Prominent defense lawyers in three North Carolina counties help judges get appointed and elected. When those lawyers take DWI cases to trial, they rarely lose, reports the Charlotte Observer. Two judges have said they felt warned by attorneys: Play ball, or risk losing your job. Four judges refused to be interviewed by the Observer. The fifth, Peter Mack, says he treats all cases fairly. In 97 DWI trials in which he rendered a verdict, he acquitted 93 defendants. Mack was appointed in 2003 by Gov. Mike Easley. At least two prominent local attorneys contacted Easley’s office to support Mack.
Wrenn Johnson, Morehead City’s police chief, doesn’t think the local courts take DWI seriously enough. “North Carolina claims to be so tough on drinking and driving, and in Carteret County, we are not. I think the judges are not abiding by the law.” In 1995, trial lawyers in three counties decided it was time to get rid of a local judge who was known for treating drunken drivers firmly and showing no favoritism to attorneys. The lawyers recruited a man five years out of law school to run against the 13-year-veteran judge and raised $14,000 for the challenger’s campaign. He won the race, 25,478 to 24,517. The new judge acquitted more DWI suspects than any other judge in the three-county judicial district, and more than all but a few judges statewide.