Full Legal Name: Louis B. Meyer, III
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Louis Meyer
Seat/ District: Meyer seat / District 10
Partisan Affiliation: (Non-partisan race) Democrat
Date of Birth: December 14, 1957
Home Address: Swift Creek Township, Wake County, NC
Mailing Address (if different from home): P.O. Box 25627, Raleigh, NC 27611
Campaign Web Site: www.keepjudgemeyer.com
Occupation & Employer: District Court Judge / N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts
Bachelor’s Degree Year & Institution: B.A. History, 1980, Wake Forest University
JD Year & School: J.D., 1983, Wake Forest University School of Law
Years lived in North Carolina: All of my life. I have lived in Wake County for 30 years.
Work Phone: 919-792-4800
1.What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Court? What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
Wake County’s large and growing population makes it very difficult for our county’s court system to manage the extremely high volume of cases scheduled every day in District Court. District Court cases include traffic offenses, DWI’s, misdemeanor crimes, domestic violence cases, juvenile offenses, family law cases, and other civil disputes. Close to 200,000 criminal and civil cases were disposed of in Wake County District Court during the latest annual reporting period. On some days, more than 1,000 people come to our criminal and civil District Court courtrooms to have their cases heard. This huge caseload puts great pressure on our District Court judges, clerks, prosecutors, public defenders, and courtroom deputies to manage all of these cases, and pushes our court system’s resources to their limits.
In addition, due to recent and ongoing economic difficulties, more people coming to court must represent themselves in their criminal or civil case because they cannot afford an attorney and are not eligible for court-appointed counsel. These citizens have trouble understanding the legal procedures in criminal and civil cases and need extra time and effort from District Court judges and clerks.
Due to budget limitations, funding for our courts has not kept pace with the steep growth of people involved in Wake County’s justice system. For example, budget restrictions and personnel cuts are limiting the ability of our court-funded rehabilitation and treatment programs to keep offenders from becoming repeat offenders, so we must rely on other community programs and resources to help address substance abuse problems and other problems that put people in trouble with the law.
The recent and ongoing economic difficulties also mean that more people who are defendants in criminal cases are failing to pay their court costs, fees and fines because they cannot afford them. For the same reason, more defendants in criminal cases are failing to appear for their court appearances because they cannot miss work and risk losing their job, or cannot afford transportation, or cannot afford childcare and must stay at home with their children. Failures to appear can result in orders for arrest. In cases involving traffic and motor vehicle offenses, failures to appear and failures to pay can result in suspended or revoked driver’s licenses.
The combination of all of these factors results in too many cases being postponed or delayed, too many people waiting too long for cases to be resolved, and too many people in a “revolving door” of court troubles.
As a District Court judge, I am experienced and effective at managing our high volume of cases, while giving each case and each party the individual focus and attention they deserve, and using all available resources to administer justice for Wake County’s citizens. District Court cases touch the lives of our county’s citizens in permanent ways and leave them with lasting impressions of our system of justice. I am committed to administering equal justice under the law, keeping an open mind and an even temper, safeguarding constitutional rights, and deciding cases fairly according to the facts and the law, without any bias or personal agenda. I strive to give our citizens a positive impression of Wake County’s justice system and promote respect for the judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and court staff responsible for making it work effectively. I am dedicated to being patient and courteous with all parties, helping people involved in our justice system, and making our justice system accessible and effective for all citizens. These are my top priorities as a District Court judge.
2.What qualifies you to serve?
I have lived and worked in Wake County since 1984. I practiced law in Wake County for 27 years before becoming a District Court Judge. The focus of my private law practice was civil litigation in state and federal courts, but I also represented criminal defendants and served as co-counsel in a federal death penalty case. In addition, I served as a certified mediator in numerous cases throughout my private practice. I am a past president of the Wake County Bar Association and the Tenth Judicial District Bar and have been an active member of both of these bar associations since the beginning of my legal career. In 2012, after being recommended to the Governor by the Tenth Judicial District Bar, I was appointed by the Governor to be a Wake County District Court Judge, and I left a successful private law practice to make a more meaningful contribution to our county’s justice system.
