being a lawyer for 17 years and being a judge for going on 13 years has allowed me to handle or hear most every type of case you could have," he said.
Caraway said he learned early on that a judge best serves the public by acting as a receptor of information and opinion. He said he believes people who appear in his court benefit from the relaxed and patient approach he has developed.
Caraway said he is satisfied with how current district court judges are responding to the high-volume caseloads.
"I think we have a good working system," he said. "When the judges take their responsibility, and if you have all the judges working together to handle the collective volume, then it allows all of us, I think, to do a good job and we have a good working judicial district here."
Caraway said he is seeking re-election because of the pleasure he derives from the bench, but admitted the job is not always an easy one.
"I enjoy what I do. I enjoy hearing cases. Sometimes they are harder than others," he said. "It is a tiring day, but when I get through I feel good about what I have done and the fact that I have allowed people to come in and be heard."
Mrs. Turik attributes her success as a lawyer to hard work.
"I have been in a law office since I was 16 years old," she said. "I started out as a runner, and I have worked my way up from the bottom."
Mrs. Turik said, if elected, she would give the job of judge the same effort she has put into her career as a lawyer.
She put herself through school, working full time as a paralegal and going to law school at night.
"I worked hard to get where I am. I am not afraid to work hard," she said.
Mrs. Turik said during her nearly 15 years as a private lawyer she has handled cases in every type of district court, from criminal to civil and domestic, giving her a wide knowledge of the law.
"I have always wanted to be a judge, but I know in order to do that you have to be able to get in there and work hard and meet people and let people know who you are and what type of person you are, and then people will respect you," she said. "I feel like I am ready to move to the next level."
Ericka James gained experience in the court system working as a public defender, defense attorney and assistant district attorney. She said she believes her experience has prepared her to preside over cases.
"I have defended the innocent and I have also prosecuted the guilty, and I believe that that is paramount to a person sitting on the bench because you have to be fair and impartial," Mrs. James said. "And what better training to be fair and impartial than to have actually worked on both sides of a case?"
If elected, Mrs. James said she will work with other judicial officials to make the district courts more efficient.
She suggested judges keep regular office hours throughout the week to expedite lawyers' case loads.
"I think it is important that judges be accessible," Mrs. James said.
She would also like to see increased mediation for some district court cases, specifically those involving charges of second-degree trespassing, worthless check and disputes between neighbors.
"I think it would be interesting to look at using mediation in criminal district court. We already use mediation in civil district court," Mrs. James said. "So many times when folks come to court, they want to work things out anyway and a lot of that takes up time between prosecutors and defense attorneys. As soon as you bring a mediator into the process, I think some of that could help the district court run more efficiently."
As judge, Mrs. James said she would also try to make the courts less congested by lobbying court officials to encourage defense attorneys to confirm plea negotiations with their clients before a hearing begins.
"It isn't always practical, but I think that it is something we should work toward because ultimately that helps the general public," she said.