Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Betsy J. Wolfenden
Date of Birth: April 24, 1955
Campaign Web Site: betsyforjudge.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney, Law Offices of Betsy J. Wolfenden
Years lived in Orange/Chatham County: 12
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing your judicial district? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
The most important issues facing District 15B are:
- The greatest need in 15B District Court is fair and impartial judges who will follow the law and who aren’t afraid to challenge the entrenched “good ol’ boy network” operating in some of our district courtrooms. There is currently a crisis of leadership in 15B District Court which is affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the court at every level.
- The lack of a Family Court in 15B District Court is harming the most vulnerable members of our community, namely, women and children.
- The calendaring of civil cases in 15B is outdated and inefficient. There are too few court dates devoted to cases involving neglected and abused children, which results in a backlog. In some courtrooms “sham” hearings” are being held in order to move these cases through the system without protecting the constitutional rights of children and parents.
My top three priorities in addressing the problems above:
- Exposing the “good ol’ boy network” so it’s eliminated.
- Working with the local Family Law Bar to implement a Family Court with specialized rules of court and judges so that Orange and Chatham County families can resolve domestic issues such as alimony, equitable distribution, child custody and child support within a reasonable amount of time and without their children’s college funds on their legal fees.
- Over the years, there has been a disturbing string of reversals in the Court of Appeals of 15B District Court cases involving abused and neglected children. We need judges who are knowledgeable in the law governing these cases and who are willing to protect the rights of parents and children. We also need more court dates devoted to these cases to reduce the backlog and to allow for contested hearings at which the Department of Social Services is required to carry its burden of proof or return the children to their homes.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district court judge? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Since 2000, I have been practicing family law and criminal defense in Orange, Chatham, Durham, Alamance and Wake Counties. Compared to our neighbors, 15B District Court is outdated and inefficient and does not reflect our progressive and diverse community. Our entire district court needs to be examined and reformed so that we serve our citizens as well as our neighboring counties.
I have been assigned counsel for the Appellant Defenders Office since 2006, representing indigent criminal defendants, parents and juveniles on appeal. Appellate work should be a prerequisite for all district court judicial candidates because the focus of each appeal is on the law.
I have spent hundreds of hours providing volunteer legal services to the Women’s Center in Chapel Hill, which has kept me abreast of the concerns and legal needs of women in this judicial district. I would like to implement a system which allows parents to mediate child custody without having to file a costly lawsuit, which most parents can’t afford.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am running for a non-partisan office. My campaign platform is reflected by the words of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on my campaign website: “The law makes a promise — neutrality. If the promise gets broken, the law as we know it ceases to exist.” I intend on being a fair, patient, and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts of each case with the goal of solving a problem.
4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
Court corruption in District 15B needs to be eradicated. The attorneys who benefit from the current “good ol’ boy network” are not going to vote for me because they are afraid that the changes and reforms I propose will affect their power and influence in the courtroom and, ultimately, their bottom line. 15B District Court needs to be brought into the 21st Century!
5. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
I am going to be a fair, impartial judge who follows the law without regard to local politics or favoritism. Women, children, low-income citizens and minorities in District 15B are not always being treated fairly or receiving justice. Some district courtrooms have become overly politicized and decisions are being made with the goal of getting re-elected.
6. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?
Unlike my opponent who must retire six months into the four-year term, I am able to serve the entire term.
7. North Carolina prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. (Thirteen-year-old juveniles who are charged with felonies can also be prosecuted as adults, if transferred from juvenile court.) Do you support the raising of the juvenile jurisdiction to 18? Please explain why or why not.
I support giving judges the discretion to prosecute 16-year-olds as juveniles.
8. Are you in favor of raising suggested bond guidelines for serious felonies? Are you in favor of unsecured bonds for Class 2 and 3 misdemeanors? Please explain.
As long as judges have the discretion to raise bond after considering relevant factors, I am not in favor of raising suggested bond guidelines for serious felonies. I am in favor of written promises to appear and unsecured bonds for Class 2 and Class 3 misdemeanors.
9. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
I have represented juveniles on appeal but not in juvenile court. I have had the pleasure of assisting some of my teenage daughter’s friends in court on matters ranging from emancipation to criminal defense. Nothing is more satisfying than helping a child navigate the court system.
We need to implement a One Family-One Judge system in our district so that children who become involved with the court can be monitored and mentored.
Juveniles who are given the opportunity to contribute to their community are less likely to harm that community. I support expanding Teen Court for non-violent repeat juvenile offenders. We need to provide guidance and assistance to teenagers who “age out” of foster care. Many teenagers join gangs because gang membership provides them with a source of income. Keeping our kids engaged in the community, educated, and employed is the best way to prevent delinquency and gang involvement.
10. District court judges do not continue cases past 120 days after the first appearance. Is that too long or too short? Why?
Each case is unique and judges should have the discretion to lengthen or shorten sentences on a case-by-case basis.
11. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? Please explain. What changes would you make to the current system?
I favor public financing for all judicial races.
I am the only judicial candidate running for a 15B District Court seat who has not accepted contributions from attorneys practicing law in the 15B District.
There is an inherent conflict of interest in a judicial candidate’s receipt of money from attorneys practicing in his/her district. When a judge later hears cases argued by those attorneys, there’s a risk that an element of favoritism could prevent the judge from making an entirely impartial decision.
12. The state Court of Appeals recently overturned a conviction of a man sentenced to more than 60 years in prison, citing the district attorney’s delaying of his trial for nearly five years. If elected, what will be your procedure for ensuring that defendants receive a speedy and fair trial? What is your opinion of upholding the right to a speedy trial, when the consequence of doing so might be that a person guilty of a serious crime goes free?
I believe the Court of Appeals correctly applied the test set forth in Barker v. Wingo to the facts of the case referenced above. The best way of ensuring that defendants receive a speedy and fair trial is for judges to pay attention to what is going on in each case by actually reading the court file and researching the law applicable to the case.
13. North Carolina’s Habitual Felon Act mandates that repeat felony offenders receive more punitive sentences. Should judges be given more discretion to impose sentences tailored to each individual case? Please explain your answer.
The Habitual Felon Act should have been repealed in 1993 when the Structured Sentencing Act was enacted. One of the purposes of the Structured Sentencing Act was to eliminate the possibility of racial discrimination in sentencing. The Habitual Felon Act has the opposite effect because it allows prosecutors to decide who gets charged as a habitual felon.