We’re sad to see the retirement of district court judge Brad Allen.
We’re even more sad for the circumstances in which that decision had to be made.
Faced with almost certain serious disciplinary action by the state’s Supreme Court following his allegedly inappropriate actions during a December 9 bar association Christmas party in Burlington, Allen decided last week to retire.
At age 61, retirement was not an obvious out; and he had two more years remaining in his judicial term.
But by stepping down “voluntarily,” Allen avoided potentially embarrassing revelations from the investigation conducted by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission. He also dodged a potentially even more shattering outcome: his removal from office by the high court and, with it, the possible loss of a retirement income from a lifelong career in the judicial system, first as an assistant district attorney for a decade or more, and then, for the past 23 years, as a district court judge.
Although the degrees of inappropriateness vary somewhat according to those in attendance (not all of whom will even admit to having observed it) – judge Allen’s alleged groping behavior toward one or more women attorneys, apparently fueled by inebriation, was by all accounts unacceptable.
Unacceptable by societal standards and even more unacceptable by the degree to which it might “bring the judicial office into disrepute,” one of the statutory standards by which he might have been disciplined.
We don’t offer any excuses for his alleged behavior; his own explanation, according to some who’ve heard it, is that he had a bad reaction when he consumed alcohol with some new medication. His most ardent defenders even suggest some nefarious tampering of his drinks by those who wanted to scuttle his future.
At the same time, we believe the community as a whole should acknowledge and express appreciation for the 23 years on the bench that preceded the ill-fated bar association Christmas party, as well as Allen’s years laboring in the district attorney’s office before that.
In our judgment, judge Allen (and assistant district attorney Allen prior to his rise to judge) has been one of the most stellar and impressive figures on the bench and in the courtrooms of Alamance County over the past three decades.
He was one of the three most impressive and effective prosecutors, by this newspaper’s observation, during his years as an ADA. (Former district attorneys Steve Balog and Rob Johnson, both later superior court judges, are the other two who excelled through their rapport with juries and ability to hone in on important facts and circumstances in serious trials, especially murder trials, and to communicate those persuasively, makes them the best this county has seen in recent decades.)
Allen’s demeanor and manner since his elevation to the district court bench has been, in our judgment, unfailingly professional, businesslike, and efficient.
He ran his courtroom in a strict, no-nonsense manner.
He was not without compassion, but his greater sympathy seemed to be with the victims of crime, rather than the perpetrators of it.
He didn’t always rate very well with defense attorneys who are sometimes critical about judges, but we suspect much of that was because he didn’t tolerate unnecessary delays, postponements, frivolous motions, and especially attorneys who were unprepared when his gavel called court into session.
At a time when some judges don’t convey a sense of urgency or seriousness about their work, judge Allen put in the time and effort.
He also maintains a record as one of the most consistently popular jurists with voters in the county. He faced voters six times (in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, and 2022) for each of four-year terms. In his first four outings, he had opponents, none of whom garnered more than about a third of the vote; in 2018 and 2022, he was unopposed.
He was a good campaigner, with a wide network of supporters, many of whom crossed party lines to support one of the last old-line Democrats.
Judge Allen also had the mixed blessing of being widely identified as the son of prominent, popular, longtime superior court judge, J.B. Allen, Jr., for whom the criminal courts building is named.
Like many children of people prominent in the same field, judge Brad Allen always faced comparisons with his late father. It’s a no-win situation in many cases: if you do well, people attribute your success to the advantages from your lineage; if you don’t, you’re assumed to have risen only because of that familial connection.
In our view, judge Brad Allen was an outstanding attorney, prosecutor, and district court judge in his own right. (He also had an excellent judge as his father.)
His removal as the chief district court judge – a decision made by the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court on December 18 – was bound to have been deeply disappointing and embarrassing as the first shoe to drop a week after the Christmas party.
Long viewed as a potential future superior court judge, we’re quite certain of his dejection after that possibility died at the Christmas party, as well.
If, in fact, there are more deep-seated sources for his aberrant behavior at the party, we wish him well in dealing with those demons.
But we hope he, and the public at large, will remember him most for a long and distinguished judicial career, to offset the tragic circumstances that brought it to an end.