RALEIGH — The three statewide Republican judicial primaries that will be decided on May 17 have seen attention placed on them from some surprising corners.
Republicans in both the General Assembly and on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have actively backed a slate of three candidates: Trey Allen for the Supreme Court, and Beth Freshwater Smith and Michael Stading for the Court of Appeals.
Allen faces two candidates for the Supreme Court nomination: current Court of Appeals judge April Wood and Davidson County attorney Victoria Prince.
Stading faces former N.C. Industrial Commission chair Charlton Allen and Freshwater Smith is taking on two-term incumbent Donna Stroud, who is currently the chief judge of the 15-member appellate court.
A new 527 organization called True Conservative Judges produced mailers to Republican-leaning voters backing the three candidates. The treasurer of the group, Mecklenburg County attorney Larry Shaheen, told North State Journal its aim was to educate primary voters on the best choices in the race.
“We feel strongly that judges should remember they are governed by the Constitution, they don’t govern the Constitution. This is nothing negative against anyone, but we feel strongly that these judges would be the best choices,” he said in an interview.
Shaheen added that the group would make enough of an impact to see the three prevail.
Allen and Wood have been actively campaigning for the Supreme Court seat for over a year. Allen, who currently serves as general counsel for the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts, is close with Chief Justice Paul Newby. Allen clerked for Newby, he said, in a July 2021 story.
“It was a great education in how our state’s highest court functions. It was also an education in how a conservative judge goes about trying to remain faithful to the original understanding of the Constitution and to the text and legislative intent of the laws when deciding cases,” said Allen.
Two former Supreme Court Justices – Barbara Jackson and former Chief Justice Mark Martin – have issued endorsements for Wood.
In the Stroud-Freshwater Smith race, state legislators have contributed to Freshwater Smith’s campaign. They include state Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) and House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne), and have actively supported her on social media and at local GOP events.
In addition, some of Stroud’s colleagues on the Court of Appeals including Jefferson Griffin and Jeff Carpenter, have made public their support for Freshwater Smith.
In an email to supporters, Griffin said, “I have had a significant number of people ask me about the three statewide primary races on the Republican ticket. I am placing my recommendations below. I know all of these candidates and they would serve NC well in the seats they are running for,” and listed off Allen, Freshwater Smith, and Stading.
Sources have told NSJ that some of the acrimony around Stroud dates back to the hiring of Eugene Soar as the appeals court clerk in the summer of 2021.
Soar was previously a registered Democrat but appeared to change his voter registration to unaffiliated after taking the position.
“We are fortunate to have his experience to continue the critical work performed by our clerk’s office and its hard-working staff,” said Stroud in a statement announcing his hiring.
Soar served as a research assistant for Judge Wanda Bryant, a Democrat, at the Court of Appeals and previously as a staff attorney at the Office of Appellate Division.
Former House President Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, who has remained active in politics following his retirement from the N.C. House, issued his own letter supporting Stroud.
“I do not think I have ever appeared before her in court. I know the quality of her work but also in a different way. I have read the published opinions of the Court of Appeals for about 50 years,’ said Stam. “I scanned some and read many, including all of Judge Stroud’s public opinions. Her opinions are logical, fair, clear, and conservative.”
In the other appeals court seat, Stading appears to have the edge over Charlton Allen, also earning the support of current members of the court and endorsements from the N.C. Values Coalition and Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. Stading raised nearly $200,000 last year for the race.
State Democrats have no contested statewide judicial primaries.