Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Christine Walczyk
Date of Birth: 02/09/1971
Campaign Web Site: www.JudgeChristine.org
Occupation & Employer: Wake County District Court Judge, AOC
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 obvious issue facing the Wake County judicial district is growth. Our courthouse is at or over capacity with thousands of litigants passing through our doors every day. The public is increasingly discontent with the speed that we are able to handle cases. In Family Court for example, it is imperative that we offer families and children seeking stable custody arrangements a resolution within a reasonable time period.
Some of the overcrowding will be alleviated by the new Judicial System Building that will be built across the street from the current courthouse. My priority in addressing this issue is to continue to work hard to get legally sound and reasoned opinions delivered in a timely fashion.
The cost of litigation is also a growing concern. With the economic crisis looming, litigants are often choosing to represent themselves rather than hire attorneys. As judges, we have to ensure that the court system works for everyone, and that we minimize the disadvantages to individuals choosing to handle their own legal matters.
Everyone is required to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules, so it is important for the entire courthouse to offer as much assistance as possible to the litigants. In this regard, our Chief District Court Judge Robert Rader and the Family Court judges are working to revise the Local Rules to make it easier for folks to navigate the system and to get their cases heard.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district court judge? This mighty include career or community service; be specific about it’s relevance to this office.
If you look at some of the community’s most successful judges you will see some common traits. You will see the courage to make difficult and unpopular decisions. You will see hard working individuals, generous with their time. You will see patience and compassion for those with mental health, poverty and substance abuse issues.
I spent my career managing my own law firm and working diligently as an attorney representing small businesses, indigent criminal defendants, and juveniles charged in delinquency matters. I have been actively involved in the profession and in my community teaching evening courses at Meredith College and Wake Technical Community College, and serving as Chair of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Women in the Profession Committee and on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. I have persistently welcomed the opportunity to serve in leadership positions and to offer myself for professional and community initiatives. I have mentored college and high school students through various programs and I received the Volunteer Lawyer’s Program “Outstanding Volunteer Attorney Award” for two consecutive years.
My current experience as a sitting judge, my work ethic and my passion for serving the community make me well-suited for this position. I have the support of both the local district attorney and the public defender, as well as members of the family law bar. I am also endorsed by the NC Association of Women Attorneys and the Teamsters Local.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
Judicial races are non-partisan races. In my opinion, politics are not relevant in District Court. We need impartial, balanced, intelligent and temperate judges with no agendas. A judge’s experience and work ethic are far better measures of a judge’s ability than his or her political philosophy.
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.
Following the letter of the law as it written, and not as we would like it to be, is the principle I swore an oath to uphold. Each and every decision we make as judges in District Court costs us some popularity with voters. For example, I am currently assigned to our Family Court system. If I grant custody of a child to one parent, the other parent will undoubtedly be upset. As judges, we cannot be swayed by popular opinion. We must look solely to the law, and we must apply it evenly and with compassion. I vow that I will continue to work diligently to shelter my decisions from the glare of public influence and to do my best to use reasoned and impartial judgment in all my decisions.
5. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
There is interrelatedness amongst all communities. The character and health of our courthouse and the legal community is built on the shoulders of the judges and attorneys who work there. In turn, the character and health of our local community is dependent on the fitness of our legal system. Our bustling courthouse impacts thousands of litigants, jurors, witnesses, and lawyers, every day. The decisions I make as a judge impact children and families for years. If there is injustice in our courthouse, there will be a rippling of injustice throughout our communities. By choosing impartial and hard working judges, we can build a better community.
6. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?
District Court judges serve four year terms. At this time, I truly enjoy my position as a District Court Judge and I plan to serve as long as the community deems me qualified.
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 represented children in juvenile court for many years, and my views are based on that experience as well as my experience on the bench.
The benefit to prosecuting an individual as a juvenile, rather than as an adult, is that we are able to balance the application of punishment with rehabilitative philosophies and services to the juvenile. There is still an opportunity for a juvenile to flourish in society without the badge of an adult criminal record.
