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LIGHTNING VOTER GUIDE: N.C. District Court Judge

Candidates for the N.C. District Court judge are Mack McKeller and Gene Johnson. Candidates for the N.C. District Court judge are Mack McKeller and Gene Johnson.

The candidates for District Court judge for District 29B (Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties) are Gene Johnson, a Republican, and Democrat Mack McKeller, the incumbent.

Johnson, 58, is an attorney with Johnson Law Firm and lives in Hendersonville. He has two children, two dogs and a cat and is engaged to be married.
A resident of Brevard, McKeller, 56, is married to Paula McKeller. They have four daughters and three grandchildren.
Running unopposed are Superior Court Judge Peter Knight and District Court judges T. McAvoy (Mack) Brittain, Emily Cowan and Kim Gasperson-Justice.

Why are you running for election as a North Carolina District Court judge?

Johnson: I have lived in all three counties that comprise the judicial district. I know the communities and the people that reside in them. I am a fair, impartial and unbiased person. I treat people with dignity and respect irrespective of their race, religion, national origin, sex and economic background. I have handled hundreds of cases in the District Courts. I have seen how different judges handle the court docket, people and the administration of justice. I intend to use my knowledge and experience to improve the court system and make a positive impact upon those that come before the court.


McKeller: The people of District 29B deserve a fair and impartial judge. I am running to retain my seat because having a judge who knows the law and the people appearing before them based on lengthy experience in the District Court is crucial to ensuring justice is done. In the two years I have been on the bench, I have relied on my 25 years of experience to enter fair judgments and to run court smoothly.

In general, how would you describe your philosophy as a judge?

McKeller: I am a practical, common sense judge who tries to apply the law equally to everyone. In order for people to trust a ruling, the law must be fairly applied as written by the General Assembly without legislating from the bench.

Johnson: I am a constitutionalist, meaning that I believe in following the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution and the laws as they were written and as they were originally intended. I believe in the rule of law; I do not believe that judges should legislate from the bench. I will follow the rule of law and apply the applicable law to the credible facts to reach a fair, equitable, and unbiased decision — free from political influence.

What would you tell voters who ask why they should vote for you and not for your opponent?

Johnson: I have conservative values that align more closely with the values of the citizens of Henderson, Transylvania, and Polk counties. I have practiced law here for over 32 years and have substantial legal experience before the courts. I am an independent thinker, guided by the law. I will work diligently to reduce the backlog of cases by monitoring the docket closely, proceeding with trials expeditiously and extending court hours. I will also encourage alternative dispute resolution methods to facilitate parties resolving their issues outside the courtroom.

McKeller: I practiced law, and now sit as a judge, in Henderson, Transylvania, and Polk counties, where I began practice 25 years ago. I have come to be exceptionally familiar with all aspects of District Court in these counties from domestic and child custody matters to misdemeanor criminal court to child welfare to domestic violence allegations. These matters are the most important issues a person will ever face in their life. They are too important to trust to someone with little to no experience in district court and little to no legal experience in the counties where justice will be rendered.

The chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley, has imposed numerous restrictions on judicial proceedings because of the coronavirus pandemic, including barring of jury trials until at least Oct. 15. Do you agree with Chief Justice Beasley’s orders on Covid-19 restrictions or would you do things differently?

McKeller: A district court judge is required to follow the law and the rulings from the Supreme Court. Any judge, or person running for judge, who renders a personal opinion on this question would probably be violating the North Carolina Canon of Judicial Ethics. Court in our District has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to run efficiently, and matters are being safely addressed every day.

Johnson: While I agree with the basis for the restrictions — ensuring our safety — I believe that the restrictions have continued too long, creating a backlog of thousands of cases that will take years to resolve. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution gives all people the right to a speedy trial. I think that we all would have been better served by a more balanced approach. More specifically, proper safeguards and procedures could have been put in place earlier to protect jurors, court personnel and all others so that jury trials could have resumed earlier. This is what the federal courts did.


What priorities would you pursue as a District Court judge?

Johnson: I will watch and listen closely, intently, and diligently to all that come before the Court. Then, after hearing, viewing and weighing all of the evidence, I will determine the facts appropriately, apply the law as it is written and then make a fair and equitable ruling. I would work diligently to reduce the backlog of cases, extending court hours beyond the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours. I will also pursue the establishment of a night court for traffic and other less serious matters, which will be of great benefit to those with children and who work full-time.

McKeller: I will continue to dispose of backlogged cases in criminal court and to give relief to families which need a judge to help them come to a resolution of child custody or property division matters. People rightly expect legal matters to be handled quickly and without unnecessary delay while guaranteeing the law is fairly applied as written.