SALISBURY — Four Republican candidates running for two Rowan County District Court judge seats spoke about judicial philosophy and access to justice at a local party-hosted candidates’ forum at the Rowan Public Library on Tuesday night .
The Rowan County Republican Party is holding a series of candidate presentations ahead of the primary. Early voting begins April 28 and the primary is scheduled for May 17.
Cynthia Dry, a child protective services attorney for the Rowan County Department of Social Services, is running against local attorney Lauren Hoben for seat No. 2, currently held by outgoing District Court Judge Charlie Brown. Chris Sease, a local attorney, is running against incumbent Kevin Eddinger for seat #1.
Since incumbents Beth Dixon and James Randolph are running unopposed for Seats 2 and 4, respectively, they did not participate in the forum.
Each of the four candidates answered more than a handful of questions posed by former resident Senior Superior Court Justice Anna Mills Wagoner. She asked each candidate about their experience.
Hoben, who practices in the areas of criminal defense, family law, wills and estates and traffic violations, said there were no areas of district court in which she hadn’t dealt with a case in his career so far. Dry detailed her experience as an assistant district attorney before highlighting the 17 years she spent as the county’s Child Protective Services prosecutor, a position she currently holds. Dry said his background as a prosecutor combined with his current position with the DSS gave him a unique perspective.
Sease, who practices criminal and family law, joked that he was ‘so much in court that I’m afraid the county will start charging me rent’ while talking about his work at the palace of righteousness. Eddinger, who was first elected a district court judge in 2002, said he had done the job for 20 years and had been a practicing attorney for the previous 22 years.
“I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but there’s no substitute for 42 years of experience in law, 20 years as a district court judge,” Eddinger said.
Wagoner asked the candidates how they would handle unruly behavior in their courtrooms.
Eddinger said he has charged people with contempt of court before and would not be afraid to do so again.
“I’ve detained attorneys, plural, for contempt of court,” Eddinger said. “I didn’t want to, but you have to do it if you want to or not if the situation calls for it.”
Sease said holding people in contempt is a judge’s “main weapon”, but he applauds judges who use it with restraint and said it depends on the situation.
“For some people, these are the most important days of their life, and some people forget how to act on the most important days of their life,” Sease said.
Dry said she would respect all parties while maintaining the formal setting of a courtroom. She said judges needed to be stricter on behavior in the courthouse and courtroom.
Hoben said judges should look down on people when people enter the courtroom impaired or disruptive, but she also thinks the look-down was “overused” by some judges, including Brown. She said she saw judges look down on law enforcement officers for responding to an accident while the court was in session. Similarly, she said she saw judges give show cause orders to lawyers because they were in another courtroom for another trial at the time. Both cases an excess in his opinion.
Candidates were asked why they decided to run for the job and if they had run before.
Sease, who has never been elected before, said he felt called to run because he wanted to be a “force for good” in the community. Sease said he had always intended to run for district court judge and did not take running against a serving judge lightly.
Eddinger said he was seeking “one more term” while mentioning his four decades of practicing law.
Dry ran for judge two decades ago in Davidson County and said she lost by about 300 votes. This time around, Dry said she was “much wiser”, stronger and ready for the job.
Hoben has never run for office before and said she doesn’t like it, but is running because she thinks “the community deserves better”.
“I didn’t like what I found myself coming home and talking to my husband about what I saw happening in our justice system,” Hoben said.
When asked to identify what they believe to be the biggest obstacle to justice, Hoben said the biggest challenge was the time spent in court. It’s frustrating, Hoben said, to see a trial start one day and only resume months later, because access to judges and jurors is valuable. Dry pointed to the resources allocated to the justice system as an obstacle. She said she would like to see more funding and resources injected from the state level into local courts.
Eddinger said the preparation time for the trials is a hindrance, although it is necessary. Sease pointed to “access to justice” as the main obstacle. He specifically mentioned people who show up at the courthouse without a lawyer and how that can prevent them from having a say in court. He said it goes “hand in hand” with time spent in court and said cases that drag on for one reason or another prevent access to justice.
Wagoner asked the candidates how they would deal with defendants who choose to represent themselves in cases.
Patience, kindness and respect are key in these situations, Eddinger said. He maintained that everyone has the right to enter a courtroom with or without a lawyer. You can’t defend these people, Eddinger said, but you can help educate them. Sease said he would be nice, but firm while making them follow the same rules as a lawyer. He would treat them as he would like to be treated in this situation.
Dry said they had to follow the same rules, but said she wouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Hoben said there are “wonderful” local lawyers who provide advice to self-represented people if those lawyers are asked to do so by a judge.
During one of the evening’s final questions, Wagoner asked each candidate to explain their legal philosophy in layman’s terms.
Sease said he follows the acronym “KISS,” which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. He said he was constitutionally grounded, community-centered, family-oriented and fairly guided and that he believed in the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Eddinger also kept his philosophy simple, saying “the essence of due process is an opportunity to be heard” and saying he’s a proponent of the adage: measure twice, cut once.
Dry noted that she was a constitutional conservative and said her philosophy was to “seek the truth and do justice in all cases, and if you do that then things will be fine”. Hoben, also a constitutional scholar, said she believes in giving everyone the opportunity to be heard and being treated with respect.
The next Republican Candidates Forum for North Carolina House District 83 will be held Thursday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Laureate Center, 401 Laureate Way, Kannapolis.