Local Politics

Law clerk takes on veteran judge for Court of Appeals seat

Posted May 5, 2010

— An election for a seat on the North Carolina Court of Appeals in November will pit a candidate five years out of law school against an incumbent judge with decades of legal experience.

Steven Walker, 30, won 39 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary, while incumbent Judge Rick Elmore finished second in the four-person race with 29 percent.

Steven Walker, Court of Appeals candidate Judicial race pits newcomer, legal veteran

"I was just amazed, just amazed to get that percentage of the vote," Walker said.

Since earning his law degree from Campbell University in 2005, he has served as a clerk in the North Carolina Supreme Court. He has no trial experience, but he said none is needed to handle cases on appeal.

"I'm doing (as a clerk) what I'd be doing there," he said. "You read the law, you look at the facts of the case, you apply the facts of the case to the law, and then you come to the conclusion that you have."

Elmore has been on the bench since 2002, and he spent two decades practicing law before that. He declined to comment Wednesday on Walker's experience or youth.

"The election of judges in North Carolina is now a significant issue," he said. "Experience and qualifications are lost, even for the serious voters, when several names appear on the ballot with no indication of incumbency or party affiliation. We must move to a fair and politically-balanced commission to qualify judicial candidates for our appellate judges."

Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, said voters sometimes skip judicial races on the ballot or simply mark a name without knowing anything about the candidates.

"Typically what you'll see is people are less familiar with the judicial races than they are, say, the United States Senate," Circosta said.

The State Board of Elections flips the order of candidates on the ballot each election. In the primary, it listed them in reverse alphabetical order, starting with the letter X. That meant Walker's name appeared first.

"His name is at the top of the ballot, and he won fairly handily," Circosta said, adding, "I'm not saying that he wouldn't have won otherwise."

Walker credited his victory to the campaigning he did in recent weeks and the fact that he calls himself a conservative. He said he's hoping for a repeat of the primary results in the general election.

"I would just say look at the quality of the experience more than the quantity of the experience," he said.


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  • ConcernedNCC May 6, 2010

    Considering the decisions that some judges in this country have made, I'd rather see a law clerk doing the job.

  • phake May 6, 2010

    Speaking as a fellow law clerk at the NC Supreme Court, Steven Walker is in NO WAY sufficiently qualified to be on the Court of Appeals.

    I like Steven. I've worked here for the past 2 years of Steven's 5 years here. I'll go to his office birthday party when he turns 30 this month. Like Steven (and Judge Elmore, his opponent), I'm politically conservative. Still, in good conscience I could never vote for Steven.

    He is wrong that being one of three research assistants (which is our technical title here) in one of the seven SC chambers makes him qualified. The Court of Appeals reviews and reverses the decisions of our trial courts. A COA judge must have some experience practicing real world law and hopefully appearing in court. Steven has none of that experience. I pray that the people of N.C., of all parties, will SUPPORT JUDGE ELMORE.

    P.S. I have absolutely no connection to Judge Elmore or any political party.

    --- Mark Hayes, law clerk for Chief Justice Parker.

  • tsquaring May 5, 2010

    I voted for Walker BECAUSE he isn't currently holding the seat. But to think I picked him because his name was first is insulting. Good luck Mr Walker, I'll be voting for you again.

  • DeM May 5, 2010

    "Experience and qualifications are lost, even for the serious voters, when several names appear on the ballot with no indication of incumbency or party affiliation."
    If a voter can't recognize the NAME of whom he wishes to elect, and is basing his decision solely on incumbency, then he has no business voting in that particular race.