GOP games­man­ship costs Meck judges

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page -

was cyn­i­cal games­man­ship, prompted by Repub­li­cans’ own games­man­ship.

What hap­pened was pre­dictable: Vot­ers, who have lit­tle cue be­yond party on which to base their pref­er­ence, split the Repub­li­can vote. Earls took about 50 per­cent and Jack­son and Anglin split the Repub­li­can vote, 34-16. Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors are no doubt kick­ing them­selves for help­ing give Democrats a 5-2 ma­jor­ity on the high court.

Now, the move that went ac­cord­ing to plan: Led by Meck­len­burg Repub­li­can Sen. Dan Bishop, law­mak­ers cre­ated new Meck­len­burg ju­di­cial dis­tricts this sum­mer and ger­ry­man­dered at least one to get Repub­li­cans elected to dis­trict and su­pe­rior courts. Pre­vi­ously, dis­trict court judges were elected by the en­tire county. That made sense, since they serve the whole county.

Un­der the new plan, can­di­dates for the county’s 21 dis­trict court judge seats run in eight dis­tricts. A cou­ple of them are sig­nif­i­cantly ger­ry­man­dered, in­clud­ing Dis­trict 26A. That one starts in Eas­tover and My­ers Park, then sprouts ten­ta­cles through south Char­lotte and out to Matthews and Mint Hill.

It is de­signed to elect Repub­li­cans, and that is ex­actly what it did Tues­day. Three in­cum­bent judges sought to hold onto their seats in the dis­trict – Democrats Don­ald Cure­ton Jr. and Ali­cia Brooks and Repub­li­can Sean Smith. Cure­ton and Brooks lost nar­rowly to Repub­li­can chal­lengers, and Smith won com­fort­ably.

Repub­li­cans went three for three. There’s noth­ing wrong with elect­ing Repub­li­can judges, of course. But there is al­most noth­ing po­lit­i­cal about what these lo­cal judges do, so can­di­dates should be judged on their ex­pe­ri­ence and le­gal acu­men. In this case, highly qual­i­fied in­cum­bent judges re­spected by most in the lo­cal le­gal com­mu­nity lost their jobs solely be­cause of the D by their names, and the R next to their op­po­nents’.

Brooks’s op­po­nent, Michael Stad­ing, is well-qual­i­fied. Cure­ton’s loss, though, should be es­pe­cially hard for Meck­len­burg res­i­dents to swal­low. He is widely ad­mired by other judges and by lawyers who ap­pear be­fore him. His per­for­mance scores in an NC Bar sur­vey were the high­est of any judge on the Meck­len­burg bal­lot, by far. In that sur­vey, 91 per­cent of lawyers said Cure­ton’s knowl­edge of law was good or ex­cel­lent and 89 per­cent said he ca­pa­bly an­a­lyzes le­gal and fac­tual is­sues. His op­po­nent, Paulina Havelka, reg­is­tered 39 and 38 per­cent on those mea­sures. That gap mir­rors what many Meck­len­burg court ob­servers have told us about the two.

So leg­is­la­tors med­dled twice. In one in­stance they got what they wanted and in one they didn’t. In both cases the vot­ers would have been bet­ter off if leg­is­la­tors hadn’t tried to game the sys­tem.

Don­ald Cure­ton

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