Name as it appears on the ballot: Allen Baddour
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: judgebaddour.com
Occupation & employer: Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, State of North Carolina.
1) Please tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be effective, fair, and impartial on the bench? Please be specific. What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a Superior court judge?
I have served as a Superior Court Judge for 16 years. Day in and day out, I strive to listen to the parties and their advocates, and to do my best to “get it right,” by applying the law correctly and, when I have it, to exercise my discretion wisely, with justice.
As Senior Resident, I also have responsibilities over the administration of justice in Orange and Chatham Counties. In that role, I have led efforts to reform our local bail policies to ensure that those needing to be held pre-trial are detained, but that those persons charged with low level and non-violent offenses aren’t held in jail, because detention so often leads to unintended consequences like job loss, housing insecurity, or unnecessary time away from family and community.
During the pandemic, we in the courts had the same lessons to learn as the rest of society. One major difference, however, is that we require attendance and participation, unlike a restaurant or movie theater. As we sat at the intersection of Justice and public health, we had to balance the two in a way that was fair and just. We shouldn’t risk public health over a seat belt ticket, nor should we jeopardize justice by closing courts and leaving people in jail. Our quick pivot to technology to allow for remote proceedings, and our efforts to ensure those without technology at home could participate, meant that our courts remained open throughout the pandemic. This pandemic lesson continues to be emphasized today, as we continue to use remote proceedings to increase efficiency and access to justice. Indeed, Orange and Chatham Counties remain statewide leaders in the use of remote proceedings and other innovative approaches that have we have piloted and improved over the last three years, as we continue to improve efficiency for litigants, witnesses, jurors, and law enforcement as they are involved in the court system.
2) How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
While I am a registered Democrat, I firmly believe politics have no place in the courthouse. Judges in the American system of government are not supposed to be partisan, and I believe our decisions and behavior should reflect that. Equally important is that the public not perceive judges or the courts as partisan. If we are seen as political actors, we will lose the perception of legitimacy. Sadly, some believe this has already happened at the national level. I pledge a non-partisan approach to the law, and a fair shot to all who come to court in Orange and Chatham Counties.
3) What do you believe are the three most important qualities a judge must have to be an effective jurist?
Legal expertise. First and foremost, a judge must get the law right. Of course, none of us do every single time, and the appellate courts exist to correct mistakes made in trials. But every ruling can’t be appealed. And so, by and large, parties are stuck with the rulings of the trial court. It is our responsibility as judges to do our level best to make correct rulings.
Fairness. Often within the law, there is room for the exercise of discretion. Whether there is room to give a second chance to a convicted youthful offender, for example, or to enjoin a business from an unfair practice, I must exercise the use of informed discretion, after carefully weighing the arguments of both sides and considering the consequences of my decision on all affected. For those judges, like me, with additional responsibilities concerning the administration of justice, the policies and procedures we implement must also be fair. We must employ evidence-based approaches to make the system fair, in a system when it has not always been so, especially for persons of color. These policies and procedures not only guide our own decisions, but assist other judges and court personnel in achieving procedural and substantive fairness.
Efficiency. Judges must be efficient. When judges (through inexperience, indecision, workload, or otherwise) fail to timely issue rulings, inefficiencies abound. Victims fail to have justice rendered, defendants remain in custody longer than necessary, and litigants incur significant costs. While each case deserves to be heard and its merits adjudicated with contemplation and deliberation, the participants (including jurors and witnesses) deserve an efficient process, as do the cases (and lawyers) coming up next. Unnecessarily prolonging cases make the next case more expensive as parties miss work to wait their turn, and pay their lawyers to do the same.
4) In a sentence, how would you define your judicial philosophy?
I believe in applying the law fairly after hearing from everyone involved.
5) Black North Carolinians are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites. How do you see your responsibility as a judge in addressing racial inequity in the justice system?
