Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
After Judge Richard Kent Walker made the decision to not run for re-election, Republicans and Democrats headed to their local board of elections offices to add their names to the ballot. Judge Walker was first appointed to serve the 30A and 30B Judicial Districts, serving Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties by Gov. Mike Easley (D) in 2007, and was most recently re-elected on Nov. 8, 2016. With a judicial career spanning more than a decade, his replacement will have some big shoes to fill.
Republican candidates for District Court Judge include Macon County Attorney Rich Cassady, Clay County Attorney Mitch Brewer, and Haywood County attorneys Kaleb Wingate and Jim Moore. Republican candidates will appear on the March 3 primary ballot, with the winner heading to the November election to face off against Swain County Democrat Attorney Justine Greene.
Rich Cassady was raised in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, because his father did not want to mine coal in Eastern Kentucky, where the paternal side of his family was from. Cassady installed telephones for what was originally Ohio Bell and later, Ameritech. He joined the U.S. Navy when he was 20 years old and served nine years honorably, his active service ended in 1997. During his time in the Navy, Cassady served onboard the U.S.S. John Young (DD-973), a Spruance class destroyer, and did two tours to the Persian Gulf in support of the 1st Gulf War. His last duty station was in Hawaii, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in three years attending Chaminade University of Honolulu. In 1998, he attended the University of Mississippi School of Law and graduated in 2001. During his time in the Navy, Cassady married and had a daughter. The marriage ended in 1997. In 2000, he married his current wife and raised his step-son since he was five years old. Cassady’s step-son recently completed five years in the U.S. Army and received an Honorable Discharge. Cassady comes from a family of veterans, as his maternal grandfather, father, himself, and son are (or were) veterans.
Upon graduation from Ole Miss, Cassady clerked for the senior most judge in the State of Mississippi, Circuit Court Judge R.I. “Rip” Pritchard III for two years. Cassady said the job served as the equivalent of a Master’s program in law. Cassady then worked for two insurance defense firms in Hattiesburg and then Gulfport, Miss. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cassady moved to Macon County in 2006, where he has practiced law ever since. Cassady practices primarily criminal defense law in federal and state court, family law, and personal injury.
“I am running for District Court judge for several reasons,” said Cassady. “First and foremost, I have the life and legal experience to handle this position. All of us running for this position are asking the voters for the power to sit in judgment of them, their children, and their grandchildren, their neighbors, friends, and fellow community members. Over half of the types of cases a District Court judge handles are civil; primarily family law and custody cases. I tell people that I have not always been a lawyer. What I mean by that is that my adult perspective is not through the lens of being a trained attorney. I did not go to law school until I was 30 years old. By that age, I had served nine years honorably in the U.S. Navy, had an unsuccessful marriage, a 7-year old daughter, and had worked installing cable television the year before I went to law school for the same company my father worked for when he raised his family. I have lived the life, or something similar to it, of those that will come before me seeking justice and/or my judgment. Another reason for my running is to keep this particular position out West. If I lose this primary, then the most likely result is this seven-county district will have five of its six District Court judges from Haywood County. So if law enforcement or lawyers from Cherokee County cannot find Judge Sellers (of Clay County) they will have to make a 200-mile round trip drive to get to Waynesville and one of five Haywood County lawyers that are district court judges. Same for Clay and Macon counties, just not quite as far.”
Mitchell Brewer was born in Wilson, N.C., and attended Barton College (formerly Atlantic Christian College). His wife, Taylor (Calder) Brewer, and he married after graduating from college. Brewer went to law school at Campbell, where his first child, Grant, was born. Brewer graduated and after licensure, he relocated to Hendersonville with his family where he opened his first private practice. After his second son, Cannon, was born in 2008, Brewer and his family relocated to Garner, N.C., and continued practicing law. Brewer’s family turned to five with the birth of his third son, Owen. Brewer then relocated back to Western North Carolina in February 2014 and now calls Hayesville home. Brewer spends time with his family, friends and does his part to help his community.
