Two Winston-Salem lawyers are running in the Nov. 3 election for a Forsyth District Court judge's seat now held by Judge Laurie Hutchins. Hutchins isn't running for re-election.
Democrat Whit Davis, an assistant public defender in Forsyth County, and Mike Silver, a deputy commissioner on the N.C. Industrial Commission, are the candidates for the judgeship. Neither Davis nor Silver faced a challenger in the March primary.
Davis, 36, and Silver, 41, both said they are qualified to serve as a district-court judge. The winner will serve a four-year term.
Both candidates said voters should consider their backgrounds and experience rather than their party affiliations.
Davis, a Winston-Salem native, has served as an assistant public defender in Forsyth County since 2013. In that role, Davis has represented more than 1,000 clients in criminal cases.
"I'm a product of this community," Davis said. "I'm running because I believe I can improve my community."
Davis graduated in 2002 from Reynolds High School, and he received a bachelor's degree in environmental science and policy at Duke University in 2006. Davis received a law degree at the Tulane University Law School in 2011.
"I just believe that judges who have represented the community are going to try to exercise greater empathy and compassion and can render better and fair decisions because of that," Davis said.
Silver, a Durham native, has worked as deputy commissioner on the state Industrial Commission since August 2015. As a deputy commissioner, Silver serves as an administrative law judge on workers' compensation cases, he said.
Before that, Silver worked for eight years as an assistant district attorney in the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office.
Holding those two jobs makes him qualified for the judge's seat, Silver said.
"I think I have the right experience for it," Silver said.
Silver prosecuted more than 750 felony criminal defendants, including a capital murder case in 2014 in which the defendant received the death penalty.
"I (had) been trusted by my office to handle the most serious crimes that could possibly come into the criminal justice system," Silver said. "It shows the depth of my experience."
A 1997 graduate of Northern High School in Durham, Silver received a bachelor's degree in elementary education at N.C. A&T State University in 2001, according his biography.
Afterward, Silver worked as a fifth-grade teacher at the Montlieu Elementary School in High Point.
Silver received a law degree at N.C. Central University School of Law in 2007, and a master's degree in public administration at UNC Chapel Hill in 2015.
"With my community involvement in which I'm in the schools and mentoring kids, I could use that platform (as a judge) to help children in the community to continue to strive," Silver said.
As prosecutor in 2011, Silver handled motions in Forsyth Superior Court regarding the Racial Justice Act in two Forsyth County cases.
The Democratic-dominated General Assembly passed that law in 2009, allowing defendants facing the death penalty to use statistics and other evidence to argue that race played a significant role in the death penalty being sought or imposed in their cases.
Silver said he was among prosecutors who asked legislators to amend the law and only allow defendants to show that racial discrimination had occurred in their specific cases rather than allow them to use examples of racial bias in capital-murder cases across the state.
"The issue was that defendants were allowed to say because someone found discrimination in a case in Elizabeth City, a defendant in Asheville was allowed to get off of death row," Silver said. "That's not racial justice because it would have allowed a white defendant, let's say in Buncombe County to use the racial discrimination of a black person in Elizabeth City to get off of death row without actually showing racial discrimination in (his) case."
In 2012, the state legislature with a Republican majority amended the law that restricted the use of statistics by defendants and death-row inmates to only the county or judicial district where the crime occurred rather than the entire state or region. A year later, the General Assembly repealed the entire law.
Davis said he supported the Racial Justice Act and opposed its repeal.
"Race should never play a role in sentencing, especially when the ultimate penalty of death is involved," Davis said. "I think it is kind of interesting to be running for a judgeship and have never actually had an attorney-client relationship, and an individual client and understand how that relationship works one on one," Davis said.
On another issue, Davis criticized Silver for not having any experience in representing clients in court cases.
"(Silver has) never actually worked with a client — a flesh and blood person who is advising how to plead in a case," Davis said.
Silver said that Davis's criticism is unfounded.
"It really shows how naïve he is about the entire system, the criminal justice system," Silver said. "Yes, he has clients, but we have victims. We worked with them and their families trying to get them justice and an equitable result in cases."
Silver questioned whether Davis knows the type of cases that prosecutors handle, such as domestic-violence cases. In those matters, prosecutors work with mothers and take measures to keep people safe, Silver said.
"He (Davis) doesn't have the proper perspective to what prosecutors are doing," Silver said.
When Silver was asked if he is supporting Republican President Donald Trump's re-election bid, Silver said, "We are both in the same party, but I am focused on my election.
"I focused on myself as a candidate and my experience," Silver said. "I'm focused on my leadership and how the attorneys within our state have acknowledged me for my leadership and my community service."
Davis said he is supporting the Democratic ticket of former Vice President Joe Biden for president and Sen. Kamala Harris of California for vice president.
"Joe Biden will take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, follow the science and advocate for Congress to pass economic assistance for the many impacted families and businesses across the United States," Davis said.
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