Candidates for the only two contested Forsyth County District Court judgeships addressed a modest crowd of citizens and community leaders Tuesday
evening, during a “Meet the Candidates” program hosted by the Winston-Salem Bar Association.
Amy Allred, Andrew Keever, David Sipprell and Victoria Roemer fielded questions from the Bar Association, which is made up of African American law professionals, and the community during the program at Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church.
“I think it’s important,” Frederick Adams, president of the WSBA and one of the event’s organizers, said of the forum. “As much as we encourage the right to vote, and exercising the vote, sometimes I think that we don’t really do enough to make sure that people are well informed.”
Because the judiciary races are nonpartisan, citizens must do a little more digging in order to determine which candidate they wish to support, Adams said.
Dionne Jenkins, the WSBA’s vice president, served as the moderator for the evening, peppering the candidates with questions ranging from their education and experience to their stances on issues such as deferred judgement and what they would change about the District Court system.
“It’s not a debate; it’s just a discussion, so people can get to know each candidate,” said Jenkins, who has been in private practice for the past two years. “I think it’s very important for people to be involved at the political level, not just nationally, but locally. I don’t think people realize how much of an impact District Court judges can have on the community.”
Jenkins opened the forum by asking each candidate to introduce themselves to the audience.
Keever, an assistant public defender and graduate of Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, stressed his commitment to his wife, Meg, and their three children. Keever, who is facing off against incumbent Roemer, said his strong family values would translate well to the bench.
Roemer, a two time Wake Forest University alumna, touted her longevity in the legal field, including the past 16 years she has spent on the District Court bench.
Sipprell, an assistant district attorney, announced his candidacy two years ago when Judge Chester Davis announced he was retiring. The UNC School of Law grad plugged his varied professional experience, which included a stint as a JAG officer for the US Air Force, and his community service efforts.
Allred, who has been in private practice most of her career, spoke about her strong work ethic and her commitment to the job, as evidenced by her prior bid for the District Court bench in 2008.
“I’m really ready to put my skills and experience to use in District Court,” said the University of Tulsa’s College of Law alumna, who is vying with Sipprell for the open Davis seat. “I’ve represented hundreds of African Americans in this community … I feel like I’m the candidate that’s been on both sides.”
When asked what they would like to see changed in the District Court system, Keever said he wanted to see more focus on rehabilitating juvenile offenders so they don’t return to the penal system as adults.
“With my experience with the juvenile court, I think we really need to reach out to the juveniles of this community when they’re just starting to get into trouble,” remarked the Virginia Beach native. “…I really think we need to work together as a community to reach these juveniles.”
When asked about the importance of compassion on the bench, Roemer, a lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, said it plays an integral role in every decision she makes.
“I don’t think you can make a fair decision without compassion,” she commented. “It’s an integrated element of each judgement.”
Roemer was the only candidate who didn’t wholeheartedly support the Deferred Prosecution program, which Jenkins said allows prosecutors to request community service and/or restitution in lieu of jail time for some first-time offenders. If the offender maintains a clean criminal record for six months, the charges are dropped. Roemer said the program has a “high failure rate.” Allred, Keever and Sipprell all spoke highly of it.
“We enjoy that extra discretion,” said Sipprell, who added that he had recently utilized the program to help a young offender whom Sipprell felt had learned his lesson. “…I think it’s a great program and certainly would encourage its continued use.”
Allred and Roemer both left the program early, citing prior commitments, giving their opponents an extra few minutes to woo the roughly two dozen in attendance.
Keever told the group that becoming a District Court judge is a long held dream for him. If elected, he said he would draw upon the lessons he’s learned from observing and analyzing countless judges over the years.
“I just felt driven to the District Courts. I’ve been observing them since 1997. I love watching the judges, I love seeing how different judges handle different situations,” he remarked. “…I feel like I can bring that (diversity of approaches) to the District Court bench, by observing so many excellent judges over the years.”
For more information about Allred, visit http://allredjudge.com” http://allredjudge.com. For more information about Keever, visit http://keeverforjudge.com” http://keeverforjudge.com. For more information about Sipprell, visit http://sipprellforjudge.com” http://sipprellforjudge.com, and for more information about Roemer, visit http://roemerforjudge.com” http://roemerforjudge.com.