08/21/12 — Court of Appeals judge seeking re-election

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Court of Appeals judge seeking re-election

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on August 21, 2012 1:46 PM

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Wanda Bryant

For judges running in statewide elections, name recognition is key.

Many voters don't take the time to study the judicial races, unless they involved a local seat, and when confronted with the ballot

they either choose almost randomly or just bypass the race altogether.

Judge Wanda Bryant, an incumbent on the state Court of Appeals, understands the problem that judges face when running. She was in Goldsboro on Monday, looking to generate interest in her bid for another term on the court.

"We can't stand on issues," she said, "so it's hard to develop a platform. I am running on my experience, my knowledge, my public service, my common sense and fairness."

Appellate Court races are crucial to the judicial system, she said. The panel's chief task is to determine whether a Superior Court decision should stand or if a second trial is in order.

"Our work is obscure," she said, "but it is important."

Bryant pointed to her experience as her most obvious asset. She has served 11 years on the court, since first being appointed to fill a vacancy. She was elected to a full eight-year term in 2004 and is now the fourth most experienced member of the panel.

She is being challenged by a District Court judge from Cabarrus County, Marty McGee.

State law limits what judicial candidates can say while running for office. But Bryant said she is running as a candidate who is fair, but tough on crime. As a former state and federal prosecutor, she said she understands the difficulties involved in putting together a convincing case against someone accused of committing a crime and that she sees no need in sending back down a case in which a defendant was found obviously guilty simply because of a procedural mistake.

"You can be fair and still be tough," she said.

Another area Bryant said she takes pride in is her stance on open government. She received the William C. Lassiter Award from the state Press Association for her advocacy of open government. The public has a right to know what its government is doing, she said.

North Carolina ranks among the lowest of the states in terms of access to public records. The simple fact is that many keepers of public records do not follow the law in making documents open for the public to read. The issue has become even more complicated with the use of cellphones, texts and emails sent or received on state time. Bryant said the law is clear: Unless the information falls under certain exemptions, it should be available to any citizen.

Bryant started the first "sunshine" office in the state attorney general's office, which helped news organizations when they ran into a brick wall trying to get information from government offices when the law clearly states that the information is public knowledge.

"These are records that belong to the public," she said. "They are kept by government officials, but they are still records that should be made available to the public."

Bryant has received campaign endorsements from several noted judges, including former Chief Justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court Burley Mitchell, Henry Frye and Sid Eagles, former Gov. Jim Hunt and former U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan.

"It means a lot to me personally and professionally that these people who know the job I am doing and for them to say 'You're doing a good job.'"

A native of Brunswick County, Bryant rose from humble roots to attend Duke University, where she finished her studies in just three years. She earned her law degree from North Carolina Central University.

She said she wanted to be a judge since she was 9 years old. Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, she said she was influenced by figures such as Thurgood Marshall.

"There was something about all that that struck a chord," she said. "People working for fairness ...this is what's right, this is what's fair."