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District bar sends five judgeship nominees to governor

BREVARD — Almost 100 attorneys from the judicial district covering Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties cast ballots on Wednesday to nominate five of their peers for the District Court judgeship vacated by Athena Brooks.

Henderson County Clerk of Superior Court Kim Gasperson-Justice received the most votes, 52, followed by Jason R. Hayes and Charles W. “Mack” McKeller, with 44 each. Other nominees are Robert P. Brackett Jr., who received 41 votes, and Ryan A. Bradley, with 24 votes.

Members of the bar who live Judicial District 29B were eligible to vote for one to five candidates. The district bar will send the names to Gov. Roy Cooper, who is required to consider the list but not bound by law to pick one of the names on it.
The list includes three Republicans — Gasperson-Justice, Hayes and Bradley — an unaffiliated voter, Brackett; and a Democrat, McKeller.
The appointment of Gasperson-Justice to the bench would add a third change in the local judiciary in a few weeks’ time, coming after Judge Brooks’ appointment to the Superior Court bench and Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Mark Powell’s announcement that he will retire on Oct. 1. Under state law, the chief resident superior court judge would appoint a replacement.
A Henderson County native, Gasperson-Justice is a graduate of West Henderson High School, Mars Hill College and the Campbell University Law School. She has practiced law in Hendersonville since 1989, both at the Bazzle & Carr firm and with her husband, Ron Justice, a former Hendersonville police officer. She retired two years ago from the Judge Advocate General Corps of the U.S. Army Reserves. From September 2004 to March 2005, she served on active duty at Ft. Jackson, S.C., providing legal services to more than 6,000 troops shipping out to Afghanistan and Iraq. Gasperson-Justice told her fellow attorneys that her 12 years as Clerk of Superior Court have prepared her for the District Court bench.
“I’m there making sure things run smoothly,” she said. “Administratively, I’m trying to take care of the courthouse and judicially I’m trying to take care of the cases.” In that capacity, “I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a good judge.”
Her 23 years of service in the JAG Corps “also taught me a lot about how we do things everywhere, not just in Henderson County,” she added.
Hayes, a practicing attorney for the past 17 years, grew up near Winston-Salem and graduated from East Carolina University and Wake Forest University’s law school. He was in private practice in Hendersonville with the Blanchard-Newman law firm and served as a prosecutor before opening a solo practice in 2008.
“I’ve been on both sides as a prosecutor and a defense attorney,” he said. He said he would set the same expectation for himself that he hopes to receive from judges when he walks into the well of a courtroom. “They’re going to treat me well, they’re going to treat my client well, and they’re going to know the law,” he said. “If a judge does any of those things wrong I’m know I’m going to have a bad day.”
McKeller has been practicing criminal and family law in Brevard since 1995. When they go to work in a courtroom lawyers “want to feel that their time is not wasted and they want a fair result and they want somebody that’s going to listen to them and treat their clients like people,” he said. Glancing at the list of eight lawyers who applied, McKeller said they would all serve credibly. “I think we want someone who has experience. We want somebody who’s reasonably well-versed in the law and we want somebody who’s going to treat everybody that walks in that door like a human being. I promise that every day I’ll treat everybody who walks in that door (behind the judge’s bench) and that door (the public part of the courtroom) like a human being and I’ll respect everybody’s time and talent.”
Bracket, a 1995 graduate of Hendersonville High School, was a Wells Fargo banker for seven years before he went to law school. In practice locally since 2011, he has also worked on guardian ad litem, adult protective services and child custody cases. He’s been an assistant district attorney since 2016. A varsity athlete at HHS, Bracket noted that he had played baseball and basketball at every high school in the judicial district.
Bradley, who lives in Polk County, said he has broad experience, trying cases in criminal and civil court. “Pretty much five days a week I reside in a courtroom in a courthouse doing cases,” he said.

Other applicants were Tony Dalton of Brevard, a graduate of West Henderson High School, Appalachian State and Campbell law and a criminal defense and capital defense lawyer; Rick Daniel, a former assistant district attorney now in private practice in Brevard; and Scott Dillin, an Asheville attorney who lives in Flat Rock and formerly served as a prosecutor in Wake County.

The district bar could be meeting again to nominate attorneys for District Court judgeship. The appointment of a sitting District Court judge to Powell's seat would create a second vacancy on the lower bench.