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Appellate colleagues to face off for high court seat

Two colleague on the North Carolina Court of Appeals will be facing off for a promotion to the state’s Supreme Court.court house

Judge Sam J. Ervin IV announced Aug. 27 that he will run in the 2014 election for the seat being vacated by Associate Justice Mark Martin, who has announced that he will run for the seat being vacated by Chief Justice Sarah Parker.

Fellow appellate Judge Robert N. Hunter announced his candidacy for the same seat in May.

Ervin is little more than eight months removed from a narrow loss in the most expensive N.C. Supreme Court race in state history. In 2012 Ervin ran for the seat held by Justice Paul Newby, who took 51.9 percent of the vote to Ervin’s 48.1 percent.

For Hunter, who has practiced for 35 years and was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008, this is his first campaign for a Supreme Court seat. He is not to be confused with his colleague Robert C. Hunter, who announced he would not seek re-election in 2014.

Judicial races are nominally non-partisan, but Ervin is a Democrat and Hunter is a Republican. The filing period does not close until early 2014, so more candidates may enter the race before the ballots are set.

Perhaps because it decided the partisan balance of an otherwise evenly divided court, the Newby-Ervin race drew high interest and an unprecedented $3 million spent on the race by independent committees. Although both candidates accepted public financing and abided by its limits, outside spending tilted the spending to Newby by an 8-to-1 margin. Ervin said he believes that spending disparity made it very difficult for him to win.

That’s not a decision either judge will have to make this time around—the legislature repealed the judicial public financing program in the most recent budget. Both Hunter and Ervin were among the 14 Court of Appeals judges who signed a public letter asking the legislature to keep the program.

Ervin is making the issue, and his support for an “independent, impartial judiciary,” a central theme of his 2014 campaign.

“I think it’s important for judges to stand up and express continued support for the existence of an impartial judiciary in an environment where various things are happening that weaken that part of the system, such as the influx of money,” Ervin said. “Ultimately the job of a judge is to not be influenced by such things, and the public is understandably skeptical of whether that’s the case. I think it’s important for people to stand up more than ever given that environment.”

Hunter said he would emphasize his commitment to applying the law fairly and equitably.

“I think that people will look at my jurisprudence and cases that I’ve decided, and they will understand that I am a fair-minded judge, and that will be the key thing, that I will continue to be a fair judge,” Hunter said.

The candidates also weighed in on the legislature’s decision to take the powers to reprimand and discipline state judges away from the state’s Judicial Standards Commission and invest those powers in the Supreme Court. Hunter said that he didn’t see any need to change the old system but that he had an open mind about the change. Ervin said that he had serious concerns about the changes.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan. This story was edited on Sept. 18 to correct a factual error.

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