Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Bryan Collins
Full Legal Name: George Bryan Collins, Jr.
Date of Birth: 9-13-60
Campaign Web Site: www.bryancollinsforjudge.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney. Wake County’s Public Defender
Years lived in Wake County: 27
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the Superior Court, District 10E? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
The most important issue facing the courts today is also the number one reason I am seeking election. That issue is the public’s increasing lack of confidence in our system of justice. There have been far too many examples in the Triangle in the past few years of court officials failing to conduct themselves with the integrity and the professionalism that we should demand of our judges and attorneys. My priorities in addressing that issue are: A. I will always conduct myself in strict adherence to the law and the rules governing ethical and professional conduct. B. I will work very hard to make sure that my rulings are well researched and legally sound. C. I will treat all people who come before me with respect. This includes basic common courtesy such as getting to court on time and working a full day every day.
That ties in with another important issue facing our courts. This issue is the tremendous population growth of Wake County. Our court resources have not kept pace with that growth, resulting in court dockets that are far too crowded. It is taking far too long for people to get their cases resolved and that isn’t good for anybody. My priority in addressing that problem is to work harder. We can’t take shortcuts and we can’t speed things up or else we will compromise the quality of justice. What we can do and what I promise to do is to make full use of the court time we have. That means getting to court on time, working all day in the courtroom, and working on administrative matters outside the regular court sessions.
There are many other pressing issues including gang violence, access to the courts by those who can’t afford attorneys, and access to interpreters for those who do not speak English or who are hearing impaired. Those issues require a collaborative effort among law enforcement, the General Assembly, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and community agencies. I am well suited to be a part of such a broad based approach to tackling such issues because as the head of the Public Defender’s office I am already serving on various working groups and task forces who are addressing these issues. My hope is that I will have an even greater influence on bringing successful solutions to these issues if I am elected to the Superior Court bench.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective superior court judge? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have been practicing law in Wake County for twenty-seven years. I have practiced in a big firm and as a solo practitioner. For the past seven years, I have been Wake County’s Public Defender, having started that office from scratch and built it into an office with twenty-nine lawyers handling thousands of cases a year. I am a Board Certified Specialist in North Carolina Criminal Law. I am one of only a handful of lawyers in Wake County who are approved by the Capital Defender to be assigned first degree murder cases.
I have a long history of service to the legal profession, beginning with serving as President of the Wake County Young Lawyers and including service as President of the North Carolina Public Defenders Association and the Wake County Academy of Criminal Trial Lawyers; two terms on the Board of Directors of the 10th Judicial District Bar and the Wake County Bar Association; two terms on the Grievance Committee of the 10th Judicial District Bar; and membership in the American Council of Chief Defenders. I am also a member of the faculty of the North Carolina Public Defender Trial School where I teach trial skills to young lawyers.
I have served the larger community in ways that have a direct impact on my effectiveness as a judge by serving on the Board of Southlight, Inc., where I have gained valuable knowledge of all issues surrounding substance abuse and treatment. I am a founding Board member of Carolina Correctional Services, a not for profit Wake County agency that administers programs that offer alternatives to incarceration. I’m also on the Board of The Child’s Advocate, a not for profit agency that provides lawyers to children who have legal needs not currently met by any other agency, such as children who are witnesses to crimes and children whose parents are engaged in bitter custody battles.
Finally, hundreds of lawyers responded to a survey done by the North Carolina Bar Association in which they were asked to rate incumbent judges and their challengers in six different categories: Integrity and Fairness, Legal Ability, Professionalism, Communication, Administrative Skills, and Overall Ability. In every category, I got excellent ratings and my overall rating was higher than any incumbent judge in the state. To see the complete results, go to http://jpe.ncbar.org/ncba-judicial-election-information/2012-judicial-candidates/superior-court-judge-district-10e-(one-seat)/bryan-collins.aspx.
3. 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.
I will not be concerned with popularity points with voters. Every ruling I make will be made with the law as my guide.
4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
I believe that justice results when everyone faithfully and honorably adheres to the process and lets the process produce the result. My biggest criticism of our judicial system is that its people tend to be overly focused on results. They let the result they hope to achieve dictate the process. That defeats the purpose of having a process. My election will help build a more just system because I will insist that the process be followed at all times. By this, I mean that everyone has a right to have their witnesses heard and their arguments considered before any judgment or ruling is made. I will never assume I know what a case is all about just by the way a person looks or dresses and will always keep an open mind until I have heard everything the law requires me to hear. Every case is different and justice requires that every case be judged on its own merits.
5. What is your experience with juvenile felony offenders? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
I supervise the defense of every indigent juvenile in Wake County who is alleged to be delinquent. I carry a case load myself that includes me personally representing people as young as fifteen who are charged with murder and other serious felonies. Many of those cases have some component of gang activity associated with them.
These cases don’t happen in a vacuum. There is a strong correlation between juvenile crime and juveniles who grew up in violent homes and/or homes without parents or with parents who have their own problems with mental health, substance abuse, and violence. We have to approach this problem from every angle possible. Schools, churches, community groups, law enforcement, friends, neighbors, coaches, mentoring programs, and many other players can have much more of an impact on this that the courts can. Sadly, it is often too late to be of much help to a child by the time we see them in court.
6. What improvements could be made in the Wake County judicial system to expedite the trying of cases and ease caseloads?
Wake County is growing so rapidly that it is difficult for its infrastructure to keep pace. This is certainly true for the court system. I advise taking a cautious approach when talking about the expediting of cases. We cannot become so worried about efficiency that we sacrifice individual liberties and due process. So, I would be wary of any proposal that might have even the potential to go faster just for the sake of going faster. However, I also understand that justice delayed is often justice denied. What I promise to do if I’m elected is to work harder and make the very best use of the resources that we do have. There is no excuse for judges coming to work late and leaving early. We need judges who are reliable and dependable and have the energy and the work ethic to come in early and stay at work late to make sure the work is done.
7. How can the court system make it easier for clients and the public to understand and navigate it?
The most important thing we can do is to dedicate ourselves to the proposition that the courts belong to the people and stop treating the courts as if they are our own personal territory. Judges need to make it their business to make sure that every single person who comes before them understands the process. They need to be patient and listen. They need to answer people’s questions and treat them with respect. Far too often, judges are too busy checking off boxes on a form as people answer “yes” to a series of questions written by a bunch of bureaucrats instead of actually taking the time to make sure they actually understand what is going on.
8. There have been several cases of innocent people being sentenced to prison or even to death. While this largely falls to the defense and prosecution, what can judges do to ensure innocent people are not punished?
This goes back to what I was referring to earlier about following the process. Judges must ensure that both parties to a case are playing by the rules. In this context, it means making sure that the discovery process is followed and imposing meaningful sanctions when it is not. Judges need to be mindful that the jury selection process must be conducted in a fair manner, that the rulings during the trial must be made according to the law and not to engineer a particular result, that the judge’s demeanor toward both sides must be impartial and not designed to give either side an advantage with the jury, that only relevant evidence be allowed, and that all other aspects of procedural and substantive due process be afforded to every person charged with a crime.