WNC attorneys to vet district court judge nominees

Six attorneys vying for a vacant district court judge seat in the region will try to win the endorsement of the legal community this week, which could help their chances of landing the coveted spot on the bench.


The final decision, however, rests with Gov. Pat McCrory.

Each of the six attorneys will have five minutes to make their case before members of the N.C. Bar Association from the seven western counties at a meeting being held Thursday night in Sylva.

The bar members will vote on their top choice. The top five names, along with how many votes each got, will then be sent to McCrory for the final decision.

McCrory is not required to go with the bar’s top choice —or any of the five names forwarded to him by the bar for that matter. Previously, the governor was obligated to pick from a list of just three names pre-vetted by local bar members, but that process changed last year, giving the governor sole discretion on who to appoint.

There are roughly 240 bar-certified attorneys in the seven western counties. A good turnout is expected for the vote.

“There is interest for several reasons. Some are anticipating whether the governor will chose someone from the names we actually submit,” said Diane Sherrill, an attorney in Sylva and head of the bar for the seven western counties. “Hopefully he will chose someone we recommend, but there is some concern about that.”

The vacant seat was previously held by long-time District Court Judge Richie Holt, who has retired. Whoever snags the vacant seat will only lay claim to it for a couple of years, filling out the rest of Holt’s term.

In 2016, the seat will come up for election. Whoever gets the nod now might not be alone on the ballot come that time.

Five years ago, the last time there was a vacancy on the district court bench, the governor’s nominee was short-lived, losing the seat when it officially came up for election the following year. 

In particular, any Democrats eyeing the bench are waiting until 2016 to make their move. No Democrats have bothered to apply for the vacancy since the appointment is being made by a Republican governor.

The six attorneys vying for the seat include:

• Kristy Parton, 37, solo family law attorney in Sylva.

• Tessa Sellers, 36, all-around solo practice in Murphy.

• Hunter Murphy, 33, all-around solo practice in Waynesville.

• Jeff Norris, 50, specializes in civil litigation

• Greg Boyer, 64, Franklin.

• Sean Johnson.

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