Even in cases of violence where the public’s safety outweighs the needs of the juvenile, the juvenile system provides for removal of violent offenders from the community. Raising the jurisdictional age in juvenile court to 18 is something that must be decided by the Legislature, but if the Legislature deems it appropriate in non-violent cases, I would not oppose it.
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.
All bonds should be set in accordance with North Carolina law, including N.C.G.S. §15A-534. The purpose of a bond is to ensure attendance at scheduled court hearings, and in some cases, to protect the public. The guidelines set by the Chief Superior Court Judge and the Chief District Court Judge provide a bond range for each class offense, but judges are not limited by these guidelines if the statutory considerations call for an adjustment. Therefore, I do not believe the guidelines need modification. Rather, judges need to consider all statutory factors and set reasonable bonds that will insure attendance but offer an opportunity for release where that is an appropriate option.
9. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
The infusion of gang related violence in our schools, the rising death toll among teenage drivers, and the increase in dropout rates in the County are all cause for alarm.
As a lawyer, I represented juveniles charged in delinquency cases for many years. I was one of two attorneys who represented juveniles in the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court. I also represented juveniles facing suspension or expulsion from public school. I am currently assigned to Family Court where I regularly see broken and high conflict families including troubled and at-risk youth.
Delinquency and gang involvement are serious problems in our community. I believe that juveniles need to be offered alternatives to gangs. We need to eliminate the allure of gangs by offering at-risk youth alternative support systems. Athletic or youth club opportunities and mentoring programs for at-risk youth are a good start. As a community, we need to commit our money and our time to youth programs and to focus our energy on education and opportunity for at-risk individuals — one student at a time. Gangs offer a sense of belonging; the children who become involved with gangs often do so because they do not see much hope in their futures. We need an integrated approach that includes real educational opportunities. At the same time, we need violent and habitual offenders to be held accountable in the court system.
10. District court judges do not continue cases past 120 days after the first appearance. Is that too long, or too short? Why?
In an ideal world, 120 days is too long. This delay usually means that defendants, victims, police officers, and witnesses are coming to court at least three times before the case is resolved. Unfortunately, Wake County growth has caused extreme overcrowding in our courtrooms. Some days we have more than 1500 traffic tickets scheduled in one courtroom and four other courtrooms running simultaneously with 700 or more criminal cases. In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, Wake County disposed of more than 223,000 cases in District Court. There is just not enough time in the day to resolve all of the cases as quickly as we would like. Because of this overcrowding, we need judges who make good decisions, but who are diligent and hard-working and know how to manage their dockets.
11. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? Please explain. What changes would you make to the current system?
I do favor public financing. Judicial independence is imperative in our legal system. The election process lends itself to the appearance of impropriety when judges are forced to ask for and accept campaign contributions.
I would prefer some form of merit selection to our current electoral system. Although we want judges to be accountable for their performance, they should not be guided by public opinion, or concerned about popularity with voters.
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?
In District Court, we do not typically continue cases past 120 days. Unlike Superior Court, where District Attorneys control the setting of the cases for trial, judges in District Court determine when a case will be set next. Typically, cases are set on the officer’s next available court date which is one month from the current date. If I am asked for a continuance, I hold the State of North Carolina and the individual charged to the same standard in deciding whether to grant such a request. I respect other judge’s decisions regarding cases that are marked “last” and I honor those decisions.
Upholding the right to a speedy trial is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of Constitutional law. It is an important protection that must be given effect by our courts, and the consequences of equal application of the law should not deter its faithful application.
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 purpose of structured sentencing is to ensure proportionality in the application of criminal sentences. The legislature intended for there to be more severe punishments for repeat offenders. My personal view of the Habitual Felon Act is irrelevant, as the propriety of it is a matter for the Legislature, and we do not handle habitual felony status offenses in District Court.
Structured sentencing provides some flexibility for judges in that each “box” on the structured sentencing chart provides a range of punishments that are available. Even when structured sentencing requires an active prison sentence, a judge will have some discretion in determining the length of the sentence by deviating from the presumptive guideline.
I prefer structured sentencing to total judicial discretion because the latter lends itself to the inconsistent application of sentences including disparities based on race or income. In most cases, judges are able to use their discretion within the framework of structured sentencing to fashion a fair sentence.