Crowded judge field narrowedWritten by Becky Johnson
District Court judge candidates who made it past the primary hope the race will become more digestible to voters now that the field has been narrowed down.
Three judge seats are up for election in what is considered a watershed year for the bench. Two seats are being vacated by long-time judges, leaving the races wide open. The third seat has been occupied for less than a year, so the sitting judge doesn’t have an entrenched toehold or incumbent’s advantage, making that seat competitive as well.
But the choices were overwhelming: 10 candidates running for three seats. All the names on the ballot were likely brand-new to those outside the legal arena.
Roy Wijewickrama and Steve Ellis were the top vote-getters in one primary while David Sutton and Kris Earwood got the most votes in the other primary. Incumbent Danya Vanhook will face Donna Forga in the third race.
Based on the numbers, many who passed through the polling booths didn’t vote in the judge race.
“From talking to voters, I hear many of them leave the ballots blank when it comes to judicial races,” said Roy Wijewickrama, one of the winning judge candidates.
“It is the last race people think about and last thing people decide about before they vote,” said Steve Ellis, one of the candidates advancing past the primary.
But it wasn’t from a lack of trying on the candidates’ part.
“We all worked hard for the past two and a half months,” Wijewickrama said.
Kris Earwood, another candidate who will advance, said it would be easier for the candidates to convey their message to voters now that the field has narrowed.
“There were a lot of candidates in this race from a lot of backgrounds and a lot of counties. It will be less stressful to focus on one opponent as opposed to four,” Earwood said.
Earwood said all the candidates worked hard during the primary, and they all got to know each other quite well from constantly running into each other at the same functions and forums, sometimes several times a week. Earwood said the race stayed cordial and pleasant.
“Yesterday everyone said good luck and good race and really meant it. It was a really good experience,” Earwood said.
David Sutton said he was humbled by the support.
“With so many variables at play with five different candidates, I wasn’t sure I would do this well,” Sutton said.
The candidates agree they will now have to redouble efforts through to reach the masses between now and November.
“The people we talked to were very receptive to us, but you can only reach directly a small number of people,” Ellis said. “It will be about letting people know the role of the District Court and what the judges do and then distinguishing ourselves.”
Ellis said the judge’s spent so much time at the same functions and forums, their spouses got to know each other quite well.
District Court Judge
Seat one – top two advance
David Sutton: 6,969
Kristina Earwood: 6,268
Greg Boyer: 3,617
Justin Greene: 3,386
J. Caleb Rogers: 3,222
Seat two – top two advance
Roy Wijewickrama: 8,587
Stephen Ellis: 7,428
Russell McLean: 7,215
*The fall election wil determine just one winner for each seat. A third judge’s seat is also up for election this year, but there were only two candidates running, Donna Forga and Danya Vanhook, both of whom will advance past the primary to square off in November.
Latest from Becky Johnson
- Locked in the longest-running ping-pong match in mountain politics, Joe Sam Queen reflects on his latest loss
- The last chapter: Reflections on Mark Swanger’s political era
- Haywood School board races complicated, important
- ‘Little Biltmore’ goes Hollywood
- Luck of the draw: how a Waynesville mansion made the silver screen