There are three candidates in Republican primary race for a District 1 District Court Judge’s seat. They are Jennifer Bland, who has held the post since last September after being appointed by Governor Roy Cooper; Kill Devil Hills attorney and Town Commissioner Bernard (B.J.) McAvoy; and Hertford attorney and District 1 Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Moreland.
Bland, who lives in Kill Devil Hills, graduated from Manteo High School in 1998 and from UNC Chapel Hill for both undergrad and law school. In 2008, after graduating from law school, she came back to her hometown and became an assistant district attorney before being appointed as a district court judge last September.
McAvoy, who earned his undergrad degree from NC State and his law degree from Campbell University School of Law in 2004, is married with three children. He’s been an attorney for more than 17 years in Dare County, and for the past 10 years, he has been the sole practitioner at the McAvoy Law Firm in Kitty Hawk.
Jeffrey Moreland and his wife Laura are Army veterans who have been living in North Carolina since 2002. He received his undergraduate degree from UNC Pembroke and law degree from UNC Chapel Hill. He moved to Perquimans County in 2014 and after a solo law practice, he accepted a job as an assistant district attorney.
In order to help voters better assess the candidates, the Voice emailed a series of questions to local candidates who are facing primary contests that will be decided on May 17. Those responses are included below. (Some answers may be edited for length.)
The Voice asked each candidate to discuss an aspect of the criminal justice system they felt should be changed or improved.
Jeffrey Moreland: “North Carolina Courts have been slower than some other states in taking advantage of modern technology. There are some exciting changes in our pipeline, including a paperless court system. However, being in a rural 7 county court system, there is more that could be done.
“Too often, a local lawyer will have court in multiple counties on the same day, but due to the distance between courthouses, will most likely have to continue a lot of their cases, just due to the time it takes to travel between courthouses. If the attorneys could appear by video teleconference, like many other states are now doing, that could help alleviate some of the time inefficiency in having witnesses and defendants come to court just for the attorney not to make it in time. This is just an example of technology that could be taken advantage of.”
B.J. McAvoy: “One aspect of the criminal justice system that should be improved would be the efficiency in working the dockets in our courtrooms. I believe that the criminal courtroom at the District Court level, which deals largely with traffic offenses and misdemeanor cases, can be streamlined to save the valuable time of the victims, the charged defendants, the attorneys, police officers, clerks, judge and courtroom staff. I think we can work harder to isolate those cases on the docket that are for trial, resolve those matters for plea that can be handled quickly and make it possible to get the attorneys back to their offices and our police officers back to their work or homes. I think we can get the alleged victims and witnesses more of an understanding of what their time in the courtroom is going to look like and get those in the courtroom who are unrepresented and seeking an attorney or a continuance out quicker… With this method, we can move more cases faster and save not only time but money.”
Jennifer Bland: “First and foremost I think that our judicial system in the United States is the greatest in the world. However, COVID had a tremendous impact on judicial efficiency. Closing down access to our court system created an inevitable backlog in the administration of justice. Victims of crimes have seen this in not being able to get their cases heard in a timely fashion for example. Child custody cases are taking months to get a civil action hearing scheduled. I pledge to work tirelessly to improve that.”
The candidates were asked to explain what the phrase “judicial temperament” means to them.
Jennifer Bland: “The phrase judicial temperament means to me that if a judge exhibits courtesy, fairness, open-mindedness, calmness, freedom from bias and a commitment to justice, then you have a judicial temperament that allows participants to feel that their case matters and that a judge will issue a reasoned opinion based on the relevant law with the applicable facts, free from emotion. When a judge displays poor judicial temperament, it exhibits the inability to base an opinion on impartiality and the sense of fairness and justice disappears. I pledge to exhibit the former judicial temperament.”
Jeffrey Moreland: “A textbook definition of judicial temperament is a judge with ‘compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, sensitivity, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias and commitment to equal justice.’ What that means to me, is that a judge with good judicial temperament will consistently show these particular traits, day in and day out. Consistent judges seem to be the most sought after because they give everyone, including victims and clients, a modicum of predictability in an unpredictable system. You should not have to guess whether you are getting Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde on any given day.”
The candidates were also asked to discuss the principal differences between themselves and their opponents in this primary race.
B.J. McAvoy: “Not only have I been practicing law almost twice as many years as one of my opponents, but I have the civil experience that both of my opponents simply do not have. Both of my opponents have almost entirely prosected criminal cases for the state for their entire brief careers. I have done everything you can do on the civil side in district court… As a general practitioner serving this community, I have practiced in all of these areas of civil law in addition to criminal law for all of my seventeen and a half years of practicing law.
“Additionally, I am the only true conservative in this Republican primary race…My opponents have joined the Republican party for political expediency to advance themselves politically…One of my opponents was just appointed by the governor this past August…She then switched parties within five days of her appointment, knowing the district was largely Republican and that there was no other way of winning. This is important because you need to know that the person you elect as judge is not one that simply goes with the wind, but a person with firm beliefs and moral integrity.”
Jeffrey Moreland: “There is not a single judge in our district that is a military veteran, and I am the only candidate that is a military veteran. I am also the only candidate that has first-hand experience as both a defense attorney and as a prosecutor. You hear tales that certain judges are defense friendly or prosecution friendly, but having done both, I’d just be fair and impartial. I also have a history of public service: as a veteran, a firefighter, government board member, and a prosecutor. It is my hope to continue that commitment of public service, but as a district court judge.”
Jennifer Bland: “I am the only candidate that has any experience on the bench. I am more than a promise or a hope of who I am going to be. I am actually doing the job and exhibiting the type of judicial temperament that the citizens of the First Judicial District want to see on the bench. I have tried more jury trials than both of my two opponents combined. One of my opponents, I have over twice the number of years as an attorney. The other one, has never tried a jury trial case and…is teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade band at the First Flight Middle School. Experience matters.”
Finally, the candidates were asked to share something about themselves that they think voters don’t know, but probably should.
Jeffrey Moreland: “I’ve either been unaffiliated or a Republican my entire life, but I welcome everyone that has joined the red wave sweeping across our great state, My wife and I also recently celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary after eloping as teenagers while we were both serving in the Army.”
Jennifer Bland: “My husband owns a small business and so I understand the challenges that small business owners face. I am a mother to a 5-year-old little girl who is my entire world. She just started kindergarten this year and I am so thankful we did not have to go through what so many other parents faced with schools closing down. She is the reason why I want to continue to serve in this capacity and not just for her. For the children of this community. To make an impact on families that come to see me in family court. To make an impact on juveniles in juvenile court. And to bring my experience as a mom to the court.”
B.J. McAvoy: “If you know me, you know that I have great compassion for people around me. I have never met a stranger and I could talk to one for hours. I never look down on anyone ever…As the oldest of eight kids and as a father of three, one at each level of school, I truly love children. I firmly believe they are our future. I’ve coached over 30 youth sport teams locally in soccer, basketball and baseball. I’ve coached at the recreation, travel ball and middle school levels. I even currently teach concert band part-time at First Flight Middle School. As a judge I will never quit on a child or young adult.”