N.C. Supreme Court, associate justice (Hudson seat)
The only statewide judicial election in this nonpartisan primary belongs to Robin Hudson. She seeks to ward off challenges from Eric Levinson and Jeanette Doran. The top two vote-getters will square off in November, which means if Levinson and Doran, both Republicans, place first and second, the Supreme Court will have yet another conservative on the bench at a time when serious constitutional issues face the state.
We endorse Hudson, one of two Democrats on the seven-member Supreme Court. Before becoming a judge, she practiced law in Durham and served as an assistant appellate defender.
In 2000 she became the first woman to be elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals without having been previously appointed. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. Since 2001, she has served as a member of the Family Court Advisory Council. She is well respected by her peers for her work ethic and ability to resonate with everyday people.
Hudson received the endorsement of both the Durham People's Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
Doran is part of the Art Pope regime. A late-entry into the race, she has worked for the Pope-backed N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law as executive director and general counsel. She later was appointed to chair the Board of Review for North Carolina's Division of Employment Security.
Levinson is a former prosecutor and Mecklenburg County Superior Court judge. A Republican, he served on the N.C. Court of Appeals justice before unsuccessfully running for the State Supreme Court in 2006. President Bush appointed him in 2007 to serve as justice attaché to Iraq for the U.S. Department of Justice where he managed the U.S. Government's diplomatic relationships with the Iraqi judiciary. In 2008, he worked in Afghanistan as a courts adviser.
District Court Judge 14 (Walker seat)
For the bulk of his career Henry Pruette has worked across the entire District Court spectrum, and for a time he ran Durham's child support court. After his wife received a business opportunity, he moved to California and began writing screenplays. When he returned to Durham he was disturbed by what he perceived as a chaotic situation in the Durham courts, which partially motivated him to seek a judgeship. We appreciate Pruette's broad background; on top of his screenplay work, he holds a master's degree in education and taught elementary school in Durham for several years. He recognizes that Durham's jail is clogged with mentally ill defendants, and he is an advocate for alternative sentencing. He is well liked by his peers. We endorse him.
Doretta Walker, the incumbent, is a former assistant district attorney and lifelong Durhamite. She is breezy, irreverent and sometimes witty. But some of her peers question her work ethic, and worry that her casual attitude from the bench sets a poor example. She is also known to patronize defendants, and she has been chastised by the N.C. Court of Appeals for referring to a 21-year-old defendant as "baby." (In that case the appellate court disagreed with Walker's determination that a father earning $430 a month off an SSI check was financially capable of paying child support.) She also received the Durham Committee's endorsement and that of the People's Alliance.
Candidate Mark Simeon, a defense attorney who operates mostly in Durham's traffic court, is not ready for the district court bench.
District Court Judge 14 (Gordon seat)
Incumbent Nancy Gordon was recently ranked by the State Bar Association as the worst judge in the state. That ranking was in part due to her tendency to erupt into outbursts from the bench, where she is known to make attorneys quiver if they are late or unprepared. We do not believe Gordon deserves such a low ranking. Insiders praise her for her dogged work ethic and Family Court savvy; no other seated judge (or candidate) in Durham has a specialist board certification (hers is in family law). She is a vociferous believer in the efficacy of therapeutic diversion courts, and she has led recent efforts to bring a veterans treatment court to Durham. She needs to tone down her emotions from the bench and focus solely on balls and strikes. But she deserves credit for owning up to her shortcomings, promising voters she has gotten the message. It's not easy for us to vouch for the lowest-ranked judge as graded by peers, but we do not believe the State Bar Association's Judicial Performance Evaluation is the best barometer of a judge's capability. We endorse her, as did the People's Alliance.
Fred Battaglia, Gordon's chief opponent, has run a good campaign. A private practitioner, Battaglia self-identifies as a liberal, denounces changes made to the Voting Rights Act, and has come out against North Carolina's Medicaid restrictions. We applaud his support for truancy judges in schools. He would be a fine judge, but he comes across as something of a showman, and we wonder about some of the personal issues he has with Gordon that seem to stoke his vitriol. (Battaglia once represented a lawyer Gordon held in contempt of court for being late for a case—a point he has campaigned on.) He received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
The third candidate, Aminah Thompson, is a magistrate, but she is not yet ready to be a district judge.