by Joanna Rutter
Assembled in a semicircle, the candidates for five Guilford County court judge seats up for grabs almost looked as if they were holding court at the Greensboro Shrine Club. During Thursday night’s forum, though, they were the ones on trial.
In a rapid-fire panel hosted by the Greensboro Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, incumbents and their challengers sat shoulder-to-shoulder, answering questions from moderators Jeri Rowe and Brian Dunphy about their eligibility for this demanding role in upholding local justice.
Four of the five district-court judge seats for the 18th Judicial District in this year’s election are currently held by Judges Jon Kreider, David Sherrill, Angela Foster and Randle Jones. Judge Jan Samet is vacating the remaining seat, leaving no incumbent.
All Guilford County residents live in District 18, and as the races are nonpartisan, only races with more than two candidates generate a primary. The March 15 election will eliminate one contender from the race for seats currently held by Kreider and Sherrill, while other contests will only appear on the ballot during the general election this fall.
Sherrill, a soft-spoken former ICU nurse, cited his empathy as the reason he wants to continue in his role. His challengers are Lora Cubbage and Ron Butler, the assistant attorney general for the state and a private practitioner of 30 years, respectively.
“It’s now or never! I’m not getting any younger!” Butler said as to why he chose to run. Cubbage provided a rationale of a different personal nature.
“I know what it’s like to want your marriage but it’s gone to hell, if I can say that… I am that story that needs to be told. I can look at people and know when they need a second chance,” she said.
Kreider faces Miranda Reynolds Reavis and Bill Davis in the primary, and one will be eliminated in the primary. Davis and Reavis both have experience as public defenders — Reavis since 2011 and Davis for almost two decades — juxtaposed against Kreider’s longer career in private practice. Kreider was appointed by Gov. McCrory in October and touted conservative endorsements from Sheriff BJ Barnes and Congressman Mark Walker in his introduction.
Jones was appointed to his seat in March 2014 after a career in law enforcement — “I did CSI when it wasn’t popular or on TV” — and 18 years as the mayor of Stokesdale. Tonia Cutchin is running against him, and rattled off a list of roles demonstrating her dedication, such as working at a local law firm, public defense work and as a Boy Scout leader.
“I’m in court every single day,” she said. “I’ve practiced in every single room in Greensboro and High Point. And account expenses? I could do that in my sleep.”
Judge Foster is running again for her seat, which she’s held since 2008. John P. Stone, her opponent, could not attend the forum due to a family emergency.
“It’s not an easy job,” she said. “It’s a difficult courtroom. I am tough. I don’t think everyone is happy with me. I have to follow the law regardless of whether they like me.”
Marc Tyrey is vying for the vacant position left by Samet alongside opponent Mark Cummings; both their careers have mainly been in private practice. Tyrey said he would like to affect change by reducing docket numbers. Cummings was concerned about racial and social inequity being reinforced by the justice system.
“We need to be honest with ourselves that justice is not blind … I would know, I’ve been handcuffed because of the car I drove while an attorney. The disparity in our system is a civil rights issue.”
Reavis concurred later in the forum.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Reavis said. “We do have a race problem.”
Moderators asked two of the four female candidates questions related to their emotional ability to perform the job; no male candidates were asked any emotionally related questions.
After asking about her relatively limited experience, Rowe asked Reavis about her twins and whether her role as a new mother would interfere with her duties if elected.
“This is what I assume you’d ask any candidate,” Reavis said after a brief pause, mentioning that Cummings had recently had twins as well. “I do my job.”