Upon becoming a District Court Judge in 2012, I completed two weeks of intensive training for District Court Judges by the UNC School of Government. With this training, my background of practicing law in Wake County, and two years of on-the-job experience as a District Court Judge, I have the legal knowledge, courtroom experience, maturity, good judgment and sense of fairness to continue serving all of our citizens well as a District Court Judge.
In addition, in a judicial performance evaluation conducted by the North Carolina Bar Association, I received very good ratings of my performance as a District Court Judge from the prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and other attorneys practicing in Wake County District Court who participated in this survey.
3.How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
A judge must be fair and impartial and should not be motivated by political beliefs or a political agenda in administering justice. North Carolina’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which governs all judges, requires that a judge’s decisions must not be “swayed by partisan interests.” As a District Court Judge, I am committed to and experienced at administering equal justice under the law, keeping an open mind and an even temper, and deciding cases fairly according to the facts and the law, without any bias or personal agenda. When it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed, I apply and enforce the law with a firm hand, mindful of victims’ rights. When called for by an individual party’s circumstances, I look for practical and compassionate ways to do justice. I am dedicated to upholding the law, safeguarding constitutional rights, and making our justice system more effective for all the people it serves.
As one of my top priorities as a District Court Judge, I am committed to helping people involved in our justice system and making it accessible and effective for all citizens, especially those who cannot afford to be represented by an attorney and are not eligible for court-appointed counsel. As a frequent participant in the Wake County Volunteer Lawyer program, I provided pro bono representation for persons who could not afford counsel in a wide variety of cases, including landlord-tenant cases, consumer protection disputes, domestic violence cases and other family conflicts. I have actively supported and participated in many of the Wake County Bar Association’s public service projects, including the Courthouse KidsCenter, Lunch With a Lawyer, the Bugg Den playground for Bugg Elementary School, and building access ramps for disabled citizens. As a member of the Tenth Judicial District Bar’s Fee Dispute Resolution Committee, I mediated fee disputes between lawyers and clients and gained firsthand knowledge of reasons why many citizens find it difficult to afford an attorney to represent them in court.
4.FOR INCUMBENT: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity? What has been the most challenging decision for you to make and why?
Of the hundreds and hundreds of court rulings and decisions I have made as a District Court Judge during the past two years, I cannot single out some of them versus others as being the most important. Each decision and ruling I make in a case as a District Court judge is important to the parties involved in the case, so I make sure to give each party appearing in a case before me a full and fair hearing and my complete attention and effort in deciding their case. With respect to different types of cases I have heard and decided as a District Court Judge, some of the most challenging have been in our DWI courtroom where so much is at stake for both the prosecution and the defendant and, in some cases, victims of accidents caused by the defendant, and the public interest of keeping impaired persons from driving on our roadways is so critical.
5.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.
A judge should not make court rulings with an eye toward whether these rulings will be popular or unpopular with voters in the judge’s next election campaign. A judge must administer equal justice under the law and make fair and impartial court rulings that are based on the facts and follow the law. I am committed to that principle as a District Court Judge. While some of my decisions as a District Court Judge may be unpopular, I make them in accordance with that principle and am mindful of the requirement in North Carolina’s Code of Judicial Conduct that a judge’s decisions must not be swayed by “public clamor or fear of criticism.”
For example, finding a defendant not guilty of a criminal offense as the result of a trial after the defendant was arrested and charged with the offense by a law enforcement officer may be unpopular with some observers of the case, but in cases where I have determined that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the charged offense, I was required by law and my oath of office to find the defendant not guilty of the charged offense.
6.As a District Judge, how would you develop a trusting relationship with Wake County’s large immigrant community?
In addition to our large population of Latino immigrants in Wake County, we have substantial populations of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Europe. All of these immigrant populations are reflected in the people coming to District Court every day to have their cases heard.
A central focus of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is providing access to language services to persons involved in our court system who have difficulty communicating in English. The AOC’s Office of Access to Language Services provides our court system with trained and certified interpreters to assist such persons. As a District Court Judge, I make frequent use of our court system’s interpreter services to make sure that immigrants in District Court cases who have difficulty communicating in English are given access to an interpreter so they can communicate with judges, clerks, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officers, witnesses, and other participants in our judicial process, in their native language.
