Sir Anthony/29 N. Neighborhood Association

NorthEast Coalition Minutes for April 17, 2010

NorthEast Coalition Minutes for April 17, 2010


Residents get chance to grill local judges, candidates

A group of University City residents met and questioned their judges and the candidates challenging them for re-election during the Saturday, April 17, meeting of the NorthEast Coalition of Neighborhoods.

A total of 11 judges and candidates attended, while the audience at the University City Library was small, barely matching the number of candidates. Despite that, the forum, moderated by Charlotte City Council member Michael Barnes, gave residents a chance to hear from the candidates.

The debate and questions from the audience centered on experience and integrity, with each candidate making the case for his or her unique background.

There were brief moments of tension in that discussion.

Resident Robin Bradford asked candidates, “Does experience truly mean effectiveness?”

Matt Osman, a challenger to Judge Tim Smith, took the question first, saying experience outside of the bench could be as important as prior service as a judge. He pointed to his own service with the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office and as an assistant district attorney in Union County.

“I also think that temperament and judgment are some things that you either have or you do not,” Osman said, adding that a judge’s record of integrity should be considered when voters decide.

Smith spoke next: “Since Mr. Osman is attacking me, let me address that.”

Smith went on to explain the circumstances of two widely publicized reprimands he received from the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission for making unprofessional and intimidating statements. One case involved a member of his family.

“Unlike the other judges who have been brought up on charges, I accepted my reprimand,” Smith said.

Smith seemed to be referring to Bill Belk, who was barred last week from the bench on ethics violations. Bradford clarified after the meeting that she wasn’t referring to any one in particular.

Superior Court candidate Donnie Hoover, who was appointed to his District Court seat in 2008 by former Gov. Mike Easley, said experience and 24 years as an attorney outfitted him for a Superior Court post.

The job requires dedication, Hoover said. “I don’t think a judge’s job ends at 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. He wants to see more support for programs to reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Superior Court candidate Bill Constangy spoke of his six terms as a District Court judge in Mecklenburg County and his participation in the state’s first public defender program, among other achievements.

Asked to give one improvement he would like to see in the courts, Constangy said he hoped for a “plain English” reform in the instructions given to jury members. Such a plan, he said, works in California to help jurors better understand their responsibilities.

Superior Court candidate Hugh Lewis spoke of his experience in District Court and years of presiding over truancy, teen and drug courts, among others. He sees his job as a way to provide help for those who truly need it.

Lewis said the practice of requiring cash bonds for some charges is one area where change is needed. He related an incident where a man arrested on a panhandling charge remained in jail because he couldn’t make bond. Taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars to keep those minor offenders in jail, he said.

“It’s hard to let them out if they don’t have a safety net so that when you let them out, they won’t be back on that same corner with the same sign,” Lewis said.

Judge Tyyawdi Hands agreed. “I think studies have shown that someone’s ability to pay bond is not as directly tied to them returning to court as you might think.”

She agreed with others that people who represent themselves in court need more guidance and resources.

Bell spoke of her work as chief District Court judge, following her appointment in January 2009. She said voters should consider experience a key factor in voting for judges. “There has been a lot of turnover in the District Court bench,” she said. “I think we need consistency of leadership.”

Twyla Hollingsworth, Bell’s opponent, said experience on the bench isn’t the only type of experience that matters. An attorney’s record should be an indicator: “If you are a bad attorney, you’re going to be a bad judge.”

Judge Jena Culler said a judge should have “years of experience in the court and also life experience.” She spoke of her experiences as a mother, saying that those are also an element of a judge’s character.

Donald Cureton, Culler’s opponent, was one of several who called for judges to be seen in the community. He spoke of his work as an attorney, but added that judges need to be active and involved. “Your work must be apparent,” he said.

Despite the low turnout, Barnes said residents got information they could take back to their communities.

Although he was glad to see the candidates, University City resident Leonard Jones said it wasn’t enough. “I’m concerned that the average citizen hasn’t got enough information to make a decision,” he said.

A retired police officer, Jones said he is familiar with some of the candidates through his own experiences and from researching their background and records. Still, he’d like to see more events like this forum.

“We don’t hear from these people as often as we should,” Jones said.

Judges in Attendance

Three of five Superior Court candidates in the May primary, Bill Constangy, Donnie Hoover and Hugh Lewis, attended Saturday’s forum. That primary will narrow the field from five to four candidates for the November election. Candidates in a number of District Court races attended, including incumbent Chief Judge Lisa Bell and Twyla Hollingsworth, her challenger in the November election. So were Judge Jena Culler and Donald Cureton Jr., Culler’s challenger in November. Judge Tyyawdi Hands also attended, but Hands’ opponent in the November election, Sean Smith, did not. Judge Tim Smith and Matt Osman, one of Smith’s challengers in the May primary, attended. Grant Smithson, the other challenger, did not. District Court Judge Rickye McKoy-Mitchell, who is running unopposed, also attended.


Posted in Charlotte NC by fountaingrove on 06/24/2010
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