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Judicial candidates have occasionally been on the other side of the bench in criminal, civil court

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The Biblical imperative to “judge not” is generally taken with a grain of salt when it comes to judicial officials. But this pulpit-pounding message also comes a bit late to the punch for the six candidates in Alamance County who are seeking competitive seats on the district court bench.

It just so happens that all six of these would-be district court judges have already been judged for offenses ranging from minor motor vehicle infractions to alcohol-related violations like DWI. Most of these charges were eventually dismissed, or at least reduced in their severity, although a few were ultimately upheld – including the aforementioned drunk driving charge, which a Republican contender for one of the three competitive judgeships had incurred in his early 20s.

In order to flesh out the court records of these prospective judges, The Alamance News has waded through North Carolina’s new eCourts system – an online repository of both civil and criminal cases that went live in April of this year. Although only 27 of the state’s 100 counties are currently covered by this database, those that are represented include Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Wake, Durham, and Mecklenburg.

For expediency’s sake, The Alamance News didn’t search this system for incumbent district court judges Katie Overby or Larry Brown, who are running unopposed for their respective seats. It did make every effort, however, to obtain complete records for Doug Green and Craig Turner, who are competing for the county’s third district court judgeship; R. Bryan Norris, Jr. and Bryan Ray, who are both seeking to fill the unexpired term of former district court judge Brad Allen; and Meredith Tuck Edwards and Natalie R. Jones, who are duking it out for the county’s newly-added fifth district court judgeship.

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The Alamance News ultimately looked up both the civil and criminal records for each of these candidates. The newspaper searched for some of the candidates using various names, particularly when the monikers they go by differ from the official ones on their records. In a few cases, the eCourts system contained records that matched the partial, or unofficial, name of a particular candidate. The newspaper only included these hits in its inventory if the records contained other information, such as addresses or birth dates, that suggested a conclusive match for one of the candidates.

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The newspaper also disregarded any records in which a candidate crops up in his or her professional capacity as an attorney for one of the parties. Those cases, whether civil or criminal, in which they, themselves, are entangled are as follows:

 

Bryan Ray

The single most serious charge against any of Alamance County’s judicial hopefuls is a drunk driving conviction that Bryan Ray received in 2011.

A Republican who is running for the unexpired term of former district court judge Brad Allen, Bryan Wesley Ray received this blot on his record after a Burlington police officer stopped him for speeding on Christmas Eve of 2010. Court records indicate that Ray was also given a breathalyzer test, which produced a reading of .09 – or just past the state’s allowable threshold of .08.

Ryan ultimately pleaded guilty to driving while impaired when his case went to court on December 2, 2011. Although a district court judge agreed to dismiss the accompanying speeding offense, he was sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised probation for DWI, along with 24 hours of community service.

This conviction, which occurred when Ray was 23 or 24, wasn’t his first alcohol-related peccadillo in the eCourts database.

A Burlington police officer had previously charged the future candidate with an open container violation when he turned up in the passenger seat of a vehicle that the officer stopped on May 8, 2007. Ray also received an additional charge because he was under age at the time of the stop. Both charges were ultimately dismissed when the case went to court on May 8, 2008.

Then, on September 1, 2007, a police officer in Greensboro reportedly busted Ray for having an alcoholic beverage in his possession while under age. Ray would plead guilty to that offense on September 26, 2007.

Ray’s court record also includes a traffic ticket that another Greensboro police officer issued for speeding in a school zone on September 30, 2011. The charge was reduced to improper equipment when the case came up for a hearing on April 17, 2012.

 

R. Bryan Norris, Jr.

The court record isn’t quite as long on Robert Bryan Norris, Jr. – Ray’s Democratic rival for Allen’s former seat on the district court bench. Norris nevertheless has two speeding citations in the eCourts database.

The prospective district court judge incurred the first of these charges when a state trooper in Alamance County stopped him for doing 66 in a 50 mile an hour zone on March 6, 2016. The charge was ultimately dismissed for unstated reasons on April 24 of the same year.

Meanwhile, on December 7, 2016, a court in Guilford County dismissed another ticket that a Greensboro police officer gave Norris on September 21 of that year for going 44 in a 35 mile an hour zone.

 

Doug Green

The eCourts system also contains a few revelations about the two candidates who are seeking the county’s third district court judgeship, which had belonged to Republican Rich Champion before he gave up the seat in 2023 in order to become the county’s first ever public defender.

In order to serve out the remainder of Champion’s unexpired term, Governor Roy Cooper appointed local attorney Doug Green as a temporary successor to the former district court judge. Since then, the local Democratic Party has designated Green as its standard bearer for Champion’s old seat when it appears on the ballot this fall for a full four year term.

A careful perusal of the eCourts system indicates that Clifton Doug Green has four traffic citations in his personal court record.

Green incurred the first of these charges on June 28,1987 when a state trooper pulled him over for going 70 in a 55 mile an hour zone within Orange County. Green went on to plead “responsible” to a lesser charge on July 31 of the same year.

On April 21, 1996, another state trooper stopped Green for going 54 in a 45 mile an hour zone within Durham County. Green would again plead “responsible” to a lesser offense on June 6, 1996.

On December 7, 2018, a state trooper in Orange County accused him of going 80 in a 65 mile an hour zone, although the charge was reduced to improper equipment on March 8, 2019.

