Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Potential district court judge candidates considering bids for possible governor’s appointment, 2024 election

Attorneys from Union Ridge to Saxapahaw and everywhere in between will gather in Burlington this afternoon to make their recommendations for Alamance County’s first public defender.

This forthcoming vote will ultimately serve as a prelude to the public defender’s actual appointment by Tom Lambeth, the county’s senior resident superior court judge, who has been tasked with filling this post since its inclusion in North Carolina’s current annual budget.

Yet, the public defender’s position isn’t the only one that will soon be up for grabs thanks to the generosity of the General Assembly.

Also included in the state’s currently budget is a fifth district court judgeship. This seat will eventually be filled by Alamance County’s voters in November of 2024 – along with three of the county’s other four seats on the district court bench. Nor is the newly-approved seat the only one of the four on the ballot that could lack a previously-elected incumbent by the time that area votes go to the polls.

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Another district court judgeship may also become available before the election if judge Rick Champion succeeds in his ambition to become the county’s new public defender.

Should Champion nab this appointment, the governor will have an opportunity to tap someone to serve as a temporary successor until the judgeship comes up for a vote in the fall of 2024. Under state law, the governor would be expected to select this judicial caretaker from among nominees chosen by the local bar association – in a process not unlike the one that has surrounded the public defender’s appointment.

 

Democratic hopefuls

One likely candidate for either one of these judgeships is Doug Green, a 58-year-old Democrat who currently serves as an assistant attorney general for the state of North Carolina.

A native of Alamance County, Green previously pursued a seat on the district court bench in 2020, only to lose the position to Champion in that year’s general election.

Like Champion, Green has worked as both a private practitioner and an assistant district attorney during the course of his career, and his current gig with the state has seen him defend state-level agencies from various forms of civil litigation.

Green argues that his eclectic professional background would make him a particularly suitable choice for the district court bench, which he admits has been an ambition of his for much of his legal career.

“I started thinking about becoming a judge about 20 years ago,” he told The Alamance News in an interview, “and I’ve been practicing for a little over 25 years now. I’ve handled criminal cases both as an assistant district attorney and on the defense side. And I’ve been handling civil cases for years and years. I think I’m well rounded, and there’s no area of law that I’ll have to familiarize myself with.”

Doug Green

Green says that a district court judgeship would also provide him the means to give back to the community where he spent his formative years.

“This is my home county. I was born and raised here,” he added. “I’m not here to be a crusader. But I think a lot of good can be done in our community, I’m particularly interested in helping young people, and if put in that particular seat, I would be a judge that isn’t just in the courthouse and speaks to kids about the things that I learned in my youth.

Another contender for district court judge is Ralph Hill, a 50-year-old Democrat who presently practices at the Davis Humbert Law Firm in Mebane.

Originally from eastern North Carolina, Hill has spent most of his legal career in Alamance County, where he has handled matters ranging from consumer fraud and personal injury to criminal defense.

“I’ve been practicing law for 23 years. and I have a vested interest in Alamance County,” Hill told The Alamance News. “I’ve lived in Alamance County since 2004, and my wife and I have enrolled our two kids in Alamance County public schools.”

Ralph Hill

“District court judge is a very important position,” Hill went on to observe. “This position requires hard work and dedication. I have a strong sense of morals and values and a good disposition – a good bedside manner for lack of a better word – which I think is important to have as a judge.”

Hill said that he would be interested in pursuing an appointment to the district court bench in the event that Champion or another sitting judge steps down before next year’s election.

“And I certainly intend to run for one of the seats,” he added, “whether I’m appointed or not.”

 

GOP contenders

Kathy Page, the chair of Alamance County’s Republican Party, acknowledged that she has been contacted by “several” party members “who may be interested in judgeships.”

“As they have expressed interest as opposed to intent,” she went on to inform The Alamance News, “I am not at this time comfortable sharing the names of those I have heard from.”

The Alamance News has nevertheless received word that Meredith Edwards, the county’s clerk of superior court, will be in the running for district court judge. Although Edwards is currently out of the office due to a family emergency, she relayed a statement through her assistant confirming her interest in this position.

“Yes, after being encouraged by several colleagues, I am prayerfully considering this opportunity,” she declared in the statement.

Meredith Edwards

A native of North Carolina, Edwards obtained her law degree from UNC Chapel Hill in 2007 and went on to work as a prosecutor under Alamance County’s district attorney. In 2018, the now 42-year-old Republican made her first foray into electoral politics with a successful bid to become the county’s clerk superior court.

Edwards ultimately won her first term as clerk after fending off two rivals, including the incumbent clerk, in that year’s Republican primary. In 2022, Edwards easily secured her second term in the clerkship after a challenger failed to emerge from either political party.

The appeal of a judgeship has also piqued the interest of other Republican politicos who have not yet committed themselves as fully as Edwards to pursuing a seat on the district court bench.

One of these potential contenders is Burlington attorney Craig Turner, who currently serves on the county’s board of commissioners. Although Turner was reelected to the county’s governing board less than a year ago, he acknowledges that he has given some thought to a prospective bid for the position of district court judge.

“I’m seriously considering a judgeship,” Turner affirmed in an interview Wednesday. “I have been an attorney since 2010. I have handled both civil litigation and worked as an assistant district attorney. I know Alamance County; I grew up in Alamance County; and it would be an honor to serve Alamance County from the bench.

“Having said that,” he added, “I haven’t made a decision.”

Craig Turner

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a one-time Naval flight officer, Turner began his legal career as a civil litigator before an 18-month stint as a prosecutor, followed by a return to civil practice, first, at the Fox Rothschild Law Firm in Greensboro and current at Burlington’s Vernon Law Firm.

Turner initially joined Alamance County’s board of commissioners when he was appointed to a vacancy in 2021. He went on to win his position outright in 2022 and is currently serving a four-year term on the five-member board.

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