Brewer attended Ralph L. Fike High School and Wilson Technical Community College where he was awarded an Associate’s Degree in Applied Sciences (Criminal Justice) and graduated with honors, transferring to Barton College in 1998. During undergraduate school, when he was not doing tree work, he worked in security, delivered furniture all over eastern and middle North Carolina, and built truck bodies and operated fork lifts for a truck body manufacturer. Brewer graduated summa cum laude from Barton College in 2000, married, and worked for the State of North Carolina, Department of Health and Human Services’ Interstate Compact on Juveniles, transferring juvenile probation and helping return runaways. Brewer went to law school at Campbell University at Buies Creek, N.C., and started practicing law in 2005. He practices criminal law, motor vehicle law, domestic relations, family law, civil matters, special proceedings, estate matters, and business formations.
“I am hoping to serve the people of the 30th Judicial District comprised of Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Clay, Cherokee, Graham and Swain counties because I understand the culture and the many challenges facing the residents of these counties,” said Brewer. “I also have a very appropriate background that has allowed me to experience and see first-hand the application of our courts on veterans, single mothers, people with substance use disorder and other mental conditions. I also worked in numerous occupations and understand why the courts are integral to the remedies businesses and working people face.”
Kaleb Wingate, 31, is the only candidate on the Republican Primary Ballot that was born and raised in Western North Carolina, currently living near Main Street in Waynesville. After law school, Wingate returned home to serve his community as an Assistant District Attorney. He prosecuted hundreds of cases throughout all seven counties in the district and was able to gain a vast amount of experience in District Court. In addition, Wingate was assigned to Superior Court in Haywood County where he prosecuted serious felonies such as drug trafficking, bank robbery, vehicular homicide, and sexual assault. Wingate now operates his own law firm where he handles various types of cases including, but not limited to, DSS, involuntary commitments, small claims, and criminal defense. Wingate is known as a hard-working and modest attorney who understands the law and cares about his community’s needs.
“I genuinely want to serve my community,” said Wingate. “I’m not doing this to finish out my state retirement or because I am disgruntled with one or more of our current District Court judges. I want to give back to the community that has given so much to me. I also promise to be accessible to everyone in all seven counties including being open to the idea of having an office centrally located in our district.”
was born in Warren, Ark., in 1961 to Jim and Elwanda Moore. Folks in Haywood County knew Moore’s parents through Moore’s Mountain Realty in Maggie Valley and through Elwanda’s work as a legal secretary for numerous lawyers in Waynesville. After graduating McGehee High School, in McGehee, Ark., Moore enrolled at Southwestern College at Memphis, (now known as Rhodes College), earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree as a major in Political Science in 1983. He moved to Macon, Ga., and entered Walter F. George School of Law, graduating in 1986. While in his last year of law school, he proposed to his “law school sweetheart,” Connie Cort, from Asheville. That summer, Moore passed the North Carolina State Bar Exam and married Connie and began living in Waynesville.
Moore and Connie have been married for 34 years. They are the proud parents of Art, Ashley, and Connor. Moore has enjoyed coaching his kids in baseball, soccer, and basketball. Moore and his family are members of Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville. Moore has volunteered in the church produce food pantry, participated in the annual church fair, been both Junior and Senior Warden, and just finished serving as finance chairman for the church. Moore is currently a member of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.
Connie is an attorney and currently representing victims of family violence and family members involved in DSS cases. The couple live on a small farm with horses and several rescued dogs.
For 34 years, Moore has been a trial attorney, both as a private attorney and as an Assistant and then Chief Assistant District Attorney for the 30th Prosecutorial District. As an Assistant District Attorney, he was assigned to all seven counties in the District. Moore served Western North Carolina as an assistant district attorney for 17 years. Moore worked with Federal, adjacent State, and other law enforcement authorities outside of the District Attorney’s district in deciding which agency would best be able to pursue the best chance of conviction. Moore has prosecuted tens of thousands of criminal cases in both District and Superior Courts of Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay, and Cherokee counties. As a private attorney, Moore has successfully handled thousands of cases such as criminal (misdemeanors and felonies), divorce, annulment, child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, enforcement of property settlement agreements, termination of parental rights, DSS, juvenile, civil ($25,000 or less), domestic violence protective orders, and appeals from Magistrate Court decisions.