The first step is to acknowledge that racial inequity exists in the court system. It is then important to do my part to ensure procedural and substantive fairness. It means continuing to apply evidence-based best practices to ensure criminal justice reform in bail and other pre-trial reform and to deflect and divert persons from the criminal justice system. In trials, it is critical to ensure the jury pool reflects the community, and the jury itself be selected fairly. I can remember more than one case in which a young black male expressed apprehension about being able to serve as a juror because of mistrust of the system. In a case like that, I believe I have a role in attempting to persuade that person to participate in the process, to help get it right in the case before us. One by one, if we get cases right, the system can get it right.
Finally, in the context of sentencing, I am the only judge in the state that requires a Pre-Sentence Investigation in every felony before sentencing. This report allows me to better craft sentences to the individual defendant in front of me. I have a greater understanding of what issues that individual may have, and how to craft a sentence that addresses the risks and needs of the individual before me. This evidence-based approach is a systematic process to avoid personal biases and predilections from driving sentencing.
6) Do you believe the cash bail system is in need of reform? What changes do you believe are necessary to ensure those accused of crimes are not incarcerated due to their inability to afford bond? What factors do you consider when determining the bond amount?
I believe the bail reform we have implemented in Orange County and are in the process of implementing in Chatham County put into place the changes necessary to ensure those accused of crimes are not incarcerated due to inability to pay, and the evidence bears that out. Over the last several years, we have adopted components of bail reform. Recently, with technical assistance of the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab at the UNC School of Government, we have adopted comprehensive bail reform, which includes decision making tools at the magistrate (pre-incarceration) and judge (pre-trial) levels. Our policy eliminates cash bail in cases where a person isn’t eligible for jail, and in other cases points first towards non-cash alternatives. We employ a robust pre-trial services program, GPS, in-patient or out-patient treatment, and other services to officer assistance and ensure community safety.
Those reforms are needed and important, but I must note that there remain certain cases in which bail is still the right solution. There remain individuals who pose significant risk to the safety of the community and for which a cash bond is appropriate. Some are repeat offenders, for whom a quick return to the community may be harmful to them and others.
Some advocate for the abolition of cash bail. The only alternative to that that I am aware of allows the judge to keep certain individuals in custody without bail (an option in a few states, but not allowed in North Carolina except in cases of murder). The devil is in the details, but I have some apprehension about such a system. With the right checks and balances, I could support it.
7) Do you support restorative justice practices prior to sentencing? If so, how would you seek to implement those practices in your capacity as a judge? Which types of cases do you think should be eligible?
I think restorative justice can be an effective tool in district court for less serious cases. While I support its use in Superior Court as well, I think the widespread use of restorative justice in Superior Court is unlikely. It simply takes too much time and too many resources to identify proper cases and marshal them through the system to be an efficient and worthwhile solution in Superior Court. With proper funding and support, I would endorse its use in cases involving a willing victim.
8) Do you support mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, such as low-level drug offenses? Why or why not?
I think low level drug offenses have been over-criminalized in North Carolina for years. However, I believe that in general that North Carolina’s Structured Sentencing framework is a worthwhile structure. The grid sets out a range of sentences (often including options for probation or prison) that the judge must remain within. So in a sense, even our lowest level felonies (Class I) can end up with a “mandatory minimum” if the person convicted has the highest prior record level.
I believe the solution involves decriminalizing possession of certain drugs or otherwise adjusting the class or level of offense for low level offenses, as opposed to taking those crimes out of the Structured Sentencing framework.
9) Some district courts are implementing misdemeanor diversion programs for young and/or first-time offenders. Do you believe programs like these are effective?
Yes. Orange and Chatham Counties have been doing this for years, if not decades. I believe we remain at the forefront of effective diversion programs in the state and perhaps the country. I would gladly endorse any other worthwhile programs that anyone could identify.
10) In many cases, voters know very little about the judges they are electing. Tell us something about yourself that our readers may be surprised to learn.
I am an avid runner, but didn’t run in high school or college. I have run dozens of marathons, including London and Boston a week apart in 2021 and London and New York a month apart this year.