If you voted in North Carolina last November, there were six state judicial seats on the ballot. Depending on where you live, you likely had district court and local judges up for election, too. How many of you either A.) skipped over this section or B.) randomly picked names because you hadn’t heard of any of these people? Join the club.
The vast majority of voters have little to no idea who their judges are, much less have any knowledge about how these judges affect them. But the fact is, state, district and local judges make decisions every day that impact our lives, and it’s our civic duty to ensure we elect competent judges who have our best interests in mind.
HOW DO STATE AND LOCAL JUDGES AFFECT MY LIFE?
If you ever find yourself in court as the plaintiff or defendant, who is in that judge’s seat is literally deciding your future. Consider just a few things that a judge has the power to decide, depending on the nature of the case:
- Whether or not you go to jail (and for how long)
- How often you can see your kids following divorce
- What happens with your estate after you die
- Whether or not you are responsible for medical bills from an accident
- Whether or not you lose your driver’s license
- Whether or not you can open a new business when and where you want to
Moreover, the consequences of a judge’s ruling often extend far beyond the courtroom. For example, a judge’s decision in a zoning case can literally change the lay of the land for years to come by allowing (or prohibiting) certain types of structures or industries in an area. In other words, the next judge who’s elected could be the one to decide whether or not you could end living next to a park, or a strip club or hog lagoon.
Finally, the way a judge conducts him or herself inside and outside the courtroom has a tremendous impact on outcomes for lawyers, defendants, and plaintiffs. A good judge, who shows up on time, is prepared for your case, and speaks clearly and understandably to all parties can make an otherwise harrowing experience easier to navigate, while a judge who isn’t on top of things, is absent frequently, or makes careless errors can make lawyers, defendants, and plaintiffs lives miserable—for 6 years at a term.
HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT JUDICIAL CANDIDATES?
There are several ways to find out about your current local, district, and state judges as well as who’s running for judicial seats. First, check the most recent Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) Survey conducted by the NC Bar Association. The JPE surveys attorneys throughout the state and asks them to rate sitting judges and candidates on key parameters—integrity, legal ability, professionalism, communication, administrative skills, and overall performance—based on their interactions with each individual. Another thing to do is to subscribe to your local newspaper and look for their endorsements or candidate guides as an election nears.
However you go about it, don’t let the next election cycle pass by without educating yourself about your judicial candidates. You never know when you, a friend, or a family member may be facing a judge, so do your part to make sure your judges are good ones.
Finally, one of the best allies you have when facing any judge is a knowledgeable, experienced lawyer. If you have legal questions about family, estate or small business affairs, Asheville attorney Chris Craig will be happy to assist you. Please contact us for information or to schedule an appointment.