“It is important to me that the Justice System be respected and that everyone feels like they got a fair trial and that they were heard during that trial,” said Moore. “I believe my over three decades of experience from all sides of the courtroom make me the best candidate to provide that sense offairness and trust.”
What do you see as being the biggest challenge facing the justice system in WNC and how would you approach it?
Cassady: “This depends upon who you ask and what that litigant is seeking from District Court. If you listen to the concerns of folks living in Cherokee and Clay counties, a major concern is what they perceive to be low bonds. If you talk to victims and perhaps law enforcement, it’s the length of time it takes to bring a criminal case to final resolution (to the extent district court is “final resolution”). This length of time can be caused by many things, being the number of court dates in a particular county, backlog at the state lab, or getting a defendant’s lawyer to come to court. Talking to folks, victims do not feel they have much of a voice and even less input on outcomes. That has to be addressed, even if it is as simple as clearing the first row or rows of seating behind the DA’s table to give folks the best opportunity to at least hear what is going on.
Brewer: “I see a rapidly growing area trying to digest many new forms of challenges while also working through old issues and growing pains caused by loss of jobs and the “frontier” nature of the region. The terrain has led to silos of suffering and many financial hardships that the people just accept and try to make do. Most counties are doing well with their budgets but resources and other services cannot adequately provide for the better well being of juveniles, elderly and other vulnerable residents. My rulings and analysis will be filtered through this understanding but my efforts will be to help my colleagues come up with solutions to these conditions.
Wingate: “The opioid and methamphetamine epidemic which also contributes to property crime. Also, the number of cases in our system compared to our resources. I promise to work hard, follow the law, and protect our community while ensuring the statutory and constitutional rights of those appearing in front of me are protected.”
Moore: “Justice delayed is justice denied.The sheer increase in the number of pending cases in both domestic and criminal courts causes cases to be continued too long simply because there are not enough hours in the day to take care of them all. I would be willing to do my part in managing courtroom time by being in the courtroom as early as the defendant and witness are asked to be there to deal with matters even prior to calendar calls. I would be willing to discussing cases prior to court with both sides of a case to manage their time for efficiently. I would also be willing to assist other courts that I am not assigned to should I finish my court early.”
What is one thing you hope to accomplish if elected?
Cassady: “If I am limited to ‘one thing,’ it would be to keep the western counties’ voices heard in our District Courts by keeping this position out west,” said Cassady. “I would also hope to provide solutions for some of the issues mentioned earlier.”
Brewer: “I want everyone that comes before me to know that they were heard and I did not do anything but give complete attention to their matter with great regard for them, their family and the conditions they are facing.”
Wingate: “I promise to encourage the resolution of cases in a timely manner and make decisions without bias or prejudice and without regard to political or socioeconomic status.”
Moore: “I hope that my efforts to increase the speed by which matters are heard and by establishing a feeling in my courtroom that everyone will be heard and have the laws applied fairly and impartially will increase both the honor and integrity of our District Courts in Western North Carolina.”
Any additional information you would like to include for voters?
Cassady: “This is a partisan race. Republican primary voters need to know that I am the only life-long Republican in this race. One of my opponents joined the party for the specific purpose of running for this position as a Republican; which he clearly sees as advantageous. Another of my opponents had to have left the party when he voted in Democrat primaries in 2012 and 2014. He did not have to join the Democrat party to do that, but he did have to leave the GOP to do so. I am the only veteran in this primary. My life demonstrates my commitment to my country and my community.”
Wingate: “I am a Christian, Conservative, and proud Republican. I strongly encourage you to research all of the candidates for this position by speaking with law enforcement officers, clerks of court, attorneys, and all court personnel about their interactions and observations. You will hear the combination of my experience and being a native of WNC makes me the most qualified for this position. I would be grateful for your vote on March 3.”
Moore: “I am the best candidate to achieve these goals as I am the only one who has been a prosecutor and a defense attorney and has also handled child custody cases (each of my opponents only has two of these three criteria that make up a great majority of cases heard by a District Court Judge), and I have lived in this District longer than any of the other candidates which is why I have had a successful career in understanding and arguing cases to the people of this District. In other words, I believe I have a good feel for the District and the values of its people.”