Local Politics

Law clerk takes on veteran judge for Court of Appeals seat

Posted May 5, 2010 5:49 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2010 6:31 p.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.