RALEIGH — How do you run a campaign without a candidate? Ask Judge Jefferson Griffin, a Court of Appeals candidate who has been deployed with the North Carolina Army National Guard.
“I had to completely remove myself from the campaign, actually,” Griffin said told NSJ in a sit-down interview. “We pre-planned as much as possible before I went on active duty. And once that happened, I had no direct or indirect contact with the campaign.”
Griffin earned his law degree from North Carolina Central School of Law, graduating in 2008. He practiced civil and criminal defense litigation in the Kinston area before joining the Wake County District Attorney’s Office in 2010. Five years later, former Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Griffin as a District Court judge in Wake County. He then ran for the seat in 2016, was elected to a four-year term and now has his sights set on the Court of Appeals.
Born and raised on a farm in Red Oak, in Nash County, Griffin went on to graduate from Northern Nash High School where he was captain of the football team. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2003. Following graduation, he earned his United States Coast Guard captain’s license. For some time, he worked as a charter fisherman.
While his civilian role is that of judge, Griffin is a captain in the North Carolina Army National Guard. His role is JAG officer in the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which is often called “Old Hickory.”
He and his team had laid out a schedule, and he “had to turn over the keys.” He added that what made it even more difficult was that before he left, filing hadn’t yet taken place, and it was not clear who was running.
Those campaign “keys” landed in the lap of Griffin’s wife, Katye, whom he called the campaign’s “primary surrogate.” The couple has only been married two years, one of which Jefferson spent deployed overseas.
“She was amazing,” said Griffin. “Probably our primary surrogate for the campaign and the decision maker most of the time when it came down to anything that needed to be weighed out and decided upon.”
While smiling at his wife sitting beside him, Griffin described Katye as “very patient” for being able to deal with three years of statewide campaigns plus his workup for deployment.
“She’s also brilliant. She’s an attorney, so I had no problem leaving everything up to her,” Griffin said.
“It was one of the more challenging things I’ve done in my life,” Katye said about all of the campaigning and her husband’s deployment.
“It was challenging because for the first time, I think I understood what military families go through,” said Katye. “I did not come from a military family, and we don’t have children. I didn’t have some of the stresses that spouses have, but the campaign was kind of my baby, you know. So when Jefferson wasn’t here, that was the hardest part, not being able to talk with him.”
Being deployed was one hurdle, the other was returning to a state in partial lockdown due to COVID-19. Griffin said that the Army took returning “pretty seriously” and said they were quarantined for two weeks out in the New Mexico desert.
“They took our temperatures and we were divided out by cohorts so that we didn’t have contact with other groups that were coming back in,” said Griffin.
“We left last summer, and you come back and nobody can gather. So, it makes it a little more difficult to get groups together,” Griffin said, adding that fundraising is the only area he felt he is playing a bit of catch-up.
“I’d say, yeah, fundraising-wise we’re a little bit behind, but that’s expected,” said Griffin. “You know when your candidate has no contact with the campaign and can’t be directly making fundraising calls, of course, you’re going to be a little bit behind.”
As of the end of the second quarter, the Griffin campaign has $100,637 cash on hand. Griffin’s opponent, Chris Brook, had $195,614 cash on hand at the end of the quarter.
Brook is the former legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina where he led the litigation over HB2. He was appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals by Gov. Roy Cooper and was sworn in on May 7, 2019.
Despite being deployed and returning under pandemic circumstances, Griffin is still positive and believes that based on data he’s seen, North Carolina voters overall still want to elect conservative judges. He said that the election is not necessarily a Republican or Democrat battle, but rather an ideological battle between “conservatives and liberals.”
“I would describe myself, judicial philosophy-wise, as an originalist and a textualist,” said Griffin. “I believe that the document should be viewed through the lens as when it was written, and a textualist in that I believe that the document speaks for itself — the four corners of the document.”
“You know, I grew up in North Carolina,” Griffin said. “I was born here, went to school here, have served as a DA here, been a judge in the state, served in the North Carolina Army National Guard, and you know getting that message out to folks is my number one priority.”
Griffin’s background of having seen both the defense and prosecutorial sides of the courtroom was “definitely an asset going to the bench.”
“I think it’s just very necessary to have trial court judges who have been in criminal trial courts and fellow judges who’ve actually prosecuted cases at that level, because unless you’re in a courtroom, there are things you don’t know,” said Griffin. “Whereas my opponent…he’s just filed a lot of political lawsuits for a long time.”
No matter what the outcome of the election, Griffin said he is here to serve wherever that may be.
“I will go wherever I’m supposed to serve, whether that is in private practice or as a judge on the court of appeals or Supreme Court… wherever that may be. I’ll go wherever I’m called to serve,” said Griffin.