A drama played out in court last spring is taking an encore at the polls this fall.
In his third bid for re-election, Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson faces his first opposition. His rival is James Dornfried, chief assistant to former District Attorney Tracey Cline, whose open feud with Hudson led to her removal from office last March.
If re-elected, Hudson says he faces the task of repairing Durham’s judicial system, where two district attorneys – Cline and her predecessor, Mike Nifong – have lost their jobs for misconduct.
If elected, Dornfried says he will bring fairness to the position, mentioning recent Court of Appeals reversals of Hudson rulings.
Dornfried also says he is giving voters a choice for the first time in District 14A, mentioning that the district was redrawn to accommodate Hudson’s move to a new home, previously outside his district, in 2004. At the time, Hudson and state Rep. H.M. “Mickey” Michaux, who sponsored legislation to change the district border, said such actions to accommodate judges were common practice.James Dornfried
Dornfried has been an assistant district attorney in Durham for 16 years. His responsibilities have included organizing and managing the Superior Court criminal trials and administrative matters before the court during trial session weeks, and dealing with personnel matters in the DA office. He has also prosecuted violent crimes, and says that, over the past five years, he has prosecuted more homicide cases than anyone else in Durham County.
However, in a N.C. Bar Association members’ rating of 2012 non-incumbent judgeship candidates, Dornfried was ranked lowest among 13 for overall performance and in four of five particular qualities. His highest rating was on “legal ability,” 3.44 on a scale from one up to five. Education:
Bachelor’s degree, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Conn.; J.D., Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. Career/community:
Assistant District Attorney, Durham County; Special Assistant United States Attorney; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Award of Appreciation; sponsors two children through Children International Endorsed by:
Durham People’s Alliance, Fraternal Order of Police, Durham County Lodge Campaign finance (through third-quarter reports):
Total receipts: $9,882.26; total disbursements: $9.882.26; largest contributor: self, $9,798 Durham News:
A bar association poll rated you last among 10 judge candidates statewide, including the lowest score for “integrity and fairness.” How do you respond? Dornfried:
As an assistant district attorney I have absolutely no dealings with civil attorneys, therefore they have no basis to actually form an opinion regarding that. My dealings are with defense attorneys. As far as defense attorneys, I am in an adversarial position with them. I am going up against a judge who gives unsecured bonds in murder cases, who is very friendly toward the defense. Of course, they realize that this survey is going to be used in the election, and therefore it’s not surprising to me that defense attorneys are supporting my opponent.
Some of the things they talked about dealt with administrative duties – I think leadership and administrative duties. If you look at when I was in charge of Superior Court, we tripled the number of trials, the conviction rate went up, the dismissal rate went down, so the numbers do not support their opinions. Durham News:
Why did you decide to run? Dornfried:
It’s something I had thought about for a very long time. When I moved into my home 13 years ago, I was not part of judicial district 14A. It was only when my opponent moved into my neighborhood that they changed the judicial boundaries. Right now, I’m 45 years old. If I’m going to run, now is the time to run.
Also, I saw the decisions that he was making in court. The Court of Appeals in the last few months has ruled on his decisions. And they have found they would not reverse his decision unless they found an abuse of discretion and they did reverse his decision. ...
And I could see first-hand – not what was being reported, but first-hand – what was happening in the courts. I thought it was time the voters had a choice. They’ve never had a real choice because no one else has ever run. And that’s why I’m running.Orlando Hudson (incumbent)
Hudson has been a Superior Court judge in Durham County since 1989. He has presided in some of Durham’s most dramatic cases, including the Michael Peterson murder trial of 2003 and the 1996 trials of Rodney Eugene Leak and Shamar Rasheed Hines for killing 2-year-old Shaquona Atwater. Hudson also once set a $1 billion bond for a suspected drug dealer.
Earlier this fall, the state Judicial Standards Commission cleared Hudson of allegations by deposed Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline that the judge had made errors of judgment and was guilty of “moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption.” Her charges led to her removal from office; however, the state Court of Appeals overruled Hudson’s dismissal of charges in the murder case against Derrick Allen – one of the cases that prompted Cline’s attacks on Hudson. Education:
Bachelor’s degree, University of North Carolina; JD, University of North Carolina Career/community:
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, District 14A; former assistant public defender, Fayetteville, N.C.; former District Court Judge, District 14; past president, Conference of Superior Court Judges of North Carolina; instructor in trial advocacy, National Institute for Trial Advocacy, Duke University, Campbell University, N.C. Central University, University of North Carolina Endorsed by:
Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Friends of Durham Campaign finance (through third-quarter reports):
Total receipts: $16,757.44; total disbursements, $8,049.75; largest contributors: Bill Faison, Efland, $1,000; Robert A. Ingram, Durham, $1,000; Kevin P. Speer, Durham, $1,000. Durham News:
The state Court of Appeals overturned your ruling in the Derrick Allen case and sent it back to Durham for a new trial. Has that caused you to question your own judgment and impartiality on the bench? Hudson:
Absolutely not. Derrick Allen had the absolute right to have the higher court determine whether his rights were violated. His lawyer says they were, the court of appeals said they were not. One of the things Mr. Dornfried has used in his campaign is that in some kind of way that means I can’t be fair, but the Court of Appeals didn’t say that Derrick Allen was guilty. They said his case needs to go back to Durham and the people of Durham will have a trial and they will determine whether he is guilty or not. Durham News:
This is the first time you’ve had opposition for election as a judge. How is it to have opposition, something you haven’t had to deal with before? Hudson:
That’s true, and the circumstances surrounding it are kind of baffling in the community, especially the black community. The history of Superior Court seat 14A, it has a very special history. It was created in the legislature in 1987 or 88 as means of providing an opportunity for minorities or blacks to be elected as Superior Court judge. Before that time, there was not one elected black Superior Court judge in the state of North Carolina. ... People in the black community are kind of baffled by Mr. Dornfried’s running, because apparently he has no black or minority agenda. The black community is very proud of that seat. They take offense at him running because they don’t think he knew the history of the seat.
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