Name as it appears on the ballot: James T. (Jim) Hill
Campaign website: https://judgejimhill.com/
Phone number: 919-477-7987
Years lived in the district: 67
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?
First and foremost, judges should know the law. They should also be compassionate, patient, and nonpartisan in their decision-making. In my 41 years as a lawyer and judge, many judges come to mind that possess some or all of these qualities. Judges Tom Lee and Milton Read immediately come to mind. They were judges when I first began to practice law. Judge Lee was patient, kind and knowledgeable. Judge Read was firm in the way he ran his courtroom and I learned a lot about being a lawyer and judge practicing before him. Judges Elaine O’Neal and Marcia Morey were compassionate in dealing with those less fortunate. Judge Jim Hardin knows the law and runs an efficient courtroom. Judge Orlando Hudson is patient and compassionate. Judge Bill Manson had compassion and charity. I recall a time where he gave his own shoes to a defendant in court because the man did not have any. That moment resonated with me. All of these judges, and many more too numerous to mention, have helped influence and mold me to make me the knowledgeable, patient, kind and nonpartisan judge that I aspire to be today.
2. What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a judge?
I have over 40 years experience practicing law and serving as a District Court Judge in Durham County. In my 25 years of practicing law, I represented individuals in all the courts of the District Court Division, as well as matters in the Superior Court Division. My practice at that time, which was common amongst many members of the local bar association, was that of a general practitioner. This required me to handle civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile cases, exposing me to all walks of life and the legal issues they faced. Also, while in private practice I served as a District Court Arbitrator, giving me the opportunity to preside over 100 cases as the Arbitrator. I also served as a certified mediator helping opposing parties find common ground resolving their legal disputes to avoid litigation in the courts.
As a District Court Judge, I have presided over every type of case heard in the District Court Division. I have done my best to help those involved with the District Courts, whether it was a civil litigant, criminal defendant, victim of crime, parent, spouse or child, leave the courthouse believing they were afforded the opportunity to a fair and just hearing. I have also been involved with community outreach programs as a District Court Judge by engaging the citizens of Durham County, attempting to improve their lives. Since being appointed as the Chief District Court Judge in April, 2017, I have been in charge of managing the District Court Division including our 16 magistrates. As the Chief District Court Judge, I have also been actively representing the Durham County District Courts in lobbying for financial support from the North Carolina General Assembly, North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts and local representatives ensuring that the District Courts are well funded and supported with adequate personnel.
Every day I am grateful when I walk into the Durham County Courthouse possessing 41 years of legal experience. My goal is to ensure the District Courts function effectively and provide all parties the opportunity to participate, knowing they will receive a fair and impartial hearing in their search for justice. I am always nonpartisan in all that I do in the courtroom. Partisan politics has no place in the courtroom and my courtrooms will always remain free of it.
3. In a sentence, how would you define your judicial philosophy?
I am an impartial arbiter of the facts and I apply the facts to the law as it is, not as I wish it to be.
4. How do you define yourself politically? How do your political beliefs affect your judicial approach?
I am a Republican. I have been a registered Republican for my entire judicial career.
My political beliefs do not affect my judicial approach. I apply the law to the facts and render a decision. Partisan politics have no place in the court system and have no impact on decisions I make in the courtroom. I am sworn to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the State of North Carolina and the rights afforded to every person who may appear in my court. At times this may require me to make rulings that may not be politically popular, but are legally correct in applying the North Carolina General Statutes, the North Carolina Constitution and the United States Constitution to the facts at hand.
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?
I am the incumbent. I have held my seat, unopposed, for 16 years.
I believe my actions as a District Court Judge for the past 16 years merits another term. One of the cases that I am most proud of is when I was the first District Court judge in the State of North Carolina to rule that charging a criminal defendant an administrative fee of $50.00 to obtain a court appointed lawyer was unconstitutional. That law struck at the core of the criminal justice system. My ruling was eventually affirmed by the North Carolina Supreme Court in the case of State v. Webb, 356 NC 92 (2004). My actions show that I am a strong advocate for restorative justice programs. I previously presided over the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program for many years, helping juveniles facing addictions overcome challenges to become the member of our society they truly want to become, without destroying their future by becoming a statistic in the criminal system. I have also helped improve the lives of the children of Durham County by establishing a Truancy Court at Carrington Middle School that ensures regular attendance at school. I have presided over this Court since its inception for more than 10 years ago. Recognizing the cause and effect relationship of mental health issues in the District Courts, I established and now preside over the newly created Mental Health Court. I am also a proponent of alternative sentencing by encouraging the use of pretrial diversions, deferred prosecutions and other mechanisms to avoid criminal convictions. As well, I employ alternatives to incarceration such as house arrest, inpatient treatment and day reporting for those convicted of certain crimes. I have also referred 100s to the pretrial services, which allows the accused criminal defendants to be released pending trial without having to post a secured bond.
On an administrative level, I open my courts on time and do my best to move the process forward in an expeditious manner. When not in court, I remain in the courthouse to be available for matters that may arise throughout the day addressing the needs of the public and courthouse personnel. I have shown that I am honored to serve the citizens of Durham County and am dedicated to fulfilling my duties.
