MOREHEAD CITY — District Court Judge Kirby Smith told the News-Times Tuesday he has suspended his campaign for the judicial seat he currently occupies, but due to state law, his name will still appear on the ballot.
Judge Smith, of New Bern, has been serving in the position since March, replacing Jerry Waddell, who retired in February. He was appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue and will remain in the seat until the term expires at the end of the year.
He was running for the seat against fellow New Bern attorney Dave McFadyen III. He said in a press statement that continuing the campaign after the May 8 primary “would only make the campaigns become partisan and rancorous.
“This would only serve to injure the reputation and impartiality of our District Court,” he states.
His withdrawal sets up Mr. McFadyen, also of New Bern, to take the position following the Nov. 6 election.
While the press release doesn’t mention it as a reason for the decision, Mr. McFadyen secured a significant victory over Judge Smith during the May primary, winning 59 percent of the votes to Judge Smith’s 29 percent. Bernie Bush came in third in the race with 11 percent.
Judicial races are nonpartisan, so the voting process is a little different than the standard, where Democrats select a Democratic candidate and Republicans select a Republican candidate, who then face off against each other in November.
Instead, in judicial races, all the candidates are on the same ballot and the top two go on to face each other in November.
Despite the nonpartisan moniker, the affiliation of the candidates is no secret and it’s not unusual for a party to throw support behind a candidate. Judge Smith is a registered Democrat and Mr. McFadyen is a registered Republican.
County Republican Party Chairman Greg Lewis said the party has made no endorsements in this race. However, Mr. McFadyen was endorsed by the Crystal Coast Tea Party prior to the primary election.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Judge Smith said partisanship can get in the way for judicial candidates. “We really don’t want judges to be partisan, we want them to be fair and neutral,” Judge Smith said, adding it was important to “try to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
While he may have suspended his campaign, Judge Smith’s name will still appear on the ballot. Gary Bartlett, the executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, said the only time a candidate’s name is removed is if he or she is disqualified or dies.
“As long as he remains qualified and alive, he will remain on the ballot,” Mr. Bartlett said.
As such, Mr. McFadyen said he wasn’t taking the election lightly and will still actively campaign for the seat. “We still have a campaign to run,” he said. “We still have to get out the vote in November.”
Mr. McFadyen said Judge Smith called him and informed him of his intent to suspend the campaign. “He has made a decision that I know was very difficult for him and his family,” he said. “Kirby is my friend and I have the utmost respect for him. I wish him nothing but the best in the future.”