LUMBERTON — The District Court judge who refused to hold court Thursday with a prosecutor who is his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election abided by rules set in place governing judges’ political conduct.
“Due to state law regarding confidentiality of the commission’s proceedings I cannot comment on any specific judge’s conduct. However, I can tell you that judges are required to follow the code of judicial conduct,” Carolyn Dubay, N.C. Judicial Standards Commission executive director, said Friday. “Among other things, the code requires judges to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality may reasonably be questioned.
“In addition, judges do receive training and advice on permissible political conduct and other issues involving campaigns. In that regard, the commission routinely advises that a judge should disqualify himself or herself from hearing matters involving the judge’s campaign opponent regardless of whether a motion for disqualification has been made.”
That’s what he was doing, Judge Dale Deese said.
“To protect the independence and the integrity of judicial process, I attempted to contact two other judges before court to possibly switch courts,” Deese said. “But I was unsuccessful in doing so.”
On Thursday morning, Deese would not come to the courtroom when Angelica Chavis-McIntyre was the prosecutor. She is running for his seat on Nov. 6. It delayed the beginning of court, which began only after another assistant district attorney, MaryJane Richardson, was sent to the courtroom. The cases were mostly misdemeanors and traffic cases.
Deese explained why he did not enter the courtroom and explained his decision. He said, once a judge walks into the courtroom, court is in session.
“If I had walked in and then walked back out, would that have been better? I don’t know. I’ve never been put in this situation before,” Deese said. “So, I don’t know what the best way would have been to handle it.”
He did not intend to delay the court on Thursday, or cause an uproar, Deese said.
“I apologize for the delayed court session,” Deese said. “Under the circumstances I feel I made the best decision.”
Judge J. Stanley Carmical was the chief District Court judge and responsible for scheduling judicial assignments, said Johnson Britt, Robeson County district attorney. But Carmical was appointed a special Superior Court judge, and this may have been a factor in scheduling not being done for the entire month.
“Ordinarily, we get a monthly court schedule and the judges’ assignments the last week of each ending month,” Britt said. “It was not done for the entire month of July. We only got a partial (schedule), and then once the partial came out we did our schedule to avoid the conflict. For whatever reason we didn’t catch it.”
The District Attorney’s office has avoided scheduling conflicts in the past, Britt said.
“We did it with (Judith) Daniels (now, chief District Court judge) when she was ADA running against (Judge Jeff) Moore,” Britt said. “We’ve done it for months with Judge Deese and Angelica Chavis-McIntyre. Judge (Herbert L.) Richardson cannot preside over cases handled by his daughter MaryJane Richardson. This is what we have historical done. Sometimes it can’t be avoided.”
He had not talked to Deese as of late Friday afternoon about Thursday’s incident, Britt said. However, he spoke to Judge Daniels.
“She has assured me that she will get a schedule so that we can avoid the conflict that occurred Thursday,” the DA said.
Daniels said she was appointed chief judge about two weeks ago and was not involved with the conflicting schedule.
“My appointment began July 6,” Daniels said. “Anything scheduled prior to that date I am not involved with.
“What I will say is, as the scheduling judge, I will make every possible effort to avoid disqualifying assignments in the future.”
Which is what the commission advises when an opponent works as an assistant district attorney or assistant public defender, Dubay said.
“My priority is to follow all ethical, legal, and proper procedure in all court proceedings,” Deese said. “That is my judiciary responsibility as a judge.”
There are three District court seats available in the November election.
Deese and Chavis-McIntyre are opponents for one of those seats. Deese is listed as unaffiliated and McIntyre-Chavis is a Democrat.
Robeson County Department of Social Services attorney Brooke Locklear Clark, a Democrat, is the lone candidate for the seat recently vacated by Judge Carmical.
Assistant District Attorney Vanessa Burton, a Democrat, and Robeson County Assistant Public Defender Jack Moody Jr., a Republican, are seeking the seat that will be vacated with the retirement of Judge Richardson.
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]