Friday, June 14, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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BREAKING FRI. AFTERNOON: Local attorneys send governor 3 names for district court judge vacancy

For the second time in two months, Alamance County’s attorneys gathered together to recommend a slate of contenders for an appointment to a prominent office within the local court system.

The county’s bar association held the latest of these special-called meetings on Friday in order to select a list of nominees for a gubernatorial appointment to a newly-vacated district court judgeship. The group’s members ultimately selected C. Doug Green for the top slot on this roster – followed, in declining order of popularity, by W. Craig Turner and N. Morgan Whitney.

Last month, the association’s members convened a similar meeting to suggest nominees for the county’s public defender – a newly created position that will handle the criminal defense for most of the county’s indigent suspects. In the end, Tom Lambeth, the county’s senior resident district court judge, awarded this post to then-district court judge Rick Champion, who also happened to be the local bar association’s top-vote getter. Champion officially began his new gig on Friday, having by then resigned his position as district court judge.

On the same day that Champion embarked on his new career, the association’s members met in the superior court room of the Judge J.B. Allen Jr. Court House in Graham to identify some potential contenders for Champion’s unexpired term on the district court bench.

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Under state law, the appointment to a vacant district court judgeship is the province of North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper. The governor is nevertheless encouraged to make his selection from a list of nominees sent to him by the local bar association, which can send him up to five names under the relevant state statute. .

In this case, the association’s president Keisha Bluford had only received entries from three would-be appointees before the deadline, which arrived five days before Friday’s special-called meeting.

“Because we only had three to meet the requirement,” Bluford declared when she addressed the group’s members that afternoon, “all of them will be sent to the governor.”

The association’s vote thus became a matter of prioritizing the order in which the three nominees would be presented to Cooper.

Under the association’s bylaws, each voting member could select either one, two, or three names to recommend to the governor – with no option to write in any other candidates.

When all the votes had been counted, Green wound up in first place with his name checked on 35 of the 59 ballots that the association’s members had cast. A Democrat like Cooper, Green had previously run for district court judgeship in 2020 – only to lose out to Champion in that year’s general election. He currently works as an attorney for the N.C. Department of Justice.

In second place, with a total of 30 votes to his name, was Turner – Republican who, by day, works for Burlington’s Vernon Law Firm. Turner is also currently a member of Alamance County’s board of commissioners.

Meanwhile, with 22 votes, Whitney found himself in third place among the association’s three nominees. An assistant district attorney since 2005, Whitney began his prosecutorial career in Alamance County before moving to a neighboring judicial district. He nevertheless returned to his initial posting after Sean Boone became Alamance County’s D.A. in 2020.

An unaffiliated voter, Whitney was under no misapprehension about his underdog status ahead of the association’s special-called meeting.

“It’s going to be an uphill climb,” he conceded in a conversation shortly before the meeting began. “But like Wayne Gretzky said, ‘you miss every shot that you don’t take.’”

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