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The Gaston Gazette - Most Voters Have Trouble Deciding Choice in Statewide Judicial Races

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The Gaston Gazette - Most Voters Have Trouble Deciding Choice in Statewide Judicial Races

Corey Friedman

Residents can hold state government accountable for the way it spends tax money, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in December 2006.

Robert Edmunds Jr. of Greensboro, who is running for re-election as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, wrote the court's opinion in Goldston v. State of North Carolina. Former state Sen. Bill Goldston had sued Gov. Mike Easley for diverting more than $200 million the state Highway Trust Fund to the general fund, and the N.C. Court of Appeals found that he didn't have standing to sue.

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling 4-1, allowing the suit against Easley to proceed.

"Citizens can sue their governor to make sure their taxes are being spent legally," said Edmunds. "That's the principle of the case. Citizens have authority to make the government obey the law."

Edmunds graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a juris doctorate degree in 1975 and served in the Navy from 1975 to 1977. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Guilford County from 1978 to 1982 and assistant United States attorney for the middle district of North Carolina from 1982 to 1986.

In 1986, Edmunds became the U.S. attorney for the state's middle district, a position he held until 1993. He was a partner in a Greensboro law firm until 1998 and was elected to the state Court of Appeals in 1999.

He was elected to his first eight-year term on the Supreme Court in 2001.

"I've established a record for being a fair and impartial justice," Edmunds said. "The best way to tell what somebody is going to do is to look at what they've done in the past, and I think my record should bring confidence."

Though the Supreme Court justices rule as generalists and are not assigned cases based on their individual areas of expertise, Edmunds said his broad legal experience gives him an advantage on the bench.

"I've done everything from traffic court to international drug smuggling (cases)," he said. "I've never prosecuted a capital case, but I have defended them."

North Carolina's nonpartisan, publicly financed judicial races often stump voters who are unfamiliar with the candidates. Thirty-one percent of respondents to a 2008 Civitas Institute poll said they were undecided when candidates were identified by political party, while 74 percent were undecided when party identification was withheld.

Edmunds encourages voters to research judicial candidates' records and visit their campaign Web sites.

"We hear cases that affect everything people do," he said. "We hear cases that involve your taxes, who you can vote for and where you can vote, your property rights, schooling."

The justice system relies on legal precedents to guide future rulings. Edmunds said good judges don't often stray from the course their predecessors charted.

"I am a devotee of stare decisis, " Edmunds said, referring to the Latin legal principle that means "to stand by things decided." "If an issue has been decided, people are relying on that. Don't change it unless there is a very good reason."

Suzanne Reynolds, a Winston-Salem resident and Wake Forest University law professor, is running against Edmunds for his seat on the high court.


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