Voters keep high court incumbents, approve constitutional amendment

Voters approved a constitutional amendment that could speed some criminal trials and made their pick for chief justice and three other state Supreme Court seats. Four Court of Appeals judges were also chosen.

Posted Updated
Court and legal
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — A last-minute infusion of cash into the race for North Carolina's highest court appears to have fallen short of defeating an incumbent justice.

On the same night voters approved a constitutional amendment that affects how certain criminal trials are conducted, voters appear to have returned Associate Justice Cheri Beasley to her seat on the state Supreme Court by a narrow margin. 

Beasley, a Democrat, faced Mike Robinson, a Republican. Although the race is nonpartisan, the party affiliations of the candidates are well known, and each party actively backs its candidates. 

Justice for All NC, an independent spending group that backs Republican candidates, dumped at least $425,000 into the race the week before Election Day. The bulk of that money appears to be spent on an ad meant to boost Robinson's name identification

Complete but unofficial returns show Beasley received 1,228,397 votes, while Robinson got 1,225,185. That 3,212-vote margin is less than 1 percent, which allows Robinson to ask for a recount. 

Robinson told WRAL News on Wednesday morning that he would seek a recount. Asked if he thought it would change the outcome, he said, "I am hopeful that it will." 

Other races for the high court are not in doubt.

Associate Justice Robin Hudson, an incumbent who faced attack ads in the primary, easily won re-election, as did Justice Mark Martin, who won an eight-year term as the state's chief justice. 

Two years after outside spending groups derailed his first state Supreme Court bid, Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV won election against incumbent Associate Justice Bob Hunter. Hunter was appointed to the court this fall and will serve only a few months on the job. 

Other judicial races

Advocates say Superior Court bench trials could help clear a backlog of cases and note that North Carolina is the last state in the nation to adopt the option. Opponents of the move said they worry criminal defendants could find themselves under undue pressure to waive their right to be tried by a jury of their peers. 

Voters also chose four Court of Appeals judges. The most notable race was 19-way contest to fill an unexpired term. John Tyson, a former member of the court backed by the Republican Party, won the seat with 24 percent of the vote. 

Most of the other 19 candidates received less than 6 percent of the vote each, but it appears a split within the Democratic Party may have given Tyson an easier victory. The state's Democratic Party backed John  Arrowood, a former member of the Court of Appeals. But the Democrats' African-American Caucus backed Keischa Lovelace, a deputy industrial commissioner. The two Democrats together earned more votes than Tyson.

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