Pressley, Merrell win Buncombe district court seats. Christy remains Superior Court Clerk (2024)

ASHEVILLE - There will be some new faces in the Buncombe County Courthouse as voters elected two new district court judges, according to preliminary results. All the candidates in these races were Democrats. The primary election determined who will win each seat.

Meredith Pressley Stone and Robin Merrell will serve as the next judges in Buncombe County District Court, defeating their respective challengers, Todd Lentz and Emily Sutton Dezio.

Pressley, Merrell win Buncombe district court seats. Christy remains Superior Court Clerk (1)

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Incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Jean Marie Christy, emerged victorious, defeating her opponent, Johanna Finklestein.

Results will become official March 15.

Pressley has served as a prosecutor for 16 years, currently as the District Court supervisor for the county's District Attorney's Office. She earned her law degree from N.C. Central University in 2006. During a recent candidate forum, she noted her work in county diversion programs and treatment courts, which she said were alternatives to convictions. Pressley also touted her wide experience, from first-degree murder cases to traffic tickets.

She told the Citizen Times March 6 that she thought her experience in the DA's office, with expunction clinics, victim advocacy, treatment courts and diversion programs resonated with voters. Pressley said that she does not have ambitions for higher office at the moment.

"I'm just truly humbled and honored that Buncombe County voters have put their trust in me," she said.

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Merrell is a managing attorney at Pisgah Legal Services, a legal aid nonprofit where she worked for more than 23 years. She earned her law degree at UNC Chapel Hill in 2000. During the same forum she focused on her supervision and management experience. She told the Citizen Times March 6 that her commitment to serve the community resonated with voters.

"My strategy was to talk to as many people as I possibly could about myself and my experience," she said. "I think voters like individual engagement."

Merrell said she doesn't currently have ambitions to serve higher office.

"I'm pleased that Meredith's work as an Assistant District Attorney to support victims, to advise law enforcement, to effectively use treatment courts and diversion programs all in services of the aims of justice, earned the overwhelming endorsem*nt of Buncombe County voters," District Attorney Todd Williams told the Citizen Times in a March 6 message.

Christy replaced longtime clerk Steven Cogburn who retired in the beginning of 2023. Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg initially picked Ryan Stone, Pressley's husband, for the position. Those plans were stalled when they learned that another family member worked at the courthouse. Previous reporting did not clarify whether that family member was Pressley. Christy was Thornburg's next choice.

Now she will preside over the Buncombe courthouse's most consequential initiative in years, transitioning to eCourts, the state's cloud-hosted digital record system, which have spurred problems throughout the state, including prolonged stays in jail and wrongful arrests over already dismissed warrants. Christy was did not respond to the Citizen Times before deadline.

Finklestein is an attorney at Sneed & Stearns. Lentz and Dezio run their own private practices.

Lentz told the Citizen Times March 6 that the county will be in good hands with Pressley, whom he called "an extremely good attorney and good prosecutor." He was still searching for answers about his defeat, adding that he was unsure if he would run for office again.

"I did something wrong and did something that didn’t work. The voters have spoken," he said.

Dezio said she was proud of her campaign and honored by the support she received in a March 6 message to the Citizen Times.

"Nothing went wrong. It was an election. I respect the votes and our system. Ms. Merrell or (Ms. Pressley) will do well if either gets assigned to family court. Both seem ready to address the steep learning curve to the nuanced area of family law," she said.

Finklestein did not respond to comment by press time.

Pressley will assume the seat held by Chief Judge Calvin Hill, who is retiring at the end of his term. Merrell will take the seat held by Unified Family District Court Judge Andrea Dray, who did not run for reelection.

The next Chief District Court Judge will assign whether the winning candidate will take a seat in criminal or family court. Merrell said she had no preference over what court she served. Pressley said she preferred criminal court because of her experience as a prosecutor but would be willing to serve anywhere.

According to a state judicial standards opinion, new judges need to wait six months before presiding over cases in front of their former employer, so Pressley will likely begin in family court.

Pressley, Merrell win Buncombe district court seats. Christy remains Superior Court Clerk (2)
Pressley, Merrell win Buncombe district court seats. Christy remains Superior Court Clerk (3)

The Results

North Carolina District Court Judge District 40 Seat 6 (31,518 votes cast)

Robin Leigh Merrell: 57.64%

Emily Sutton Dezio: 42.36%

North Carolina District Court Judge District 40 Seat 7 (31,416 votes cast)

Meredith Pressley Stone: 76.09%

Todd Lentz: 23.91%

Buncombe County Clerk of Superior Court (31,514 votes cast)

Jean Marie Christy: 65.77%

Johanna Finkelstein: 34.23%

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Mitchell Black covers Buncombe County and health care for the Citizen Times. Email him at mblack@citizentimes.com or follow him on Twitter @MitchABlack.Please help support local journalism with asubscriptionto the Citizen Times.

Pressley, Merrell win Buncombe district court seats. Christy remains Superior Court Clerk (2024)
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