Bar passes on recommending judge for vacant seat

Attorneys in the state’s seven westernmost counties sent a message to the governor this week that they don’t want a temporary fill-in as judge before the November election.

The retirement of longtime District Court Judge Danny Davis would typically trigger an appointment. But with a contested election for the judge’s seat just three months away, members of the N.C. Bar Association didn’t recommend anyone for the post.

Fifty-five of the 242 bar association members gathered Monday night at the Swain County Administration Building to vote on potential nominees. None of the lawyers, however, submitted their names as potential candidates, said Elizabeth Brigham, a Bryson City-based lawyer who serves as the bar’s current president.

Rather than using secret written ballots to select their top three candidates for Gov. Bev Perdue to review, bar members instead voted by a show of hands to accept a motion they make no recommendation.

“We really didn’t see any point in filling the vacancy for such a short amount of time,” Brigham said. “It didn’t make any sense.”

Davis, who served as judge for 26 years, stepped down July 31. Steve Ellis and Roy Wijewickrama, both Waynesville residents, are vying to fill the post in the nonpartisan race.

Perdue has the final say-so on whether there will be an interim judge named. Even if bar members had recommended candidates, the governor could have selected someone else not on their list. The timing is tight, however. It seems unlikely that Perdue could — even if she wanted to — find a lawyer willing to shut down their legal practice for the short time the post would remain unfilled.

Neither Ellis nor Wijewickrama wanted a nominee. They had both asked fellow bar members to leave the seat vacant until the November elections.

Brigham plans to send the results of the bar vote to Perdue this week. If the governor, as expected, doesn’t name a stand-in, Davis will continue to fill the vacancy as needed in the capacity of “emergency” judge.

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