The non-partisan race for the District Court Judge seat is heating up alongside the partisan races. On the Nov. 6 General Election ballot, voters will see incumbent Judge Lisa Thacker vying for re-election against challenger John Nance.
Thacker, of Polkton, has been a District Court Judge for more than 14 years and has been Chief District Court Judge for more than three years, having been entrusted that responsibility by the Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.
Before taking the bench, Thacker was an Assistant District Attorney for almost nine years, prosecuting everything from DWIs to capital murder cases. She received high scores on the N.C. Bar survey for integrity and impartiality, knowledge of the law, and administrative skills. Thacker ranked 21st out of the 160 judges evaluated statewide. She has been married to her husband, Todd East Thacker, an educator with the Anson County Public School System, for almost 13 years. They have a daughter, Caroline Grace, 10 years old.
Nance, of Stanfield, received a B.S. degree from Oklahoma University in 1977, an M.A. degree from Webster University in 1987 and a J.D. degree from Regent University School of Law in 1991. He has legal experience of 20 years in the areas of adoptions, criminal law, family law, guardianship, incompetency proceedings, juvenile and traffic. He serves as a volunteer judge for teen court in Judicial District 19A. His bar memberships are North Carolina State Bar, Virginia State Bar, U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina, U.S. District court for the eastern District of Virginia, U.S. District Court for Maryland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District and the U.S. Supreme Court. Nance also runs the Law Office of John R. Nance, P.A.
Each candidate was sent a questionnaire, and both candidates returned their answers within a week.
The following questions were asked of each candidate and these are their responses:
Your take on plea bargain agreements?
Incumbent Thacker said, “Plea bargains are the exclusive decision of the District Attorney, and Judges are not part of that decision making process. The Judge has the right to accept or reject a plea bargain, and during the nearly 15 years that I have served on the bench, I have both accepted plea bargains that I felt were in the interest of justice and rejected those that I felt did not adequately punish the offender for the particular crime. As a purely practical matter, the criminal justice system would collapse from its own weight if plea bargains were not allowed. If every case had to be tried we would need a court system many times the size that it is now. With the current state of the budget, and the fact that we have four judges to do the work of the six judges that are recommended by state workload formulas, it would be impossible to function if there were no plea bargains. District 20A is fortunate to have four judges who work very hard to overcome the fact that we are understaffed by 2 positions, and the District also has the benefit of having a District Attorney with sound judgment and decision making skills who negotiates pleas. Despite being critically understaffed in many departments, this District, 20A, remains one of the most productive districts in the state, disposing of more cases in the last year than were filed, thanks for the hard work and dedication of the District Court Judges and District Attorney and his staff.”
Challenger Nance said, “Plea arrangements are a normal and significant part of resolving criminal cases. In fact most cases are resolved through plea arrangements. With few exceptions, it is the District Attorney’s decision as to whether or not to engage in plea arrangements; however, I believe that the arrangements should always include input from the charging officer and/or the victim. Both have sound reasons for doing so. I am in favor of the use of plea bargain agreements in order to maintain judicial economy. Without the use of such arrangements, a significant backlog of cases would occur delaying the administration of justice.”
Do you feel a sentence of probation, versus a sentence that includes incarceration, is effective?
Thacker said, “Sentencing in North Carolina is determined by a sentencing grid, or chart, that limits the judge’s discretion as to the type of sentences, especially in District Court. The state legislature makes the laws that control a judge’s ability to sentence convicted defendants. Over the years, much of the control that judges used to have when determining the fate of a convicted individual has been taken away by legislation passed that regulates which defendants may be incarcerated, and which must be given a lesser sentence. These changes enacted by the General Assembly effectively limit the number of offenders convicted in the District Courts that can be sent to prison. Recent changes have also made it more difficult for Judges to revoke a probation violator’s sentence. District Court Judges need to have a broad range of experience to be certain that the most serious offenders are jailed to protect the public. Having served the State of North Carolina for almost 24 years, as an Assistant District Attorney and as a District Court Judge, I possess the type of experience that is vital to ensure that justice is administered fairly and impartially, and that repeat and violent offenders are sentenced in a manner that provides appropriate punishment to each defendant while protecting the citizens of our district and keeping them safe.”
Nance said, “Whether probation versus incarceration is effective is dependent upon whether the goal of a defendant’s sentence is rehabilitation or punishment. For the most part our society has determined that rehabilitation should be the main purpose of sentencing an offender. However, it should be noted that a sentence of probation includes a sentence of incarceration that has been suspended. Probation, in essence, gives the convicted offender a ‘second chance.’ Although he or she will not go to jail or prison immediately, the possibility remains if the offender does not abide by certain conditions that have been ordered by the Court. Probation, coupled with supervision, allows the probationer to receive training and counseling, attend drug and anger management treatment programs, participate in community service and comply with other requirements that may be beneficial to both the offender and the public. If the probationer violates the terms and conditions of probation, the Court, after conducting a hearing, may then order the defendant’s incarceration. Where punishment is the goal, incarceration may be the only effective mechanism.
