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Don’t Overlook Important North Carolina Judicial Races

We have a guest blogger on Direct Talk today - Matthew Nis Leerberg, an appellate lawyer and author from the Fox Rothschild law firm. Matt leads Fox’s national appellate team, which serves clients before the U.S. Supreme Court, every federal circuit court in the country, and more than 20 state appellate courts. Matt is also widely recognized for his work as a litigator and strategist, protecting clients in bet-the-company and other high-stakes litigation.

In a busy election year like this, downticket races are often overlooked. It can be hard to get good, unbiased information about those races—even statewide races.

As you may know, in North Carolina we elect our judges, including our appellate judges. When a civil lawsuit or criminal case is over, the losing party usually has the right to appeal. Most of those appeals go to the North Carolina Court of Appeals—a group of fifteen judges who decide appeals in random panels of three judges. In more rare circumstances, a case can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of North Carolina—a group of seven justices who decide appeals as a full seven-member court. Certain cases can also be appealed from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. These courts almost always have the last say in a case, unless there is a particularly hot issue of federal law that makes its way to the United States Supreme Court.

When it comes time to vote in the general election, you will find eight appellate races on your ballot—three for the Supreme Court of North Carolina and five for the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Some of the seats have incumbents running to retain their seats, while others are wide open. In each race, the candidates are running for an 8-year term.

Of the eight races, one is especially significant. In November, you will be asked to choose the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The Chief Justice not only acts as one of the seven justices on the court, but also runs the entire state judicial branch, just like the governor runs the executive branch.

All eight races are partisan, meaning that the candidates’ party affiliation will appear next to their names on the ballot. Because only one candidate from each party is running this year, there was no primary for any seat. But come November, expect to see a lot of space on your ballot taken up by these eight races.

If you would like to learn more, click here to access my voter guide with basic information about the races and links to the candidates’ campaign websites.

Early voting starts Thursday, October 15 and ends Saturday, October 31, 2020. To find out where to vote, click here.

Matt is Managing Partner of the firm's Raleigh office and Co-Chair of the Appellate Practice Group. He focuses his practice on helping businesses navigate state and federal litigation and appeals. Matthew Nis Leerberg Partner, Litigation Raleigh, NC


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