The race between incumbent District 5 Court Judge Rebecca Weathers Blackmore and challenger Jonathan Worth Washburn is a contest between judicial experience and life experience.
Blackmore, a former teacher and lawyer, has been a district court judge since 1993. Washburn, an attorney and broker with Coldwell Banker Commercial, initiated a 12-step addict recovery program at New Hanover County Jail.
Quite open about his own history of addiction, Washburn’s campaign website lists driving while intoxicated convictions in 1987 and 2001 and admits he also smoked marijuana and used cocaine. It also states that he has been sober for eight years.
Those experiences led Washburn to start the inmate program. He said in a recent interview that the jail population is overwhelmed with substance abusers who in many cases are not bad people but sick ones.
"I can make a difference," he said, with more creative options to reintegrate offenders into society. He explained that the oars he used for his campaign signs symbolize people helping themselves, but they have to do the work and "paddle their own boat."
Professionally, Washburn said, his experience has included corporate work, some domestic cases, bankruptcies and federal cases. He said his high volume of real estate transaction closings demonstrates he can run a business or courtroom smoothly.
Washburn said he’s not so much running against Blackmore as he is running for the opportunity to serve in a new way. But he said, "It’s time for fresh ideas and new energy," adding that he could bring efficiency to the bench to speed the administration of justice without compromising fairness.
Patrick Tamer, a statistician with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, said that district and superior caseloads were tracked by county or district but not listed by individual judges. So there was no objective metric of how efficient a judge might be, just anecdotal accounts.
Blackmore said she didn’t continue cases or delay decisions often, and being a judge for 17 years has taught her when to move on and when to stop and try to sort out a case. She added that she tries to work things out in court out loud, so people know both sides are being heard and given a fair shot.
A district court judge hears civil cases involving less than $10,000, family law, juvenile law and criminal misdemeanor cases. Normally, there is no jury, so the judge determines the outcome.
Since the cases really matter in people’s lives, Blackmore said, "I care a lot about what I do." She said the toughest part of the job is trusting she did the right thing, and it’s rewarding to see when she’s made a difference. For instance, if she just sends substance abusers to jail, nothing gets better, so she tries to get them into programs when that’s appropriate.
She called herself a stickler for following the letter of the law and applying the law to facts, but said there’s still a lot of discretion to be weighed, taking a situation and its consequences into account when deciding the disposition of a case.
Washburn said the letter of the law was clear, and the purpose of sentencing was to carry that out in changing behavior. He said he’d try to apply the law in a way that would be beneficial to all parties.
District 5 Court Judges Melinda H. Crouch and James Henry Faison III are running unopposed for re-election to their respective benches. Candidates for the other District 5 Court race, for a new, open seat, are Robin Wicks Robinson and Chad Hogston.