The 1st Judicial District’s newest judge switched her political party registration from Democrat to Republican one week after being appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and one day after she was sworn in.
District Court Judge Jennifer Karpowicz Bland switched parties on Sept. 3, according to Dare County Board of Elections records.
That’s a week after Cooper appointed her on Aug. 27 to fill a vacant seat created by his appointment of District Court Judge Eula Reid to a Superior Court judgeship and a day after Bland, a former assistant district attorney, was sworn in Sept. 2 and took her seat on the bench.
“I’ve always been conservative,” Bland said when asked recently about her party switch. “I also believe Republicans have strong values when it comes to the military and law enforcement. It’s the party that best represents my values.”
Bland noted that her father served in the military for 20 years, including a deployment during the Persian Gulf War.
Voting records show Bland had been a registered Democrat since 2004 and voted in at least five Democratic primaries, as well as general and municipal elections in Kill Devil Hills where she lives.
Bland said she had two interviews with Cooper prior to her appointment, and her political views never came up. Instead, she and Cooper discussed her “values about law enforcement” and her judgment, she said.
“We had conversations about my judgment, not about my political values,” Bland said. “My political values are not going to enter into my judgments” from the bench.
Bland doesn’t believe Cooper appointed her because of her political affiliation.
“I feel that he appointed me based on my experience, not because of my political party, and because I’m going to be a fair and impartial judge,” she said.
Bland acknowledged not contacting Cooper’s office about her party switch before making it. She said she had tried to contact the governor’s office afterward but had not yet received a call back.
When he appointed Bland to the court vacancy in late August, Cooper said in a statement that Bland “has served this community well throughout her legal career,” and added that he was “thankful for her willingness to step up and serve as a judge in our state.”
Asked recently for comment about Bland’s party switch, Jordan Monaghan, Cooper’s press secretary, suggested it was the fruit of GOP lawmakers’ move to make all state judicial seats partisan.
“Making North Carolina judicial races partisan was wrong when the General Assembly did it in 2015 and when they did it again over the Governor’s veto in 2017,” Monaghan said in a statement. “It’s still wrong now. The Governor expects judicial appointees to run and serve with integrity and to follow the law.”
Told of the press secretary’s statement, Bland said she agrees that judgeships should be non-partisan.
“I fully support having non-partisan judgeships,” she said. “Judgeships should not be partisan. We take an oath to defend the Constitution. We do not allow our political opinions to sway our judgments.”
Bland, 41, worked in the District Attorney’s Office for 13 years prior to her appointment to the District Court bench. She’s only the fourth woman ever to serve as a judge in the 1st Judicial District which includes Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, Gates, Chowan, Perquimans and Dare counties.
Bland said she sought the judicial appointment because she considered it “a different avenue for serving the community” than her previous work as a prosecutor.
When she was sworn in by Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, the Manteo courtroom was filled with Bland’s family, friends, former co-workers in the District Attorney’s Office, and law enforcement officers. Also attending were Bland’s husband, Lamont, and their 5-year-old daughter, who held the Bible as Bland recited her judicial oath of office.
A 1998 graduate of Manteo High School, Bland earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002 and her law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008.