LUMBERTON — Recent legislative actions have eliminated primaries for judicial elections, postponed filing dates, opened the door for the redrawing of judicial districts in North Carolina, and put in doubt a local race for a District Court judgeship next year.
The actions of state lawmakers could lead to sitting judges serving another two years, which means the campaign for a seat on a District Court bench in Robeson County by Assistant District Attorney Angelica Chavis McIntyre could be a race that goes nowhere — at least in the short term. She has announced her plan to run against incumbent Dale Deese, and has been campaigning.
Deese has not announced his plans but is expected to try to keep the seat. He was appointed in April 2016 to fill the term of Judge John Carter, and was sworn in June of that year.
The legislative maneuvering is a disservice to North Carolina voters, McIntyre said. She worries the ultimate goal of some legislators is to change how judges are selected.
“The constitutional right of our citizens to elect their judges is a fundamental right of the people that should not be taken away by the Legislature — in the primary or the general election,” McIntyre said. “Despite the confusion placed upon our democratic process, I will continue to meet with the citizens of Robeson County and listen to the issues and changes they want to see from the bench.”
The Robesonian was told that Deese was out of town for a judicial conference. The newspaper sought a comment from him through email, but did not receive one before deadline for this story.
Earlier this week both General Assembly chambers overturned Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that eliminated primary elections for trial court and appeals court seats in 2018. Legislation calling for judicial districts to be redrawn was approved Oct. 5 by House lawmakers and sent Oct. 9 to the Senate, where it was referred to the Rules Committee.
Sen. Danny Britt, who represents Robeson County, has said he doesn’t expect the Senate to act on the legislation anytime soon. Britt, who is a lawyer, has said he opposes redrawing the lines.
McIntyre sees the legislative actions as a campaign to change the state Constitution and allow judges to be appointed by the General Assembly.
“That’s what they’re saying,” she said. “That’s the inkling we’re getting.”
Robeson County Republicans have heard the same talk from members of the news media and from Democrats, said Phillip Stephens, county GOP chairman. He said no one in the county Republican Party has independent information regarding the idea.
“Local Republicans mostly oppose changing the lines as Robeson cannot afford to lose a judge or be in a district that creates more workload for an already overburdened court system,” Stephens said.
Judicial lines have been changed in the past, he said.
“It is unclear on how moving lines is a stepping stone to eliminate judge elections,” Stephens said. “But again, we only hear that from the opposition.”
Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, say the primary cancellation and filing delay will give them more time to consider redrawing judicial election boundaries for trial court seats statewide, and possibly fashion a constitutional amendment changing how judges are selected.
How the cancellation of judicial primary elections will affect Robeson County elections is not known, said G.L. Pridgen, county Board of Elections director. He will not know until the state Board of Elections issues a memo explaining the law’s effects.
One effect already is known: The new law postpones filing for judicial elections from Feb. 12 to June.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974. The Associated Press contributed to this article.