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?
There are multiple sections in the North Carolina General Statutes that outline what a judge is required to do setting the terms and conditions of a defendant’s pretrial release. Applying these statutes to each individual case does not allow for a uniform standardized result across the board, as every case must be reviewed on its specific facts. As a judge I am required to review the nature of the crime charged, the criminal record of the accused, their history, if any, with the criminal justice system, their ties to the community, their employment history, educational history, what the requests of the victim may be and what is necessary to protect the community. All of these questions must be asked when the conditions of pretrial release are considered.
After taking into consideration the factors required by law, I believe some form of pretrial release without a secured monetary bond is the first priority when appropriate. Even if a secured monetary bond is required, I look to determine if referring the defendant to a pretrial program is an appropriate option. I am a strong supporter of the pretrial program, which allows the defendant to be released without posting a secured monetary bond, but under conditions such as daily reporting and electronic monitoring. This allows the defendant to maintain the status quo as best as possible. They are allowed to remain employed, remain in school and support their families without the threat of losing it all in the event they cannot afford to post a secured monetary bond.
I do support having a bail schedule as merely a guide or reference, not a bright line rule requiring a certain bond for a specific charge. A judge should use their experience and discretion in determining the appropriate method to employ in pretrial release. I am also in favor of reviewing the current guidelines with those involved in the criminal justice system to ensure those accused of a crime are being treated fairly and justly, while also protecting the community.
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 look forward to meeting with our Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and other stakeholders to consider revisions to our current guidelines. I was not involved in determining the current guidelines, which were set in March 2011 by Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and then Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey. I would encourage the expansion of the pretrial release program in the future.
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?
When a case is before me, I balance all factors having been presented in an effort to rule in a fair and just manner regardless of race. Given the racial disparity issues in the criminal justice system, I have taken many courses of action to address this issue. I have participated in restorative justice programs and community outreach programs such as Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, Adult Drug Treatment Court, Truancy Court and Mental Health Court. I would encourage that these programs be expanded; however, we are limited by financial and judicial resources. I intend to continue lobbying our state and local representatives for increased spending and resources so that these programs can be expanded.
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?
I routinely strike failures to appear in traffic court, especially in situations where it will enable the defendant to obtain a valid drivers license. Sometimes failures to appear cannot be overlooked depending on the age of the case and the accumulation of multiple charges over an extended period of time. If there is a clear disregard for the rule of law and the safety of the community by a defendant in not attending to their legal affairs then I have to take that into consideration as well. I believe we should do as much as the law allows in helping the defendant become a lawful driver as this benefits the defendant and the community.
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 wholeheartedly support restorative justice practices to avoid the collateral consequences of a conviction and have used them during my career on the bench. It is clear to me the majority of times people before me are dealing with underlying mental health and, or substance abuse issues. We have a duty to address the issues that may be the underlying cause for the reason the person is appearing in my court. In Mental Health Court we deal with minor and serious cases (assault, armed robbery, property crimes and the like). We work with the individual intensively for a minimum of six months. This allows the coordinator to help the individual obtain the appropriate treatment, counseling and housing to ensure they remain drug free. If the individual completes the program, their charges are dismissed. I also encourage the use of deferred prosecutions and N.C.G.S. § 90-96 programs where an individual can participate in drug/alcohol treatment and, or community service programs for a determinative period of time showing good behavior to obtain a dismissal of their charges.
11. How do you believe low-level drug cases should be handled?
I believe for low-level drug cases that the State of North Carolina chooses to prosecute, the defendant should be given the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction. As stated above, I believe there should be some form of evaluation and treatment for the individual to address their substance abuse so that they can avoid the criminal conviction. There are numerous programs such as TASC, deferred prosecutions and N.C.G.S. § 90-96 that help achieve this goal.
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?
Unfortunately North Carolina does criminalize poverty. In my 41 years of practicing law and serving as a District Court Judge, I have watched court costs astronomically increase along with new administrative fees being assessed that did not previously exist. This increase in court costs and imposition of administrative fees do punish those with low income. The North Carolina General Assembly has limited the ability a judge has in waiving these court costs, administrative fees and fines. As discussed earlier, one of my proudest moments as a judge was being the first judge in the State of North Carolina to rule unconstitutional the imposition of a $50.00 administrative imposed on an indigent defendant seeking court appointed counsel. In like fashion, I intend to continue to do as much as the law allows in making sure the indigent are not punished due to their financial resources.
I will continue to speak out to legislators and other elected officials about making laws fair so that fees and fines do not pay for needed services in North Carolina. Currently, lawmakers too often turn to fees and fines as a more hidden way and more politically popular method to raise revenue for needed services. Our governments should be far more open and transparent with the people on the cost of needed services. They should fund those services by use of the fairest methods possible rather than turning to fees and fines to pay for the courts, law enforcement and other needed services. Putting the burden of funding services on fees and fines ends up having our government rely on the most antiquated and unfair method to pay for services, which harms the poor the most.