New judgeship prompts GOP race
A new prosecutorial and judicial district between Stanly and Montgomery counties means voters must elect a third District Court judge.
As the two-county merger unfolds for a start in January 2019, there will be three District Court judges, instead of the existing two. The third seat for N.C. District 20A opens the door for an election vacancy, which will be settled next month.
An earlier ruling this year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit eliminated judicial primaries in 2018. Therefore, candidates for Supreme Court justice and Court of Appeals judge, as well as candidates for superior court judge and district court judge, will run in the general election without a primary.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Thai Vang, 38, and Beverly Routh Spencer, 60, are vying for the same seat on the bench for 20A. They share a few similarities, although each has taken a different path to reach this opportunity.
Both candidates are Republicans and reside in neighboring Montgomery County in the town of Troy. Each graduated law school from North Carolina Central University in Durham.
Vang earned a Bachelor’s degree in English at George Washington University whereas Spencer obtained a 2-year degree at Montgomery Community College before graduating from Gardner Webb University. Like law school, she secured her college degrees while going to school at night.
Generally, lawyers cut their teeth in the District Attorney’s Office to gain courtroom experience before entering private practice. Vang chose the reverse order.
After a plan to join the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps failed to come to fruition, Vang opted to first join a law firm in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he handled civil cases from 2005-08.
Then an opportunity arose for Vang to return home along with another calling.
“My family has always been big in public service,” Vang said about his pursuit to become a prosecutor.
Vang is of Hmong descent. His father fought on behalf of the U.S. against communism in Vietnam, defending the threats of the North Vietnamese against the Hmong people in Laos.
Vang came to the U.S. with his family in 1982 as political refugees. They later settled in Montgomery County on a chicken farm.
Spencer began her legal career working as a deputy clerk for a decade, then as a trial court coordinator for 19 years. While working in the system, she commuted to NCCU three nights a week to study law. At age 50, she graduated law school.
After retiring as a state employee, she began practicing various types of law. Spencer has a special interest in juvenile cases.
“Children are the most vulnerable and the only care they have is through the courts,” Spencer said.
“I’m fortunate to know what goes on the other side of the bench,” she added about her background.
Her career prior to becoming a lawyer helped shape her legal background. She helped develop family court and the software for the trial court coordinator, Spencer said.
Now she wants to apply her diverse experience as a judge.
“I feel like I have more to offer,” she said.
As the chief ADA who has most recently been serving in Stanly County, Vang touts his trial experience and civil and criminal caseload exposure, including jury trials, as qualifying characteristics for a judgeship.
“I live in the courtroom every day. I know the law,” Vang said.
But a judge must rely on so much more than the law. A judge’s life experiences and field of references influence how a judge applies the law.
“Not everybody who shows up in court is a bad guy,” Vang said, adding the importance for a judge to know the difference.
Stanly County District Attorney Lynn Clodfelter has endorsed Vang’s candidacy.
Spencer claims she, too, has the necessary insight to be a qualified judge. She has benefitted from judges who have shared with her their expertise, she said.
“I have what it takes to sit on the bench,” Spencer added. “I know the ins and outs from all the players.”
In addition to managing the ADAs, Vang serves as the liaison between the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement.
He is credited with hundreds of cases in District Court and more than 30 jury trials in Superior Court.
“I want to be a judge the people of Stanly and Montgomery counties will be proud of,” Vang said.
Vang is married with four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and an infant.
Spencer is married to a business owner and they have a grown son.
Two other District Court judicial races for 20A lack opposition. Incumbents William C. (Bill) Tucker and John R. Nance, both Republicans, are unopposed in seats 1 and 2, respectively.
The third District Court judicial seat for 20A was created after the passage of House Bill 717, sponsored by N.C. Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, and supported overwhelmingly in the General Assembly despite Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
In addition to the District Court judgeship, the law adds a second judge for Superior Court. The merger also means a sixth assistant prosecutor to the two-county district.
Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.