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Brunswick County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis has her sights set on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
While she previously made her intentions known to the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, a recent announcement at the state Republican convention catapulted Lewis’ aspirations to the national scene, including a recent appearance on a primetime Fox News show.
Former N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes announced at the N.C. GOP Convention in Charlotte earlier this month Lewis planned to run for the state Supreme Court, specifically for the seat held by Cheri Beasley, who was appointed to the high court in 2012.
With 1,000 delegates from across the state and both the GOP establishment and up-and-comers in attendance, Lewis said Hayes’ announcement has bolstered her candidacy locally and on the national scene.
“I have been a trial judge for 20 years,” Lewis said. “I feel I am the best candidate for the position. I have been a defense attorney. I have been a prosecutor. I have even been a litigator. I believe that I would bring some unique experiences to the high court. If elected, absolutely, I could glean from my experiences as a trial judge in reviewing cases for error.”
While Lewis is a trial judge—specifically the senior resident in Brunswick County—she said superior court judges are tasked with appellate matters as well, meaning reviewing decisions made in a lower court or administrative venue.
“We write opinions as trial judges when we enter our orders. We do so based on evidence that has been presented before us. I have that experience in terms of appellate review. There are matters that the superior court reviews on a regular basis. The superior court is the court of original jurisdiction when administrative matters locally are appealed. The superior court is the court of original jurisdiction when DWI cases are appealed in district court.
“Any decision made by the clerk of court that is challenged on appeal—foreclosures or review matters—is handled in superior court. So we do have a review process that would be considered much like that of an appellate review,” Lewis said.
Fox News appearance
About a week after leaving the state GOP convention in Charlotte, Lewis received word political commentator Sean Hannity wanted her on his primetime show on Fox News.
Last Friday, Lewis appeared on “Hannity,” where she participated in a panel discussion about black conservatives.
“It was a town hall type of forum and there were black conservatives from across the United States,” Lewis said.
The panel included Deneen Borelli, an author and Fox News contributor, who Lewis met at the GOP convention in Charlotte.
“I certainly don’t think the show was about the novelty of being black and Republican. I think that the show was meant to showcase to America that there are black conservatives who live and work and promote the cause of conservatives every day; that we are out there and we are encouraging—even if it’s one person at a time—to just take a look at what we represent in terms of the lifestyle, in terms of what it is a conservative vote would bring to the table.”
Lewis relayed a political conversation she recently had with a young black man on her way to film the show in New York.
“He is a Democrat; has been a Democrat all of his life. We were talking about the household he grew up in…talking about the benefit of hard work, staying in school, not being the one looking toward others for a handout, but saying what you can do to help. We compared that lifestyle growing up with the platform of the Republican Party.
“He asked me what a Republican vote would do for him. It would mean lower taxes, safer communities, a better education system; not policies that have failed the black community in the past.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recently staged its eighth Moral Monday event at the state capitol in Raleigh, protesting the Republican-led General Assembly and the GOP agenda—specifically legislation to repeal the Racial Justice Act, a measure to require a photo ID to vote, school vouchers and tax reform, all of which the NAACP calls “Tea Party-backed regressive forces.”
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, has questioned what he called the state GOP leadership’s “extreme and immoral ultra-conservative administration.”
“The NAACP has done great things throughout history, for not only black America, but for all of America,” Lewis said. “But to say that they represent the voice or the face of the black community in whatever they do, I don’t believe is fair. There’s so many more facets to the black community than just the NAACP.”
But, Lewis said, she respects the NAACP’s right to peacefully assemble at their Moral Monday protests.
Brunswick County and the Republican party
Lewis graduated from N.C. Central University Law School in Durham in 1990. After passing the bar exam that summer, Lewis clerked for then-Rep. Dan Blue, the first black N.C. House Speaker.
After one year working with Blue, Lewis wanted courtroom experience and accepted a job as an assistant district attorney in Brunswick County. After a two-year stint as an assistant DA, Lewis was appointed a district judge.
Lewis was then appointed by then-Gov. Jim Hunt to serve as a special superior court judge, in which, as a traveling judge, Lewis held court in 21 counties.
In 2002, she ran for resident superior court judge for the 13th District, which includes Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties. In 2006, the 13th District split into 13A, Bladen and Columbus counties, and 13B, Brunswick County. Lewis has served as senior resident superior court judge since 2006.
“I would like to be remembered for my commitment to the community of Brunswick County and the 13th District. I would really like to be remembered for my dedication to youth and my vow to make these communities a safer place to live with the creation of the specialty courts and the help of the county commissioners in seeing that take place and become a reality.
“I believe that Brunswick County is certainly a better place to live because of what we’ve been able to do with our court system, from the courthouse concerts to keeping our civil dockets moving and doing what we need to do to keep the criminal dockets moving as well. I’ve worked with great judges. I’m just very grateful for the relationships we’ve developed,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ time on the bench has not been without controversy.
In 2010, she sued Ed Rapp, a Brunswick County political consultant and member of the Republican Party, for libel for an April 2010 blog posting in which Rapp questioned her judicial ethics for campaigning for then-candidate state Sen. Bill Rabon.
Several people within the party who supported Rapp throughout the trial maintained the posting was a First Amendment issue and sitting judges shouldn’t endorse or campaign for candidates.
During closing arguments at the trial in January, attorneys for Lewis and Rapp painted different portraits of Lewis.
It was a tale of two judges, with Lewis’ attorney, Lonnie Williams, saying Lewis was an innovative, compassionate, hardworking judge whose legal reputation is beyond reproach, and Rapp’s attorney, Hugh Stevens, describing Lewis as a driven, ambitious, disloyal politician—one “not to mess with.”
But the jury sided with Lewis when they found Rapp knew “the statement was false or acted with reckless disregard,” when he posted the blog.
Jurors awarded Lewis $105,000.
“I don’t let what happens on the local level in any county—whether it’s Brunswick County or a surrounding county or a county across the state—determine whether or not I am going to be a candidate,” Lewis said.
“We are all Republicans and though we do not agree on everything—and I think it’s healthy not to agree on all issues—we still have a common goal, and that common goal is to support and elect conservatives in all levels of state and local government.
“And so the fact that somebody may disagree with something I have said or done is not going to be a deterrent. The state party convention talked very much about the need for unity this election cycle. We cannot destroy ourselves from within, thinking that my side is the only side and my view is the only view. I think that as we move forward with this campaign I am sure we will be on one accord,” Lewis said.
Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.