Is judicial race heating up?

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2010

Staff Writer

Judicial candidates Watsi Sutton and Darrell Cayton Jr. have been keeping relatively low profiles lately, but there are signs that’s about to change.
Next week, Sutton will formally announce she’s been endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys.
According to Ann Cherry, a local Democrat who’s campaigning for Sutton, the candidate will make her announcement on the steps of the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library building, which used to be the Beaufort County courthouse.
Sutton is a member of the NCAWA, Cherry said.
The announcement will be made Aug. 18, a day steeped in symbolic importance because it’s the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Cherry related.
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
On Tuesday evening, Sutton confirmed the event will take place, but she wasn’t immediately available for an interview.
Asked why she’s supporting Sutton, Cherry said, “She has grown up in an atmosphere that is conducive to her getting to appreciate, know and get along with lots and lots of different kinds of people.”
Sutton has devoted a fair amount of time to pro-bono work, Cherry added.
Cayton, a longtime local lawyer, said the key difference between the candidates is that he has more experience.
“I think the difference between the candidates is going to give me an advantage,” he said.
Asked for his response to the endorsement, Cayton said Sutton spoke about the nod during a recent fundraiser for the Beaufort County Democratic Party.
“That didn’t surprise me a tremendous amount,” he said of the endorsement. “I want the endorsement of the voters of the 2nd Judicial District.”
The district encompasses Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell, Martin and Washington counties.
Both candidates hope to replace retiring District Court Judge Sam Grimes.
The seat is nonpartisan, and Sutton and Cayton emerged from a field of four candidates who faced off during the May 4 primary election.
Cayton was the top-scoring candidate with 4,248 votes in the district versus Sutton’s 4,130 votes.
Though Sutton has scored an important endorsement, Cayton retains a substantial fundraising lead with some help from the legal community.
Cayton has raised more than $58,000 for his campaign so far this election cycle, according to reports available online at the N.C. State Board of Elections’ website.
He had $8,864.28 cash on hand at last report.
By contrast, Sutton has taken in just over $15,800 this election cycle. Her committee had no cash on hand and was in the red by $833.65, her report shows.
Most of Sutton’s campaign funds came in small contributed amounts of under $50, and many of them amounted to just $7 or $8.
Cayton listed 23 contributions — ranging from $50 to $1,000 — from attorneys or legal-office staff, with the largest amounts coming from lawyers based in Washington.
Cayton suggested the money he has raised doesn’t give him as much of an edge as his legal experience.
“I’ve written a lot of thank-you letters from the standpoint of it means even more to be basically supported by your fellow lawyers, folks that know you and know how you practice law,” he said. “I don’t think it creates any sense of obligation, and I don’t think anybody has donated any money with that in mind.”
Some of his contributors don’t do trial work, he pointed out.
“I think that’s a great compliment because it’s kind of putting your money where your mouth is,” he said.
Cherry acknowledged it’s difficult to raise campaign funds in the current economic climate.
“We’ve got a lot of different things going, and not everything requires money,” she said. “It requires a little sweat equity. Of course, we would like to raise money.”