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Gov. names Norris to Alamance County district court bench

Governor Roy Cooper has tapped a second-generation attorney from Burlington to fill a vacant judgeship that emerged earlier this year when former district court judge Brad Allen gave up his post on the bench after more than two decades in office.

The governor’s office issued a formal announcement on Tuesday that R. Bryan Norris, Jr. will take over Allen’s duties until this fall’s general election, when area voters will select a more permanent successor to serve out the final two years of Allen’s four-year term on the district court bench.

Norris, a Democrat who currently serves as a law clerk to N.C. Supreme Court Justice Allison Riggs, has secured this temporary appointment despite having placed third in a canvass of the local bar association, which held a special meeting in February to select its nominees for Cooper’s consideration.

With 17 votes to his credit, Norris had trailed both fellow Democrat Natalie R. Jones, who had clinched 23 votes in the bar association’s selection, as well as Republican Bryan Ray, who had placed first with the support of 30 local attorneys. Norris nevertheless came to this competition with a nod from the local Democratic Party, which had previously selected him as its champion for Allen’s former seat in this fall’s general election.

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The party’s leadership had named Norris as its nominee for this special two-year-term shortly after Allen announced his retirement in the wake of a scandal over his allegedly unprofessional behavior at the local bar association’s annual Christmas Party.  In the meantime, the GOP had anointed Ray as its standard bearer in this same general election contest.

Jones, for her part, will also appear on the ballot this fall – albeit as a candidate in an entirely different race for a new, fifth judgeship that has been added to Alamance County’s district court bench. Jones will vie for this post in November against Meredith Tuck Edwards, Alamance County’s Republican clerk of superior court.

Aside from his status as the Democratic nominee for Allen’s former seat, Norris also had several other advantages to his name when his potential appointment came up before the state’s Democratic governor.

A native of Alamance County, Norris is the son of Robert Norris, a name partner in the erstwhile Wishart Norris Law Firm. The younger Norris had even served as an associate in this prestigious Burlington-based firm after he obtained his law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013. In addition to his current role as a clerk for Justice Allison Riggs, Norris has been an active member of both the state and national bar associations and he has helped out with an initiative called Bar Cares, which provides mental health services to lawyers and paralegals.

Under state law, Cooper was encouraged, but not necessary obligated, to consider the local bar association’s preferences for Brad Allen’s temporary successor before announcing his own choice for the post. In previous cases, the governor has generally gone with the bar’s top-ranking Democrat – as he did when he appointed local attorney Doug Green to another district court vacancy that emerged last fall when former district court judge Rick Champion stepped down from the bench to serve as Alamance County’s first public defender.

Green, who had been the bar association’s top choice for Champion’s old seat, must now face Republican Craig Turner, the bar’s next highest vote getter, in this fall’s general election.

Also on November’s ballot are two other district court judgeships, which Democratic incumbents Kathryn Whitaker “Katie” Overby and Larry Brown, Jr. are running for unopposed.

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