Two said to be in running for Griffin’s Superior Court judgeship seat|Perdue thought to be choosing between Edwards, Sermons

Published 7:44 am Saturday, July 18, 2009

Staff Writer

When locally revered but publicity-shy Senior Resident Superior Court Judge William C. Griffin Jr. retired earlier this year, it dramatically changed the local political-legal landscape.
At least two well-known legal faces had been planning to run for Griffin’s seat if he retired at the next election: attorney Wayland J. Sermons Jr. and Seth Edwards, district attorney for the 2nd District.
Now the two are widely thought to be the two choices on Gov. Beverly Perdue’s desk as she considers filling the unexpired term. The seat will next be up for election in 2010, and whoever is appointed will be responsible for cases in the entire 2nd prosecutorial District, which is composed of Beaufort, Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties.
“The governor is looking at qualified candidates and will select someone to represent that district,” said the governor’s press secretary, Chrissy Pearson. Pearson declined to comment on any details of the selection process, and there is no definite timeline for the appointment of a judge.
That vague timeline, combined with the fact that this is a quiet government appointment, means that both men are intensely focused on their current jobs.
Edwards confirms that he’ll run in 2010, regardless of whether he’s appointed to the seat or not. Sermons confirmed that he’ll run if appointed, but declined to comment on whether he’ll run if Edwards gets the seat.
And both men confirm that they get along well.
“Seth Edwards and I are really good friends and will remain good friends no matter which one of us gets this office,” Sermons said.
Both men were also demure in speaking about their qualifications for the post. Judicial elections are tightly regulated in terms of what judges can and cannot say, and the two are trying to keep that standard in the selection process.
Sermons is better known as a defense and municipal attorney, though Seth Edwards also was in private practice before becoming district attorney in 2003.
Sermons and Edwards are also facing off on a capital murder case in Martin County at the moment.
While Edwards said he has a variety of experience to help him if appointed judge, he also hopes to be able to bring improvement and leadership to the judgeship.
“The judge has to be neutral, has to be impartial, but I also feel that the Superior Court judge in our district has to be the leader of the team,” Edwards said.
He said the judge impacts the efficiency of the courthouse by coordinating appearances from prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerks and other officials. He said he thinks he’s largely achieved the goals he set for himself when he became a district attorney, including the creation of new programs and an emphasis on integrity.
Edwards said his best-known cases are probably the Dock Watson rape case — which revolved around rapes in Chocowinity and downtown Washington — and his prosecution of a former sheriff in Washington County for embezzlement.
Sermons, meanwhile is touting his experience. He’s been around for years, in a wide range of legal capacities.
He acted as defense counsel in the Von Stein murder case (officially State v. Upchurch), in which three N.C. State freshmen were tried for a “Dungeons and Dragons” murder conspiracy. Sermons got an initial death sentence overturned on appeal and managed to get his client a life sentence in the retrial.
Sermons has handled more than 25 murder cases, including five death-penalty cases that went to trial and has no clients on death row and none that have been executed, he said. Sermons emphasized that his work keeping clients off of death row wouldn’t interfere with his following the law if appointed.
Sermons said he’s pursuing the seat “to give back to the state things that I think I could contribute in the judicial system.”