Judicial candidates tout qualifications

Published 7:32 am Sunday, March 28, 2010

Staff Writer

Four candidates are in the field, but come November just one person will be elected to fill the seat being vacated by retiring District Court Judge Sam Grimes.
The four candidates laid out their qualifications Wednesday night during the Beaufort County Democratic Women’s meeting in Washington.
The four hopefuls are local attorneys Watsi Sutton, Darrell Cayton Jr. and Sonia Privette; and Jonathan Jones, an assistant district attorney.
All of the competitors have Washington addresses listed on their campaign-filing information.
In the May 4 primary election, voters in the 2nd Judicial District — including Beaufort County — will select two of the four candidates to advance to the Nov. 2 general election.
This nonpartisan race will be included on the primary ballots for Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, has said.
Cayton was the first candidate to speak at the Democratic Women’s event.
Declaring that he’s a lifelong resident of Beaufort County, Cayton said he has been licensed to practice law since 1987.
He said he worked with the firm of Gaskins &Gaskins for two and a half years before striking out on his own in 1990.
Cayton said he has worked primarily in District Court, adding that though he’s been involved in many criminal cases he’s also spent a lot of time on civil matters, including family law.
Cayton said he’s represented men and women in contested and uncontested divorces, and has successfully appealed to have a decision overturned in a child-custody case.
“That’s very unusual in a child-custody case,” he said.
Cayton said he briefly represented the Beaufort County Department of Social Services, and later opposed it in the service of others. Cayton also said he’s represented law-enforcement officers in court.
Second up was Jones, who related that he’s been an assistant district attorney for more than six years.
He pointed out the fact that he serves on the local Habitat for Humanity board and on the Zion Shelter &Kitchen board.
Jones said he had practiced law privately in Greenville, and that his cases were evenly divided between civil and criminal proceedings.
Jones emphasized the mandate for fairness in the judicial process, stating that judges take oaths to administer the law impartially.
“You don’t take an oath to get convictions,” he said.
Near the close of his speech, he tacked on: “As a prosecutor you make decisions that affect people’s lives and affect justice.”
A judge is “sort of like a referee” whose job is to make sure both sides have an equal turn at trial, Jones said.
Privette made mention of her membership in the hosting club, saying she’s been a member of the Democratic Women for almost all of the 21 years she has lived in Beaufort County.
She said she has been a practicing attorney for 24 and a half years.
“I will treat fairly and respectfully every juror in civil court — parties or witnesses,” she said.
Privette said she has practiced law in every type of civil-court case the District Court can hear. She said she has worked in criminal law as a defense attorney for more than seven years.
“For 21 years and eight days … I have given dedicated service to the citizens of this district,” she said.
She added, “I believe I have the experience and the dedication that I can give back to this community.”
Last up, Sutton said voters need to ensure that they elect a competent candidate “who has a clear understanding of the needs of the community.”
Sutton said that she had been practicing law for 10 years. She acknowledged that she had been on the job for less time than her opponents.
She added that she had worked as an assistant district attorney under District Attorney Seth Edwards, and she did a stint as a staff attorney in the New Bern office of Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Sutton noted that, as a Legal Aid lawyer, she advocated for the poor and the elderly. She said that she kept 10 families from losing their homes, and that those families’ home loans no longer carried predatory terms.
Later, she began practicing law privately in Washington, she said.
The Democratic Women’s meeting included candidates for Beaufort County Board of Education. The Washington Daily News will offer coverage of those races after the primary election.