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District court candidates reach across the aisle to garner votes, supporters

Mario Perez
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Mario Perez

Daniel Entzminger.jpg

By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Three Pitt County district court candidates are looking past political party designations in their quest to earn a seat on the bench.

Political parties became an issue this year due to action by North Carolina General Assembly.

The General Assembly passed a law in late 2016 that made state Supreme Court races partisan. Then in 2017, legislators passed a law that made District and Superior Court races partisan, as well. Both those changes go into effect with this election.

The ballot also will be more crowded than usual this November. That is because a broader election law passed last year included a provision to end judicial primaries for positions from District Court to the Supreme Court, just for this year.

Right now, the district court seat is occupied by Mario Perez, a Democrat who is Pitt County’s first Hispanic district court judge. Perez was appointed to the bench on May 19, following the retirement of former Chief District Court Judge Gwynett Hilburn who announced her retirement in February.

The Pitt County Bar Association voted to nominate Perez to fill Hilburn’s unexpired term and Gov. Roy Cooper made the appointment. 

Perez is vying to keep his seat, and is running against assistant district attorney Jarrette Pittman, a Democrat, and attorney Daniel Hines Entzminger, a Republican.    

District court judges preside over civil cases such as divorce, custody and child support, along with criminal cases involving misdemeanors and infractions and juvenile cases.

Ordinarily, a primary would narrow the field so one Democrat and one Republican would be squaring off in November. Perez and Pittman said they know having two Democrats on the ticket could split the vote, so they both are aiming to get attract voters from both parties.

“The question is going to be which is going to get the most votes from all the voters,” Perez said. 

Pittman said he wants votes from both Republicans and Democrats.  

“There are plenty of good people on both sides,” he said.

Perez, Pittman, and Entzminger expressed frustration that judicial races have become partisan in nature. 

“A lot of people believe, like me, that a judicial race, particularly a judicial race should be non-partisan,” Perez said. “Frankly, I would expect both of my opponents to be doing the same thing. We’ll be looking to get people to vote for us regardless of party affiliation. I’m going to Republican events, I’m reaching out to Republican friends and I’m reaching out to unaffiliated voters because frankly, this is going to be a race about getting the most votes.”

Pittman said he wants to connect with voters regardless of their political beliefs. 

“I think that the majority of people who are aware of what district court judges are, are aware it’s not a partisan position,” he said. “there’s no such thing as a Democratic judge or a Republican judge. Voters will look past party affiliation for this position and will vote based on what they’ve seen in public and what their conscience tells them.”

Entzminger, who is the lone Republican in the race, said judicial races should be non-partisan due to the fact that judges do non-partisan work. 

“We don’t look at a litigant or a citizen who comes before us and say,’Oh you’re a Democrat and we’re going to treat you one way or you’re a Republican and this set of laws applies to you,’” Entzminger said. “The law should be applied fairly to everyone regardless of their political party. Judges should be acting in a non-partisan fashion from the bench.”

Entzminger said the only positive of partisan judicial races is that it may help guide some voters in their decision-making process.  

“While judges should be non-partisan, sometimes voters don’t have a lot of information when they go to vote about a judicial election so they don't know who the candidates are.” he said. “So it can be helpful to voters if it has Republican or Democrat or Libertarian on the ballot so voters have a little more information about the candidates when they go to vote.

“Ideally, you would want voters being informed prior to going to vote to select judicial candidates,” Entzminger said. “I want support from Republicans and Democrats. I want support from all citizens of Pitt County.”