NC Supreme Court Races: Chief Justice Race Part 2

In the past week, I’ve been covering the NC Supreme Court races. In the first installment, I laid out who the candidates were and talked briefly about some last-minute changes to the line ups in those races. In the second installment, I covered one of the candidates running for the Chief Justice position – Judge Ola Lewis. This article will deal with the other candidate running for the Chief Justice spot, Sr. Associate Justice Mark Martin.  

Just a quick recap, the current Chief Justice is Sarah Parker. She is required by law to retire when she turns 72 in August of this year. Mark Martin was originally running solo in this race until Ola Lewis decided to drop running for Justice Cheri Beasley’s seat and instead run against Martin for the Chief spot.

About Mark Martin

Mark Martin is currently on the NC Supreme Court and is the Senior Associate Justice. Martin began his service on the Supreme court in 1999 after being elected in 1998. Prior to that, he served as a judge on the Court of Appeals (1994-1999) and Superior Court Judge (1992-1994). Mark Martin also served as Chief Legal Counsel to former Governor James Martin (R). While sharing a last name, there is no relation between Mark and James Martin. Martin is also the Chair of the Judicial division of the American Bar Association.

From the About page on Martin’s website:

Mark Martin is the Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. With over twenty years of judicial service, Justice Martin is the only active member of the North Carolina state judiciary with experience on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Superior Court.

Prior to his judicial service, Martin served as legal counsel to Governor James G. Martin (no relation), practiced law at the McNair Law Firm in Raleigh, and clerked for United States District Judge Clyde H. Hamilton. Martin has served in a number of leadership roles within the North Carolina Bar Association, including as its Vice-President. He has taught law courses at the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and North Carolina Central University. Martin graduated summa cum laude from Western Carolina University. He received his Juris Doctor, with honors, from the University of North Carolina School of Law. He later earned a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Judicial Process from the University of Virginia.

More details on Mark Martin at Judgepedia.

Highlights include endorsements from all five former Chief Justices.

First the endorsements. Former chiefs Jim Exum, Henry Frye and Burley Mitchell are Democrats. Rhoda Billings and I. Beverly Lake Jr. are Republicans.

They can all endorse Martin in a nonpartisan system because, although he is a registered Republican, that really doesn’t matter. Our judiciary is nonpartisan, and very few of our judges at any level of the system make decisions with any detectable partisan bias.

Martin doesn’t. He’s part of our court’s centrist majority, along with Chief Justice Sarah Parker (a registered Democrat) and Justices Bob Edmunds and Barbara Jackson (registered Republicans). And, usually, the other three justices are on board as well. – News and Record (2013)

The endorsement from the former Chief’s reads as follows:

Justice Mark Martin is a veteran jurist with over 20 years of judicial experience. He is the only active judge in our State with experience on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Superior Court. Justice Martin examines legal issues carefully and methodically, writes thoughtful and well-reasoned judicial opinions, and maintains the highest standards of judicial demeanor and temperament. His long record of public service also reflects unquestioned integrity. As the bi-partisan group of all former Chief Justices of North Carolina, we respectfully ask you to join with us in supporting Justice Martin’s candidacy and helping spread the word about his campaign. 

Five Former Chief Justices Chief Justice Rhoda B. Billings (ret.); Chief Justice James G. Exum (ret.); Chief Justice Henry E. Frye (ret.); Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr. (ret.); Chief Justice Burley B. Mitchell, Jr. (ret.)

Martin has also garnered and endorsement from NC Advocates for Justice PAC.

So, it would seem that Mark Martin has a long history in the North Carolina judicial system and has the backing of the former Chief Justices for the position, yet finds himself with a challenger who had originally intended to run for another seat. So, how does one go about running against a candidate who seems like the logical fit for the Chief Justice spot as Martin does? The main line of criticism being drawn against Justice Martin by Judge Lewis is along the lines of productivity.

 In her three-minute address at the district convention, Lewis criticized the high court’s productivity. “Our current Supreme Court is one of the lowest ranked Supreme Court’s in the nation, ranked 36th by way of productivity,” she told Republican activists. “My opponent having only written five opinions in the last year.”       – News and Observer (2014)

I still question where this 36th ranking comes from. The other item mentioned – “five opinions”?  There are actually eight. However bear in mind that there were approximately 63 opinions in 2013 but the vast majority were per curiam. That 63 number is according to the records listed at the NC Supreme Court’s site, which also states that another 158 other petitions were considered on top of that. There is an index by year for those curious to see archived opinions. Of note, while looking at the opinions, the line “Justice Beasley did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.” came up quite a lot.
Here are the eight listed under Judge Martin for 2013:

Here is Justice Martin’s most recent opinion from March 2014 as well.

Going after Martin on productivity is likely to backfire, especially with the plan he unveiled in February to improve and strengthen North Carolina’s judicial system. Much of this plan includes increased public education on the judicial system but also includes technology use and increased transparency.  Below are the highlights, read more detail about them here:  Chief justice candidate offers plan for improving courts

  1. Apply Innovation to Strengthen Our Courts
  2. Pursue Adequate and Sustainable Funding
  3.  Incorporate Improved Use of Technology
  4. Promote Civics Education
  5. Improve Justice System Mental Health Resources for Individuals and Families
  6. Strengthen the Rule of Law
  7. Promote Institutional Transparency and Accountability

Qualifications and Productivity

Judge Lewis’s tactic of going after productivity or qualifications for Justice Martin is not going to work out very well. Martin has more than the qualifications and as previously pointed out, productivity is a matter of perspective on the Supreme Court as many of the recent opinions were per curiam.

Painting Lewis as a ‘starter candidate’ might not be entirely fair either given her 21 years in service, however there is substance and common sense to the idea that one should have Supreme Court experience prior to taking the job of the Chief Justice.

In addition to questions about fundraising, Lewis will have to respond to skepticism about her qualifications.

“The office of chief justice is not a starter position,” Mark Martin said in an interview. “There is a steep learning curve for members of the court.”

“I am in no way a starter candidate,” Lewis said. “I have served this great state as a judge for 21 years.”

But Lewis’ experience on the bench has been in district and superior court, positions Martin says are fundamentally different from Supreme Court justice.

“History has shown, and recent experience would suggest, that you really want to have someone who leads the court who actually worked on the Supreme Court and learned how it operates,” Martin said.

Martin provided a letter from the North Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society stating “there has never been a chief justice elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court without having first served as associate justice of the Court.”

But Lewis stressed Martin’s rise to chief justice isn’t a foregone conclusion.

“I certainly hope my opponent does not feel entitled to be chief justice merely because he has served on a court that continues to decline in productivity,” Lewis said. – WECT (2014)

On the productivity barb, wisdom might dictate that one would rather have a slow, but just and accurate court than a speedy one that lets things fall through the cracks.

Next installment, I’ll look at the Doran/Levinson/Hudson Race and a bit more at the Beasley/Robinson race.  In the meantime, there may be trouble afoot for Justice Beasley:


About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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