Movement to appoint rather than elect NC judges - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Movement to appoint rather than elect NC judges

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In court, a judge makes the call. His or her knowledge of the law, neutrality, and professionalism all add up to a fair case.

They determine sentences for repeat offenders, family court issues, and bond amounts.

"If you are going to a judge, they will impact your life," said Amanda Raymond. She's a former attorney, busy mom, and member of the League of Women Voters.

Every election season the League produces a Voter's Guide and series of local debates on all the races.

Despite their efforts, election records show only half the voters who turnout actually choose a judge.

Raymond believes there are a few factors involved,  including ballot position. "When we have a presidential ballot, there are so many offices on that ballot. Lots of people get to the end and they just stop. They just walk away," said Raymond.

A lot of voters admit they don't know much about the candidates.

Now for the first time this year, the North Carolina Bar Association is also trying to inform the public. The group surveyed thousands of lawyers about each candidate and put the results on their web site.

"We've been working on it about four years, trying to get a good product out to the voter," said former judge Nancy Norelli. She's also a member of the state Bar Association and worked on the effort to inform voters.

At the same time they're trying to educate the public, the group is also advocating to change the process. Instead of electing judges, the Bar Association says they should be appointed.

Among options they would support: a special non-partisan committee or panel appointed by the Governor to determine judges. Candidates would be screened and interviewed. They could be held accountable by retention elections, said Norelli.

Some argue the public has done a fine job and elections keep the judges connected to the people they serve. In North Carolina, they are supposed to be non-partisan. National polling also shows more people prefer voting.

However, Raymond says there is room for debate.

"I definitely think we need to look into...the appointment of judges because so few people are making the decision," she said.

The group known as Court Watch in Mecklenburg County is also hosting a judicial forum Wednesday night, October 10th, at the Charlotte School of Law. It starts at 6:00 PM and should last 90 minutes.

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