Judicial candidates vie for state’s high courtsBy Cash Michaels, Contributing Writer / October 7, 2016
As the pivotal November 8 general election draws near, with Early Voting beginning Thursday, October 20 and ending Saturday, Nov. 5, African American voters have a large slate of candidates vying for statewide judicial seats to consider.
With more than 26 years on the North Carolina bench, Wake Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan, a Democrat, is running to oust incumbent state Senior Supreme Court Associate Robert H. Edmunds Jr. (from Greensboro), a Republican for an eight-year term. If Judge Morgan were to win the Edmunds seat, that would immediately shift the balance on the 4-3 Republican-majority court.
Judge Morgan would also join Associate Justice Cheri Beasley as the second African American serving on the state’s seven-member High Court, and the court’s only Black male.
“Supreme Court justices review the courts’ records that are generated in the lower courts. They are a reviewing court to see what errors have been committed potentially in the courts below,” he says.
Morgan has served as state administrative law judge for five years; district court judge for ten years; and his current position of superior court judge for eleven years.
A native of Cherry Point, N.C., Mike Morgan is the oldest of five children. He graduated from New Bern public schools. Morgan got his B.A. in both History and Sociology from Duke University in 1976. He earned his Juris Doctor Degree with honors from North Carolina Central University in 1979. From 1983 to 1989, Morgan was an assistant state Attorney General in the N.C. Dept. of Justice. From 1989 to 1994, he served as a N.C. administrative law judge; from 1994 to 2004 a district court judge; and from 2005 to the present a Wake County superior court judge.
“This [NC Supreme Court] seat must be guaranteed to be fair and impartial, and the fact that I’ve been elected and re-elected by the great citizens of Wake County shows that I have that capacity,” Judge Morgan, who proudly adds that he has been rated high for his professionalism and integrity by his legal peers, says.
Wake County trial attorney Abraham Penn Jones, who previously served as a Superior Court judge for many years, is vying for the N.C. Court of Appeals.
“While there is an abundance of legal talent in our state, I believe it would be difficult to find a candidate with the extent of my experience,” say Jones.
Jones served on the bench in the Tenth Judicial District from 1995 to 2012, presiding over civil and criminal trials, among other duties. Previous to that, Jones headed up his own law practice for five years after working as an associate at Adams, McCullough and Beard Law Firm from March 1987 to May 1990.
Jones was elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners from Dec. 1990 to Dec. 1994. He served as a N.C. administrative law judge from June 1986 to Feb.1987; was an associate attorney general in the N.C. Attorney General’s office handling Medicaid fraud cases from Oct. 1984 to March 1986; worked as an associate with the law firm of Kirby, Gillick, Schwartz and Tuohey from Sept. 1983 to Oct. 1984; and was assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District from May 1979 to August 1983.
After graduating Harvard Law School in 1977, Jones served as law clerk in the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia from Sept. 1977 to May 1979.
“These perspectives give me the balanced, practical skills that are necessary to fulfill the duties of an Appeals Court judge,” says Jones, who is challenging incumbent Judge Robert Hunter Jr. “Fairness, honesty, intellectual capacity, a working knowledge of the law, and a strong work ethic are qualities that I value and possess.”
The Wake county native graduated William G. Enloe High School in 1970 and attended Harvard College from 1970 to 1974 before moving on to law school.
The father of two daughters, Jones is a member of Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Another jurist vying for the N.C. Court of Appeals is Wake District Court Judge Vince Rozier of the Tenth Judicial District, challenging incumbent Appellate Judge Richard Dietz. He was appointed to the District Court bench in 2006, when he was the youngest judge ever sworn to the seat in Wake County history at age 29. He lost re-election in 2010, was re-appointed in 2014, and won re-election in 2014. Rozier has ruled in criminal, child support and juvenile delinquency cases.
Judge Rozier has served as ombudsman for the State Bureau of Investigation in 2011. From 2001 -2006 Rozier was a prosecutor in the Wake District Attorney’s Office.
Judge Rozier is an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill in 1998, graduating North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in 2002.
“My years of real courtroom experience have equipped me well to serve on the Court of Appeals,” Judge Rozier says. “This is experience that our Court is currently lacking.”
The list of candidates seeking election to the N.C. Court of Appeals also includes Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Rickeye McKoy-Mitchell of the 28th Judicial District. Judge McKoy-Mitchell was first elected to the bench in 1998. and has presided over criminal, civil and juvenile cases.
With 14 years of legal experience in state and federal courts, Judge McKoy-Mitchell earned her B.A. and law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Prior to being appointed to the bench, McKoy-Mitchell served as staff attorney for Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont; attorney advisor for the Office of Hearings and Appeals of the Social Security Administration; senior trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and assistant district attorney in the 26th Judicial District.
“I am well-prepared to serve on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. It is my distinct honor and privilege of having the longest tenure among those currently serving as a District Court Judge in the 26th Judicial District.” Judge McKoy-Mitchell seeks to unseat incumbent Appellate Judge Valerie Zachary.
Finally, Winston-Salem Attorney Donald R. Buie is also seeking a seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals, vying to succeed Judge Martha Geer, who stepped down from the court last May. Buie has unsuccessfully run for judicial seats in both the 21st and 18th Judicial Districts in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
Buie has been an attorney in Winston–Salem since 1981, after he earned his law degree from NCCU School of Law that same year. Buie got his BA from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1978.
“I believe my wide range of experience as a practicing attorney uniquely qualifies me for this position,” says attorney Buie. “Having experience in the preparation and presentation of cases at the trial court levels naturally gives me a better understanding when reviewing at the appellate level.”