Usually, it’s judges who get to tell citizens where to go – to jail, rehab, traffic school or home with a slap on the wrist – however, this November, citizens get to turn the tables and tell judges whether or not they can stay in the courthouse or they have to leave.
There are five District Court races this election in North Carolina’s 18th judicial district. Last week the Rhino Times reported on the two open seats. This week, the Rhino covers the three races where there is an incumbent.
John Stone v.
Judge Angela Foster
Stone, who grew up in Guilford County, has worked as an assistant district attorney in Greensboro for nearly five years. He said that, in that time, he’s prosecuted thousands of cases and established a record for being “fair but tough.“
Stone said he now wants to continue that service from the bench.
“I filed because I thought I would improve the system,” he said.
Stone said that attorneys want judges who exhibit three characteristics – professionalism, consistency and fairness.
“It can be something as simple as getting to court on time,” Stone said of the qualities of a good judge.
Earlier this year, Stone sent out a letter to fellow legal workers announcing that he was running against Foster. That letter read, “The public is entitled to a judge who will act professionally and work until the job is complete. If you do not handle matters in District Court, I strongly encourage you to inquire of other members of the bar, courthouse personnel, and others who frequent the courtroom about the job performance of Judge Angela Foster.”
Stone said, “Most attorney’s will tell you consistency is important.”
He added that, if he’s elected, he’ll strive to be professional and respectful of everyone’s time.
He also said that judges who take one action one day and then do something completely different the next when dealing with similar cases simply aren’t good for the judicial system.
Stone, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who got his law degree from North Carolina Central School of Law, has endorsements from the Greensboro Police Officers Association, the North Carolina Troopers Association and the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro association.
Foster, who hopes to keep her seat, did her undergraduate work at Tennessee State University and got her law degree from North Carolina Central University. She’s a certified juvenile court judge who said she’s presided over all types of court cases, including those in civil, criminal and special courts, and she added that she spends a lot of time hearing neglect, abuse and drug dependency cases.
Foster, who was first elected judge in 2008, has worked in Guilford County’s court system for over two decades.
She’s a Grimsley High School graduate with five children and describes herself as a “fair and impartial judge who puts people first.”
Her campaign literature states that her experience as a District Court judge has been “more than I imagined and has helped me develop a genuine appreciation for the trials and tribulations of my fellow residents.” She also wrote, “I have worked efficiently and have endeavored to provide Guilford County with strong and consistent decisions.”
Foster, who went to work as a public defender when she got out of law school, said she has earned the respect of her co-workers in the court system.
She said she’s well aware of the letter that Stone sent to workers in the court system accusing her of not being professional and of not putting in enough hours on the bench. According to Foster, Stone’s criticisms of her are entirely unfounded and she added that she has a very well run courtroom that handles a high volume of cases. She said she spends a great deal of time in her office researching cases so they can be handled efficiently once court begins.
Foster said that many citizens who come to court need to be out by 2:30 p.m. or so to pick up their children from school or handle other business and she tries to respect that timetable.
“I don’t mess around – we get it done,” she said. “If I have to give up going to lunch, I give up going to lunch. I am extremely efficient and I get through cases.”
Foster said sending out that letter was highly unprofessional on Stone’s part.
“Many others expressed that he should be reported to the bar,” Foster said, adding that the attorneys’ code of ethics calls for lawyers not to disparage judges. She said that she had decided not to pursue the matter.
Foster said she runs a tough courtroom and she said she does have her views in terms of correct behavior and attire for those who appear in court. For instance, she said, she insists that young men not have their pants drooping down their backside.
“It’s not just about respecting the court – it’s also about respecting themselves,” Foster said.
She said it’s a duty of the court to try to help out people by getting them into programs that can help.
“They get downtrodden so easily at an early age, we have to do what we can to help,” she said.
Foster adds that she has strong ties to the community.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Guilford County,” she said.
Judge Randle Jones v.
Judge Randle Jones, who grew up in northwest Guilford County and was the mayor of Stokesdale for 18 years, was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory two years ago to fill an unexpired judge’s term in Guilford County. This year Jones is attempting to get elected to that seat.
Jones, who was born in Greensboro in 1958, has been an attorney, an assistant district attorney, an assistant public defender, a police attorney – and, from 1991 to 2013, he was a member of the Stokesdale Town Council. He has taught business law at Guilford College, been a sheriff’s deputy and worked in Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) to name a few things on his resume.
He met his wife in the fifth grade where his wife’s mother was Jones’ teacher.
He graduated from Wake Forest University before getting his law degree at North Carolina Central University.
Jones said he worked in CSI before that job was glamorized by a slew of television shows.
“Nobody wanted to do it back then,” the judge said.
He also said that people often comment on his varied background.
“People say, ‘When did you start? Were you like 3 years old?’” he said, “But I just do a lot of things at the same time.”
Jones said his wide range of experience gives him the ability to come at legal issues from many angles.
“Because I’ve been on all sides, I’m able to be fair and impartial,” he said.
According to Jones, there are other advantages to having been on both the defending and prosecuting sides of the law.
He said that, compared to his opponent in this race, Cutchin, he has more experience to draw from.
“I’ve got the greater breath of experience and I can come at it from all sides,” Jones said.
He added, “I know the courthouse from the ground up.”
