Name as it appears on the ballot: Clayton Jones
Campaign website: www.claytonjonesforjudge.com
Phone number: 984-221-8543
Years lived in the district: 18 years
1. What do you believe are the three most important qualities a judge must have to be effective? Are there any particular judges, either on the state or federal level, who you believe exemplify these qualities?
For a judge to be effective, a judge must be knowledgeable of the law, attentive to all parties by remaining patient, dignified, and courteous to all parties without making inappropriate comments, and be in sync with the pulse of the community by being actively engaged in the community. I believe Associate Justice Michael Morgan of the North Carolina Supreme Court exemplifies these qualities and sets a great example for judges to follow.
2. What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a judge?
I believe my life experience and work history qualifies me to serve as a judge. My parents and grandparents taught me the importance of working hard, being punctual and treating everyone with dignity and respect. I worked 13 years an assistant public defender and the last two years as an assistant district attorney. I have the requisite experience, knowledge and temperament to become Durham’s next district court judge. I have the proper temperament to attentively listen to everyone who will appear before me and ensure they will be treated respectfully while remaining open minded to reserve judgement until all evidence and testimony has been presented. I will respect everyone’s time by continuing to be punctual. I will apply my training, experience, and knowledge to promote equality for all people.
3. In a sentence, how would you define your judicial philosophy?
I would define my judicial philosophy as judicial activism which is necessary to remedy the disparities and inequalities in our judicial system by applying the law fairly and with balance to people regardless of your race, gender, sexuality or finances.
4. How do you define yourself politically? How do your political beliefs affect your judicial approach?
I am a registered Democrat. My political views will not affect the application of the law. I will apply the law to the facts of the cases heard before me. I believe in tempering justice with mercy. Everyone must be treated with dignity and respect.
5. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe merits another term?
North Carolina has approximately 272 district court judges. Unfortunately, Durham County is one of the few counties with a sitting judge who has been reprimanded by the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission. My opponent did not contest the facts or oppose the Judicial Standards Commission recommendation for a public reprimand. My opponent made a choice to disrespect an African American mother, young child, the citizens of Durham and those currently in our Durham County Jail as Durham County’s Bed and Breakfast. Everyone appearing before the Court must be treated with dignity and respect. Moreover, no one should be berated or made to feel as if they are less than human or minimized being called a child or baby. Our young people are our future. All of our tools and resources should be used to uplift our children and repair the familial unit which will create a better Durham for all people.
6. On any given day, there are North Carolina resident in jail are not because they’ve been convicted of a crime but because they cannot afford their bail. How would you determine whether pretrial incarceration is appropriate? Do you support having a bail schedule with guidelines for how judges should make bail determinations? Why or why not?
I am an advocate for expanding our pretrial release programs. Absent a history of failures to appears, the bond for nonviolent misdemeanors and low level nonviolent felonies will be unsecured. I would not presume release for domestic violence, any violent misdemeanors, or misdemeanors involving sexual battery. I believe the court should operate with a presumptive bond schedule; however, there should be a rebuttable presumption to allow the court to deviate from the guidelines if factors are presented to the court to impose less restrictive conditions. I will rely on my experiences as an assistant public defender and assistant district attorney to set an appropriate bond supported by the law. I will balance protecting the community while acknowledging everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I will promote pretrial programs over jailing.
7. What changes to the cash bail system, if any, do you support? Why? If you don’t support any changes, please explain why you think the current system is successful.
I think the time is ripe to address our bonding system. Money should not be the sole reason an individual is incarcerated. I know bondsmen in Durham who are willing to work with the accused and their family to structure a payment plan so that the accused can be released; however, in other parts of the United States, individuals are being held solely because they do not have money. Critics of no cash bond argue it is a money shifting program that allows judges too much discretion based on their personal experiences or rely on algorithms. I cannot say I support abolishing money bail in North Carolina without further information on how it will be implemented in North Carolina. I do not agree with an automatic no bond for a failure to appear or some technical violation as a condition of bond. I support a system where an unsecure bond is assigned for nonviolent misdemeanors and nonviolent low level felonies. We need to fix our current system to reduce/eliminate confinement solely based on a defendant’s inability to pay a bond absent a finding of fact that the accused is a threat to the community, has a history of failures to appear, no employment history, and has no ties to the community.
8. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, black people in North Carolina are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people, despite the state being majority white. What responsibility do you think judges hold in addressing racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and what would you do to address these inequities?
In district court, judges sit as the jury for all cases. The judge has a responsibility to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system. A judge must ensure all people are treated with equality. I would reject any plea offer that appears to discriminate against any person. I would encourage offering diversionary programs to prevent the collateral consequences of a conviction. I will suppress any evidence that hints of profiling or targeting any groups. Justice must be applied equally and fairly to all people.
9. In some cases, individuals who fail to appear in court for traffic violations are arrested and placed in jail, even if there is an arguable valid reason for the failure to appear. These arrests remain on the person’s record. Do you believe judges should ever overlook failures to appear for things like traffic violations? If so, in what circumstances? If not, why not?
Durham County has to address how failures to appear in court are handled. Judges should liberally recall failure to appear for minor traffic matters excluding driving while impaired, hit and run with property damage, failure to stop for school bus, fleeing to elude, and speeding in excess of 20 miles per hour. If the person misses a court date and appears within a reasonable time after the missed date, the failure to appear should be stricken and added to the traffic docket for disposition. Any failure to appear should be stricken upon a showing of good cause.
10. Do you support restorative justice practices prior to sentencing? If so, please explain what sort of practices you support and in what types of cases? Who should be eligible?
I support restorative justice programs prior to sentencing. I will support removing the age to the misdemeanor diversion program so that anyone without a prior criminal record regardless of age would qualify. We have to protect our high school and college student from the collateral consequences of a conviction. I will order community service hours through a nonprofit in lieu of imposing fines or imposing the mandatory $250.00 community service fee. I will promote mediation for nonviolent pro se warrants to encourage a resolution satisfactory to all parties involved.
11. How do you believe low-level drug cases should be handled?
Low-level drug cases should be handled by advocating for treatment and focusing on diversionary programs to avoid convictions. The ultimate goal for the court system should be to restore justice involved citizens to productive citizens. The criminal justice system should not criminalize addiction, but provide treatment through programs like Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC), First Step, Genesis, and the Durham County Drug Treatment Program.
12. In North Carolina, court fees have increased 400 percent over the past twenty years, and nonpayment may be punished with more fees, license revocation, or jail time. Do you believe the justice system in North Carolina criminalizes poverty? If not, please explain. If yes, what would you do as a judge to mitigate that?
The criminal justice system in North Carolina has criminalized poverty. Our General Assembly has imposed fines and fees on those who are in the worst position to pay. Taxes have been cut for the wealthy while increasing court cost to pay maintenance costs for the court system and to balance the budget. As I judge, I will follow the law by conducting a hearing to determine the individual’s financial ability to pay. If there is a finding the person is unable to pay the court fees, the fees will be remitted.