“In determining which goal may be most appropriate, the Court will look at the offender’s prior criminal history as well as considering the facts of the specific situation and the applicable law,” continued Nance. “In North Carolina most sentences are imposed under the Structured Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines incorporate both the severity of the offense committed and the offender’s prior criminal history. Depending upon the specifics of each case, in some cases the judge must suspend the sentence and place the offender on probation. In others, the judge must order incarceration. Other cases allow the judge to impose either probation or incarceration. Whether probation is effective is also dependent upon the heart of the offender. Where the offender is not merely regretful of the consequences, but has truly recognized and accepted responsibility of his conduct coupled with a desire to change and improve, probation can be very effective. Otherwise, it may be a costly game for all concerned with repeated crimes by the offender and incarceration imposed.”
What is your personal motivation for running for office?
Thacker said, “My personal motivation for running for re-election is my lifetime commitment to public service. I have spent nearly half my life serving the citizens of Anson, Richmond and Stanly counties as an Assistant DA and as your District Court Judge. I have prosecuted every kind of case from DWIs to Capital Murder, and was a very effective ADA with a record of convicting dangerous criminals and advocating for the victims of those crimes. As a District Court Judge, I have continued my career of service, and expanded the scope of my duties to include not only criminal cases, but also the life-altering cases involving children and families. I preside over custody and other domestic cases, and devote much of my time in court to handling cases involving abused and neglected children. I am a Certified Juvenile Judge, and have extensive training and experience in handling these types of cases. I am running because I believe I am the best candidate for this position. I am the only candidate with judicial experience and also the only candidate who has spent my entire career working in the courtrooms of District 20A. I also have years of experience serving as your Chief District Court Judge, and during my time as such, the productivity of our court system has increased, despite budget cuts and being one of the most understaffed districts in the entire state. In fact, during the fiscal year 2011-2012, our judges disposed of more cases than were filed. We did more business than we took in and reduced the backlog of cases, getting more done, quicker, and with fewer resources. I believe my record of service speaks for itself, and I want to continue to serve the citizens of Anson, Richmond, and Stanly counties so that we can continue to provide a high quality of justice in an efficient and expedient manner.”
Nance said, “When a group of concerned citizens asked me to please consider running for District Court Judge, I gave much consideration before making the commitment. As part of my deliberation, I sought the counsel of Godly men and women whose wisdom and advice I respected. My decision to run for office has been confirmed by the many I have encountered throughout the district. Conservatism is more than politics; it is a way of life for me. I am the only truly conservative candidate. I believe in God and in the importance of family. I believe in a full work day and a full work week. I believe actions have consequences and it is time we hold individuals accountable for their actions. I believe the court belongs to the people of the district, not to any judge. Too often, after years on the bench, a judge becomes complacent and as a result standards suffer. Providing each citizen equal access to the judicial system and an equal opportunity under that system is my top priority. Regardless of a person’s background, that person deserves a full and fair opportunity to be heard and to have his or her case determined by the facts and to have the correct law applied to those facts with common sense and fundamental fairness. I support term limits.
“I am involved in the community and am an active member of West Stanly Baptist Church where I serve as the Chairman of the Board of Deacons,” continued Nance. “I have never and will never engage in any conduct that would be an embarrassment to me, my family, or my profession. I make reasoned, principled decisions that will be just to the parties and promote confidence in the judiciary. When I enlisted to serve in the United States Army I took an oath that in essence stated I would die to defend your liberties and your freedoms. It was an honor and privilege to serve you. I will treat serving as District Court Judge with the same level of commitment. I conduct myself with honor and professionalism and will require those before me to do the same. I will not fraternize with lawyers and courthouse personnel, as I believe such fraternization is inappropriate behavior for a judge and calls into question impartiality. A judge must respect the public and those who work in the court system; however a judge must be a friend only to justice. I have twenty years of experience within the legal profession and I retired as a Major after twenty years of active and reserve service with the United States Army. My training and experience significantly qualify me to serve as District Court Judge.”
Thacker said, “I am endorsed by every Sheriff in the District, and by the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. The North Carolina Bar Association rated me 21st out of 160 judges statewide, with a score of 4.56 out of 5.0. I ask for your support and your vote on November 6th.”
Nance said, “I served twenty years in the U.S. Army and maintain the Soldier’s Creed to live by the Army’s Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. As judge, I will conduct myself, and the court in which I preside, in such a manner. So help me God.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.