Most recently, on July 4, 2023, a sheriff’s deputy in Durham County charged Green with going 62 in a 45 mile an hour zone. The charge was dismissed without a plea agreement on August 22 of the same year.

Green’s civil court record is limited to a single divorce case that his ex-wife Amanda Jean Green filed on February 22, 2017. On April 17, 2019, a judge in Wake County ruled on matters related to the split after a bench trial earlier that month.

 

Craig Turner

A current county commissioner who has also emerged as Green’s Republican rival, William Craig Turner, Jr. makes frequent appearances in the eCourts system in his capacity as an attorney. His own court record, however, his limited to two entries.

Turner’s only criminal infraction concerns a ticket he received in Alamance County on February 17, 2019 for driving with an expired registration tag or card. The charge was dropped on March 22 after he “complied” with the relevant state law.

Meanwhile, in the arena of civil court, Turner filed for divorce from Reba Suzanne Turner on July 26, 2019. The divorce was granted on November 13 of the same year, while a separate action that Turner’s ex-wife had lodged for the “equitable distribution” of assets was dismissed on November 19, 2020.

Turner also shows up as a defendant in a civil case that the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed against Alamance County’s entire board of commissioners on March 31, 2021 in order to pressure the county to remove a Confederate monument that has occupied the grounds of the county’s historic court house for more than a century. A local superior court judge ultimately dismissed the NAACP’s case on October 5, 2022.

 

Meredith Tuck Edwards

The General Assembly’s decision to add a fifth seat to the district court bench in Alamance County has set the stage for yet another competitive race in November’s general election. The GOP’s contender for this post is Meredith Tuck Edwards, a former prosecutor who currently serves as Alamance County’s clerk of superior court.

Edwards makes two appearances in the eCourts database as a defendant – most recently in a civil case that Christopher Neal, an inmate in state custody, submitted on February 1 of this year.

Neal’s hand-penned complaint – which was drawn up as a formal court filing, complete with legal citations and a notary stamp – demand that Edwards be stripped of her post as clerk of superior court for her alleged role in a conspiracy to forestall the service of another legal complaint that Neal had submitted against the State Employees Credit Union. Neal’s suit against Edwards also called for the removal of Sharon Boger, the county’s superior court manager, and court clerks Belinda Parker and James Faucette, whom the plaintiff had misidentified as “James Jauty, Jr.” in his complaint.

Although a district court judge agreed to have Neal’s complaint filed on February 27, the case was thrown out barely a week later by Tom Lambeth, Alamance County’s senior resident superior court judge. On March 8, Lambeth issued a ruling that declared the “probable cause does not exist for believing that the charges alleged by plaintiff are true.” He went on to dismiss the case with prejudice.

The court record for Meredith Edwards also seems to include a traffic citation that she received under her maiden name on June 11, 2007 when a Durham County sheriff’s deputy caught her driving with an expired registration card or tag. This charge was dismissed on August 17, 2007.

 

Natalie R. Jones

Natalie Renee Jones has three speeding tickets in the eCourts system. She received the earliest on January 19, 2014 when a state trooper in Alamance County wrote her up for going 51 in a 35 mile-an-hour zone. The charge was ultimately dismissed on May 23 of the same year after the court agreed to let the charge serve as a warning to the defendant.

Jones was back on the docket two years later when another state trooper in Alamance County pulled her over on July 11, 2016 for going 80 in a 65 mile an hour zone. Jones was, likewise, let off with a warning when the case came up for a hearing on September 6.

Then, on July 31, 2021, a state trooper in Chatham County cited Jones for going 85 in a 55 mile an hour zone. The defendant went on to plead “responsible” to improper equipment on October 7.

Jones also has a number of entries in the state’s civil courts database, including a pair of small claims actions that she lodged against Chuck and Jennifer Talley and Farm Services in 2019 for money she was allegedly owed. The first suit, which was filed on August 21 of that year, was denied after it came before a magistrate on September 11. Jones filed a second suit on September 20 of that year, which she went on to voluntarily dismiss on February 19, 2020.

On March 25, 2015, Jones filed a lawsuit in Alamance County district court against sheriff Terry Johnson, his then chief deputy Tim Britt, and deputies C. Surratt and J.H. Hinshaw.

Jones apparently lodged this suit after some of the sheriff’s subordinates became entangled in a squabble between the plaintiff and her ex – Marvin Lewis Bush, Jr. of Lexington. According to Jones’ complaint, Surratt had accompanied Bush to her home in order to retrieve some of the latter’s personal possessions. Jones contends that, among other outrages that occurred in the course of this visit, Bush blocked her in with his car as she was preparing to head off to daycare and work. Jones acknowledges that she eventually used her own vehicle to nudge Bush’s aside – which prompted Hinshaw to return some time later with an arrest warrant that accused Jones of injury to personal property and other offenses.

In her legal complaint, Jones accused the defendants of unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, invasion of privacy, and other alleged wrongs. She also accused Britt of libel and slander after he allegedly bad mouthed her to other county officials. Jones ultimately dropped the allegations against Britt on May 13, 2015. The lawsuit itself remained on the docket until 2019 when a district court judge had it removed for inactivity.

Jones’ court record also includes a rather complex child custody case that she initiated against Bush on May 14, 2007. Among the plaintiff’s requests in this case were child support and custody without “absolute divorce,” as well as a temporary restraining order against Bush. All of her requests were granted in part on or in whole.

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