By Bob Friedman
District Court Judge Ned W. Mangum will be sworn in as the president of the 2,400-member Wake County Bar Association in January. A native of Raleigh, he attended Broughton High School. Mangum earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science (magna cum laude) from NC State and his Juris Doctor from UNC School of Law. He served as an assistant Wake County DA from 1998 until 2008 when he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Mike Easley. In 2014, he was appointed District Attorney by Gov. Pat McCrory to complete the term of the retiring Colon Willoughby. Mangum was elected district court judge in 2010 and 2014.
At the WCBA’s picnic in September, Judge Mangum and Attorney at Law Magazine NC Triangle publisher Bob Friedman sat down for the first of two interviews.
AALM: Your re-election bid next year comes at a time when there are active discussions about whether North Carolina judges should be elected or appointed in the future.
MANGUM: It’s a question that everyone struggles with. How to best ensure judges are both independent and at the same time accountable to the public. North Carolina is not alone. All 50 states have various ways of selecting judges. You have merit selection, direct election and different variations in between.
Generally, our system of electing judges has served us well, yet, there are challenges, especially in areas like Wake County. There are 1.1 million people in our county. It is twice the population of a congressional district. The reality is that few people know who we are.
So is there room for improvement? Yes, but we need to do it carefully and deliberately.
I don’t know of anyone who is in favor of political appointees for the bench. I also don’t think when a person comes to the courthouse to have a case heard that they are looking for a judge from a particular political party. They are looking for a fair and impartial judge.
AALM: The alternative is the merit system with judges selected by people who know the candidates.
MANGUM: No matter what the system, the fundamental question remains the same: what is the best way to get the best candidates selected? What role should the legislature have? What role should the governor have? What role should the bar have? It would be my hope that all of the interested parties and stakeholders have a voice in how that happens. Merit selection can work but it has to be thought through carefully to ensure that too few people do not hold too much power.
AALM: You will be raising funds shortly for your 2018 re-election. Does the influence of outside money in judicial elections worry you?
MANGUM: In our district court elections it’s not outside money that’s the issue. It’s having people understand why we have to raise money. I think if you ask judges about what it’s like to go out and raise money, most would say that’s probably the least favorite thing about the job. And then that brings in the question of lawyers making donations to judge’s campaigns. But as I have stated, attorneys are usually the ones that know the candidates and their qualifications. It’s difficult enough for a district court judge to raise $30,000 or $60,000, which is sadly nothing when it comes to this type of election in a county of this size. It’s a slippery slope.
AALM: You will be sworn in as president of the WCBA in January 2018. The biggest challenge facing most bar associations is membership.
MANGUM: Membership is a challenge but membership in the WCBA brings real value and most attorneys recognize that. I still find it amazing that we charge $145 a year for a person to become a member of the WCBA when the value of a membership is several hundred dollars more than that. We offer 30 to 40 hours of free CLE a year. In one afternoon of a bar lunch and a CLE class, a member makes their membership fee back. We also spend a large amount of time and money to find ways for our members to help make sure that all members of the public have proper access to justice. Membership in this organization can do so much for people.
AALM: What do you enjoy about your job?
MANGUM: I really enjoy the variety of what we get to do on the district court bench. This week, I was assigned to hear family law cases. Next week, I’ll have a civil jury trial, the week after that I’m assigned to hear felony pleas in criminal court. It gives you the opportunity to get to know lots of members of the bar. More importantly however, is the opportunity we have to address on a case by case basis, some of the most serious issues people face. Whether it’s in domestic court or criminal court issues like substance abuse, mental health, violence are often present. We are always looking for ways to help individuals, families and the community as a whole address these problems.
AALM: Why did you choose to become a lawyer?
MANGUM: Nobody in my family was a lawyer. I’ve always had an interest in politics and what was going on the law. I enjoyed social studies and history and political science in school and I went in that direction. I knew I wanted to go to law school but I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do when I got to there. The law struck me as a way to be engaged in politics in the sense of playing a role in the civic life of the community while helping people. I have to say that I am not a fan of partisan politics where working together to solve problems and compromise is often not done and is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. I am proud to say that the leaders in our Wake County Courthouse have proven over and over that people of different parties can work together to achieve common goals.
AALM: Since we’re doing this part of the interview over the phone while you attend your son’s (one of three) football practice, tell us a bit about their involvement with sports and how that fills your time.
MANGUM: Our three boys are so much fun. I’ve got football practice at 6 p.m. I’ve got a football game at 6:30. My son in eighth grade and has three or four baseball games this weekend. So that’s what I do for fun. My kids love baseball, football and basketball. I like to say that my wife Robin is a single mom with four boys. At times I wonder whether she feels like she is living in a locker room with all of the jerseys, bats, balls, gloves around the house. My friends kid me all the time by telling me that she is a saint putting up with us. Have to say that I can’t argue with that.