By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal member Bradley B. Letts will continue to serve as a superior court judge for district 30B after he defeated fellow Democratic challenger Mark Melrose. The vote was 16,914 to 14,017 from voters in Haywood and Jackson County. Voters in the Jackson County’s Qualla precinct heavily favored Letts by a vote of 455 to 161.
“I’m humbled and honored that my hometown of Cherokee would support me in such an overwhelming fashion,” Letts said. “It’s something I will always cherish.”
Letts expressed gratitude to his supporters. “Your vote validates my work in the court system over the past two decades,” he said. “And for those that voted for my opponent I want to thank you for your willingness to openly consider the issues in this race and your participation in the electoral process. The outpouring of kind words, positive comments, and congratulations is simply stunning. I am honored to be able to represent everyone from Haywood and Jackson counties in our court system. I have always taken this responsibility seriously and will continue to shoulder the heavy burden and discharge the duties in the positive, professional, honest manner that the position of judge requires.”
Melrose, a Waynesville attorney, likewise, thanked his supporters on his Facebook page. “Unfortunately, I lost the election yesterday,” he said. “I am truly grateful for all the support throughout both counties. I have talked face to face with thousands of people during this campaign. I have been saddened by stories of addiction and loss that we must address but encouraged by the words and efforts of so many people who want to help. I’ve laughed with old friends, made countless new friends, and learned many lessons. What I have been reminded of over and over is why my family and I love living precisely here. The beauty of these mountains cradle kind, generous and loving people unmatched anywhere in the country. I am not sure what God has in store for me next, but I am excited to find out. Thank you again.”
This was an election where Melrose questioned Letts’ being allowed to “moonlight” as a Tribal Supreme Court justice and his fairness in the courtroom. Letts said the Cherokee tribal court is one of the premier tribal courts in the U.S. “I’m proud to be able to work for the tribal court. The fact that Mark Melrose takes issue with me hearing three cases in five years clearly demonstrates it was a nonissue and only political noise that he tried to distract the public with.”
It also open old wounds as Melrose represented the man who fatally gunned down tribal member and State Trooper Shawn Blanton, who had a newborn son struggling to survive in the neonatal intensive care unit at the time. Edwardo Wong, II, received life in prison without parole after being convicted of first degree murder in Blanton’s death. Melrose wasn’t listed on Principal Chief Richard Sneed’s list of candidates who have supported the tribe or pledged support of the tribe.
Blanton’s widow, Michaela Blanton Lowe, pointed out that Melrose volunteered to represent Wong. “Please let me be clear,” she states in a Facebook post. “I do not say this simply because he VOLUNTEERED to the the (sic) court-appointed attorney for the man who murdered my husband, but I say that because of THE PERSON HE HAS SHOWN HIMSELF TO BE.” She said Melrose gloated after Wong received life instead of the death penalty. “I never once publicly spoke negatively of neither my husband’s murderer nor of Mark Melrose in more than 10 years, but something needed to be said because I would have never forgiven myself if I did not speak up and he become (sic) judge.”
Letts said, “That was an issue I did not raise or discuss.” Melrose could not be reached for comment by press time, but in the Oct. 22 edition of the Waynesville “Mountaineer,” Melrose responded, “When I accepted the Wong case, I didn’t know Trooper Blanton,” he said. “I didn’t know his family, and I had no connection to him at all. I didn’t know the defendant, and I didn’t know anything. It was the right thing to do, and as a result of accepting that case, I had two people immediately quit as employees in my office, and I had threats made toward me.”