Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Linda Stephens
Date of Birth: November 13, 1950
Campaign Web Site: www.JudgeLinda.org
Occupation & Employer: Judge, State of North Carolina
Years lived in North Carolina: 34
1. What in your record as a judge, lawyer and/or public official, or other relevant positions, demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office. When speaking about your legal experience, please be specific about the nature of positions held, and whether you were hired, appointed or elected.
Having served as a judge on the Court of Appeals since 2006, I have actually done the work of the Court for a substantial enough period of time for my qualifications for the work to be evaluated. As of this writing, I have authored opinions in over 200 cases, none of which have been overturned by our Supreme Court. A recent Lawyers’ Weekly article rated the top 50 cases of 2008, and eight of these were cases where I had written the opinion.
In addition to quality of work, I believe it is appropriate to judge the qualifications of a judge or judicial candidate on the basis of his or her ability to be fair and impartial. My candidacy has been endorsed by groups and individual former appellate judges from across the political and legal spectrum, which I think is a reflection on my ability to judge fairly. All three legal organizations which endorse have endorsed me in my race.
2. If you have experience as a judge, please cite at least one majority opinion, and one minority opinion, which you feel best demonstrate your understanding, and interpretation, of the law. If you have experience as a lawyer, please cite at least one case that you argued that demonstrates this understanding. (Please be specific; provide docket numbers, andif necessaryinclude documents.) If you have other legal experience, please point to an article, opinion or other piece of writing that best demonstrates the same. Please indicate why you have chosen this particular opinion, case and/or piece of writing.
I have authored over 200 opinions during my time on the bench, all of which can be read by visiting my website, http://www.judgelinda.org/opinions.php. Two opinions I wrote which I believe demonstrate careful consideration of the United States Constitution’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. In State v. Hess, a majority opinion, I wrote that a police officer may stop a car if the car’s owner has a suspended license, where there is no evidence suggesting that the driver is not the owner of the car. In State v. Styles, a minority opinion, I wrote that an officer may not stop a car for failing to signal a lane change when that lane change could not have affected any other person on the road. Both cases show my adherence to the record evidence before the Court and my adherence to precedent. I invite you to judge my work for yourself at my website.
3. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please explain.
My husband and my brother-in-law are superior court judges. I do not hear cases in which they have presided. I do not hear cases where a party to the lawsuit is represented or has been represented by my former law firm. As an attorney I practiced in a large firm with many clients, which raised the potential for conflicts of interests. The firm had procedures in place to discover those conflicts and to advise clients when we could not be involved in matters that posed such conflicts.
4. In the case of N.C. v. Frank Delano Washington, which came before the N.C. Court of Appeals, all charges against Washington were dropped because, the appellate court determined, Washington’s right to a speedy trial was denied. What is your interpretation of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial, and what are the implications of releasing a convicted felon, in an effort to preserve that right? Please provide your opinion of the case, and the role you see judges playing in preserving constitutional rights, versus preserving public safety.
Judges are forbidden by the Code of Judicial Conduct to comment on pending cases. As of this writing, the time for appeal has not expired in the case referenced in the question, and I do not know whether the Washington case will be appealed; therefore, I do not know whether it is a pending case and cannot make a specific comment on it.
As a general matter, I view the role of a judge as applying the law. The consequences and wisdom of a particular statute or rule are for the legislature to consider. With regard to Constitutional guarantees, it is a judge’s duty to uphold the constitutions of the United States and of North Carolina without regard to whether any particular individual or group may be pleased or displeased. As unpopular as it may be to say so, it is not a judge’s role to preserve public safety any more than it is a judge’s role to promote any other agenda, however laudable.
5. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that enemy combatants held in the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have a right to file habeas corpus petitions under the federal court system. What is your opinion of Boumediene v. Bush? More generally, what is your opinion of granting constitutional rights to enemy combatants captured in the “War on Terror”?
Please see my response to Question 12 below. I do not believe the issues raised by Question 5 are ones on which I should comment.
6. One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. countiesincluding Alamance, Johnston and Wakehave employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your opinion of these counties’ handling of this program? Critics say that sheriff’s departments in these counties are arresting non-citizens for petty offenses in order to enter them into federal deportation hearings, while local law enforcement agencies insist they are following the rule of law. As someone who, if elected, will interpret the law, what is your legal assessment of these arguments? More generally, can there be discretion in deciding when to apply the rule of law?
Please see my response to Question 12 below. I do not believe the issues raised by Question 6 are ones on which I should comment.
