GOP club hosts judicial candidates

Published 7:37 pm Saturday, May 29, 2010

Staff Writer

CHOCOWINITY — They’re conservative, and they wanted their audience to know it.
Three statewide judicial candidates addressed the Down East Republican Club Thursday evening at a dinner meeting in a local restaurant.
The candidates were: Raleigh’s Barbara Jackson, an N.C. Court of Appeals judge who’s running for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court; Mount Olive’s Dean Poirier, an adjunct law professor who’s seeking a Court of Appeals slot; and Judge Ann Marie Calabria, a Morrisville resident who’s bidding for re-election to the Court of Appeals.
Jackson is running for Supreme Court against Robert Hunter, a fellow appeals court judge from Raleigh.
Poirier is facing off with Martha Geer, an incumbent from Raleigh.
Calabria is being challenged by Jane Gray, a District Court judge from Raleigh.
All of these seats are officially nonpartisan, but candidates on both sides of the ideological divide have worked to curry favor with like-minded supporters.
“Conservative” was a word used repeatedly during the candidates’ presentations Thursday, and the general lack of awareness that voters have when it comes to judicial candidates was raised to the fore again and again.
“We believe in individual rights, we believe in self-determination, we believe in the right to keep what we earn,” said Judge John Tyson, who introduced the candidates.
Tyson, a recall Court of Appeals judge and emergency Superior Court judge, is running for a Superior Court position in Cumberland County.
Setting the tone for the event while introducing the three statewide office-seekers, Tyson reached back in history to the Magna Carta, and offered a brief review of what he seemed to characterize as the erosion of individual liberties.
“If a judge thinks they can make policy, they’re not conservative,” he told around 30 club members and guests.
Introducing Calabria, Tyson told the group that appeals-court terms last eight years, the longest terms of any elected position in the state.
“That’s a long time to make bad mistakes,” he said.
In her time at the podium, Jackson said she has served on the Court of Appeals since 2004, is a former law clerk and once was general counsel in the N.C. Department of Labor under labor commissioner Cherie Berry, a Republican.
Shifting focus to the necessity of raising campaign funds, Jackson said, “We are not running high-dollar campaigns.”
Jackson said she and Calabria had met the state’s criteria to qualify for grants from the publicly funded Voter-Owned Elections program.
She said she ran her campaign on just $28,000 in 2004, adding that she has raised considerably more this season, though the exact figure couldn’t immediately be determined Friday afternoon.
Jackson said word of mouth is critical to promoting judicial candidates.
Moving on to job descriptions, Jackson related some statistics, saying that judges who serve on the Court of Appeals heard more than 1,700 cases last year, in excess of 100 cases per judge.
This year, the case load is lower, averaging around two-per-week per judge, she stated.
Court of Appeals judges typically write 15- to 25-page opinions, but Supreme Court members usually write 30- to 60-page opinions, according to Jackson.
Also, the justices “don’t take as many cases on,” she said.
During her turn in the limelight, Calabria said she practiced law for eight years in Fayetteville and later moved to Wake County.
She said she has 14 years of experience as a judge.
“My judicial philosophy rests on the backbone of the Constitution, which established the government,” she proclaimed, later inserting, “I believe in judicial restraint, not judicial activism.”
Calabria said that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her first term was the case brought to invalidate a legislative vote on establishing the state education lottery.
Calabria said the lottery law wasn’t passed properly because the measure wasn’t read into the record three times over three days.
She dissented in the case, “and that’s the only way that it went to the Supreme Court,” she said.
The state’s high court deadlocked on the procedural issue.
“So we have a lottery,” Calabria pointed out. “We don’t want revenue bills passed this way. We want it done correctly.”
She nodded to the fact that her opponent was legal counsel to Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, who went to prison on corruption charges.
At the end of Calabria’s portion of the program, Larry Britt, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, rose to say he knew the candidate.
Britt called Calabria “a hard-working Republican.”
“She deserves Republican support,” he said.
Poirier also issued an endorsement of Calabria.
“If you go through the saga of the lottery case, she was the only one who had the courage to stand up and tell the truth,” he said.
If Jackson isn’t elected to the Supreme Court, the Democrats will have full control of the state, he indicated.
Holding up a GOP flier, Poirier said, “You want to help us? Be there, hand these out so people will know who we are.”
The conservative candidates are working at a disadvantage because they don’t have the money that the Democrats have, he said.
Poirier made no bones about his religious convictions, stating, “If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian 24/7,” adding that one doesn’t check his Christianity at the door.
Poirier reminded his audience that the First Amendment grants religious freedom, and said he asks his law students why a high-school student can’t use Jesus’ name in a speech.
“You tell me how you get from here to here,” he said.
He said he and his wife home school their children, ages 7 and 9.
“If you want to take back this country, if you want to preserve this country from destruction, read the Constitution,” he said.
He said his opponent is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, and took the media to task for not reporting that part of the judge’s background.
“I believe in judicial humility, as opposed to judicial arrogance,” he said.