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He’s one of seven justices on North Carolina’s highest court and the only one up for re-election this year.
Since January 2001, Bob Edmonds has served as an associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Come November, he’ll be up for renewal of another eight-year term and also faces a challenger on the Nov. 4 ballot—Suzanne Reynolds, a law professor at Wake Forest University.
Edmunds, 59, was in Brunswick County recently to stump in the nonpartisan race and attend an N.C. Clerks of Court gathering at Sea Trail.
Every judgeship in the state is an elected position, he said.
“You run on your experience,” Edmunds said, citing his own that has included serving as judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 1999-2000 and an appointed position by President Reagan as U.S. Attorney for North Carolina’s Middle District from 1986-1993.
“Judges traditionally avoid speaking out on issues,” Edmunds said. “Our job is to be the referees and call the balls and strikes. So what most of us do is say ‘this is what I’ve done with my life to prepare for the job,’ and you bring your experience with you to the job.”
He cites his 10 years’ judicial experience and education that included graduating the University of Virginia School of Law, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law and Vassar College.
After a stint as an ensign in the Navy from 1975-77, Edmunds enrolled in law school. Afterward, he got a job as an assistant district attorney in Greensboro from 1978-82, then as an assistant federal prosecutor from 1982-86. He also worked for five years in the 1990s as a partner with a private law firm in Greensboro.
“My opponent’s Web site will tell you she has been a law professor for the last 26 years,” Edmunds said. “I’ve been a trial lawyer and prosecutor, a judge and justice. What I argue is that service on the highest court is not an entry-level position.”
Most of a justice’s work involves reading and writing as well as legal research, Edmunds said.
“Though I did not much like law school, I love this type of work,” he said. “Any politician worth their salt will come in and tell you the reason I think I’m good at it is I have lawyer support, law enforcement support. People who have to deal with the work I do are across the state supporting me for re-election. That’s why I’m reasonably confident that I’m doing the job that I’ve been elected to do.”
“There’s seven of us,” Edmunds said of the N.C. Supreme Court. “We always sit together. We’ve a seven-headed body.”
Part of their job entails deciding which cases to take.
Statutes give them some direction, while other cases such as death row appeals come directly to them. One of those cases scheduled to be reviewed by the court this month is that of Darrell Wayne Maness, who was sentenced to death in 2006 for the shooting death of Boiling Spring Lakes police officer Mitch Prince.
The state Supreme Court also reviews cases to determine whether the law has been applied constitutionally, “whether it’s an issue of importance to the law of the state,” Edmunds said.
The court controls about a third of the cases it reviews.
One case cited by Edmunds is “Goldston v. the State,” in which he wrote in December 2006 that citizens can’t sue the governor to make sure their tax money is properly spent. The case had to do with Gov. Mike Easley and the General Assembly’s use of the highway trust fund to balance the budget.
Where one is on the political spectrum “isn’t really important to us as judges,” Edmunds said. “Our spectrum is how loath are you to change existing law? There are a lot of cases, a lot of law I see where if I were in the General Assembly, I wouldn’t have voted for it, but our reluctant representatives did vote for it. It’s constitutional. It’s not my job to say whether or not it’s a good idea.”
What Edmunds likes most about the job he hopes to keep is “just the intellectual challenge, the ability to grapple with these issues and try to write about them in a lucid way that lawyers, judges and citizens can understand.”
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.