Jones said one of his proudest accomplishments as Stokesdale mayor was helping that town get an independent water system. He said multiple permissions were required in the process and it took a great deal of legal and political maneuvering. The town had a problem with contaminated well water before that, and it was limiting the town’s growth.
“We created a water system that could expand as the town grew,” Jones said.
His challenger, Tonia Cutchin, has, among other things, been an assistant public defender in Guilford County, a corporate attorney in Washington, DC, and a private practice attorney in Greensboro.
Cutchin graduated from North Carolina Central University and then got a joint degree – an MBA and a law degree – from Central as well, and went to work representing corporations in federal court and also worked in a private practice in Greensboro that included domestic personal injury criminal cases and others.
Cutchin is president of the Greensboro Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Her campaign literature states that her experience in Guilford County has given her an intimate understanding of how the courts work here.
“This has allowed her to become knowledgeable of the local rules of the 18th Judicial District and possess the skills and experience to manage a high volume of cases effectively and efficiently,” it reads. She added that she’s “committed to ensuring that each citizen of Guilford County receives justice and fair representation as provided by the Constitution.”
Cutchin said her varied education in business, law and accounting is a real asset, as is her experience in federal court and a wide-ranging legal career that has included corporate work.
She said she’s still licensed in federal courts in the District of Columbia and in some federal courts in North Carolina.
“I think I bring the most diversity to the bench,“ Cutchin said.
Cutchin also said that her experience will allow her “to effectively and efficiently maintain a docket,” and to rule “in a fair and just way. “
Judge David Sherrill v.
Judge David Sherrill has an interesting past for a judge: He has 23 years experience as a registered nurse.
“I’ve had a lot of experience with people,” he said.
Sherrill said that, after years of stressful critical care work, he came to a time in his career when he decided he wanted to do something else.
“I thought about med school,” he said.
But, instead, Sherrill got his law degree from North Carolina Central in 2001 and became an attorney.
He did manage to get some use out of his medical background after becoming a lawyer.
“I started out doing some malpractice cases,” he said.
Since then, he said, he’s handled a very wide variety of cases as both an attorney and judge.
“I’ve practiced in every court and now I’ve presided in all those,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill has done pro bono work for the Greensboro Jaycees, served as president of that group and also served on the Wyndham Championship Tournament Committee.
Sherrill points out that he has a high rating from the North Carolina State Bar, which rates judicial candidates.
He added that, in addition to his experience in law, his time as a nurse was very valuable when it comes to understanding people and what they’re going through.
He said he understands the importance of the decisions and the major way that court judgments affect the lives of those charged with crimes or who are part of disputes.
“This is big for them,” he said, adding that that goes for everything from criminal matters to child custody cases.
He said he practiced law in every courtroom in Guilford County before becoming a judge.
In his campaign literature, he states, “I pledge to you that I will continue to provide fair and just decisions to all the cases before me and that I will continue to treat every party with respect as I understand the stress involved in navigating the system.”
He said it’s interesting that his opponent, Cubbage, works in Raleigh and seems to be taking off work to go to political functions and meetings in Greensboro.
“My opponent works in the AG’s [Attorney General’s] office in Raleigh,“ Sherrill said. “She still owns her home here, but there’s some question about where she lives. No one here knows her but for putting out signs.”
For someone with a full-time job, he said, Cubbage seems to be taking time off work to campaign and make appearances at meetings in Guilford County.
Cubbage, who works as a North Carolina assistant attorney general, said she lives in Guilford County and is devoted to this area. She said that even though her work does involve a great deal of travel, she stays grounded in the community here and is very engaged in it. She also said most meetings are after work and she is able to do her job, campaign and attend events in Guilford County. She said Sherrill’s remarks that she isn’t active in this community are patently false.
She said it is true that her job keeps her in car a lot, and not just for the commute to and from Greensboro.
“As an assistant AG, I travel all over the state,” she said.
Prior to taking the job with the state attorney general’s office, Cubbage worked for about four years as an assistant district attorney under Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson.
She did her undergraduate work at North Carolina A&T State University before getting her law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Cubbage said her work with the North Carolina attorney general’s office gives her a “broader vision” compared to many others in the system and she added that it gives her insight as to how legal systems in other counties operate.
But she said her main concern is the people of Guilford County.
“A judge has to care about the people they are serving,” Cubbage said.
Cubbage has worked with Family Services of the Piedmont in fundraising and other efforts.
Cubbage has also been a staunch supporter of the Guilford County Family Justice Center, which opened in mid-2015.
“That’s been open for a year and has served 5,000 people,” she said, praising the work of that body.
She said that in her work in the community she doesn’t come across Sherrill.
“I think you need to also go into the community other than your own – and I’m not saying my opponent does or doesn’t – but I’m there and I don’t see him there.”
Cubbage said that a judge must also have the ability to transcend the black and white letter of the law and make human judgments about the people that appear before them.
“Some people are in the courtroom over and over again and we’ve got to get to the bottom of that,” she said.
Cubbage added that high court costs for those that come through can be oppressive.
“You can’t keep pushing people down a hole and expect that they are going to bring themselves back,” she said.
She said that the courts should treat health and mental conditions as what they are – health issues – rather than as strictly legal matters. Cubbage also said she wants the justice system to work closely with schools.
“For me, the biggest focus should be our youth,” Cubbage said.
She said that adults have in a lot of cases already made their life decisions but kids can be set right if there is proper intervention early enough.