7. In Kimbrough v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for the possession of crack cocaine were unconstitutional. What is your opinion of this ruling, and on mandatory minimum sentencing laws in general? Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Finally, do you feel that state judges can ever apply discretion in interpreting cases differently than federal guidelines mandate? Please provide examples.
The structured sentencing laws currently set minimum and maximum sentences within a sentencing grid that does give trial judges some limited discretion in selecting an appropriate sentence for a particular defendant, taking into account any prior criminal convictions. I believe that trial judges should have some latitude in sentencing to ensure that the sentence imposed is appropriate for the particular defendant and the circumstances of the offense. However, this current system also ensures that there will be substantial uniformity in sentencing so that a sentence will not depend entirely upon the predisposition or preferences of the sentencing judge. I believe the current system works reasonably well and is fair to the defendant, to the victims of crime and to the public.
8. Does the North Carolina Constitution afford more rights than the federal Constitution, or the same?
The North Carolina Constitution provides for many of the same or similar protections as the U.S. Constitution, and it specifically provides a Declaration of Rights containing such important provisions as:
Sec. 14. Freedom of speech and press.
Freedom of speech and of the press are two of the great bulwarks of liberty and therefore shall never be restrained.
Sec. 18. Court shall be open.
All courts shall be open; every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law; and right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay.
Sec. 19. Law of the land; equal protection of the laws.
No person shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the law of the land. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be subjected to discrimination by the State because of race, color, religion, or national origin.
The parties involved in constitutional disputes have historically had the issues heard in the federal courts. This appears to be changing. As litigants find that state courts are available and competent to litigate these issues, we will see more of these cases in our state courts in the future. Our jurisprudence is still developing, and will continue to evolve.
9. Do you think that drug courts and mental-health courts have a place in the North Carolina judicial system? What is your opinion on “alternative sentencing” and restorative justice? Have you ever issued judgments, or advocated for judgments, that emphasize a mutual resolution between victims and defendants, and/or judgments that emphasize treatment over punishment? Please be specific.
Please see my response to Question 12 below. I do not believe the issues raised by Question 9 are ones on which I should comment.
10. What is your interpretation of the purpose of bail?
Bail provides a basic assurance that a person charged with a crime will show up in court to face the charge while allowing the accused to maintain his or her freedom until, and if, the accused is convicted of the crime charged. Appellate court judges do not set bail but might be called upon to review a lower court’s ruling concerning bail. In keeping with the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution which requires that bail not be excessive, the amount of bail must be no more than is reasonably necessary to keep an accused from fleeing before a case is over.
11. Do you favor or oppose applying a plain error review to all alleged errors in capital cases? Do you favor or oppose mandating appellate review in post-conviction capital cases to help avoid arbitrariness in review of post-conviction capital cases by superior court judges? Please explain.
The Court of Appeals does not handle capital cases, and I have had no direct experience with capital cases. I do believe that it is vitally important to have safeguards in place to make sure that all cases — especially capital cases — may be properly and thoroughly reviewed. Since I am not a policy maker and have not had occasion to study the capital process, and since my Court does not handle capital cases, I do not feel I’m in a position to determine what types of review are appropriate.
12. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? In particular, how do you view Canon 7 of the N.C. Judicial Code of Conduct regarding the personal solicitation of campaign contributions, taking positions on issues and endorsing candidates for other offices? What changes would you make to the current system? Please explain.
I favor public financing of appellate judicial races. I believe it is important for the public to have confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, and public financing has helped to further that end.
The United States Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment requires that judges and judicial candidates be permitted a certain amount of freedom to discuss legal issues and other matters. Our North Carolina Supreme Court has adopted rules that permit us wide latitude. However, just because something is permitted does not mean that it is a wise thing to do.
In my view, campaigning for judge by giving your opinions in advance is wrong. It means one of two things: either you intend to vote a particular way regardless of the law and facts related to a particular case, or you don’t intend to, but you want to lead voters into thinking that you will so that they will vote for you.
It takes some real appreciation and respect for our system of government to understand what judges do and why it matters that judges not only are impartial, but that we never give anyone reason to believe that we have a political agenda. For the same reasons, I do not believe it is wise to endorse non-judicial candidates.
Simply put, judges should show good judgment and should safeguard the integrity of the judicial system.
13. 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 have a record of applying the law fairly to all, which is the heart of justice. My worked has earned the endorsements of every legal organization making an endorsement in my race, the teachers (NC Association of Educators), police (PBA, Fraternal Order of Police) and community groups (e.g. Durham People’s Alliance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political caucus).