In addition, in our District Court criminal courtrooms, we have a high volume of cases involving Latino immigrants who do not have a valid driver’s license and are currently not able to get one, and are charged with driving without a driver’s license. When these defendants are convicted of this offense in a case in which I am the presiding judge, I make sure the resulting judgment is as fair and reasonable as possible.
I make special efforts to be patient and courteous with immigrants in our District Court cases, make our justice system accessible and effective for them, see that they have a “level playing field” in the courtroom, treat them like everyone else with a case in the courtroom, and help them see and feel that they have equal status with others who have cases in the courtroom.
7.Do you support the repeal of the Racial Justice Act or believe that it should be reinstated? Explain.
I believe that all persons involved in our justice system must be treated equally without respect to their race, creed, color, or ethnic background.
Our North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, which governs all judges, requires that a judge must “abstain from public comment about the merits of a pending proceeding in any state or federal court dealing with a case or controversy arising in North Carolina or addressing North Carolina law.” In view of this requirement and because there are cases currently pending before the North Carolina Supreme Court addressing the merits of the Racial Justice Act, I must abstain from public comment on whether the Racial Justice Act should or should not have been repealed.
I can say, however, without violating this requirement, that I believe in and support the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky and subsequent cases that a party’s decision to remove a prospective juror from a jury cannot be motivated by race.
8.Drug cases make up an increasingly large percentage of the caseload in the U.S. What are the main factors you would consider in hearing a non-violent, low-level drug case?
As a District Court judge, the main factors I consider in hearing a non-violent, low-level drug case are the factors included in our North Carolina statutes governing controlled substances offenses and punishment for such offenses.
North Carolina’s statutes governing controlled substances offenses include factors such as the type, schedule level, and quantity of the controlled substance in question, as well as whether the defendant is charged with simple possession, possession with intent to sell, manufacturing, or selling the controlled substance. Those factors determine the “class” of the misdemeanor or felony charge against the defendant, as designated in the specific statute for each offense.
The North Carolina statutes governing punishment for controlled substances offenses include factors such as the defendant’s criminal record “level,” which is based on the defendant’s prior criminal convictions, if any, as compared with the “class” of the charge or charges against the defendant.
North Carolina’s “structured sentencing” laws contain a “sentencing grid” that judges must follow, which tells a judge what sort of sentencing options are available for a defendant who is convicted of a controlled substance offense. These sentencing options can range from court costs and a fine, to unsupervised or supervised probation, to an active jail or prison sentence, depending on the defendant’s criminal record “level” and the “class” of the controlled substances offense. When probation is ordered, a defendant can be required to get a substance abuse assessment and comply with recommended treatment, along with other conditions and requirements of probation.
In addition, deferral programs are available to some first-time offenders if they have no criminal record and are charged with a low-level controlled substance offense. These programs require a first-time offender to admit guilt or plead guilty to the offense, get a substance abuse assessment and treatment, avoid committing any other criminal offenses, and comply with other conditions for a one-year deferral or probationary period, in order to have the charge dismissed at the end of that period.
Also, Wake County’s Drug Treatment Court is a valuable resource and tool for helping defendants with chronic substance abuse problems get the treatment and counseling for their addictions and underlying problems they need to break the cycle of substance abuse and crime.
North Carolina’s rules of conduct governing judges do not permit me to predict or forecast how I might rule in a specific future case or a specific type of case, nor would I be able to do so, because the facts of each case and the particular circumstances of each defendant are different. I would say only that defendants charged with a non-violent, low-level drug offense, if convicted, are often eligible for a deferral program, court costs and a fine, or probation with appropriate probationary conditions, depending on the “class” of the controlled substance offense and the defendant’s criminal record “level.”
9.What are the main factors you would consider in preliminary hearings for a domestic violence or rape case? Does the burden of proof lie more on the accuser or the accused?
The trial of a rape charge, which is a Class B1 felony or Class C felony, falls within the sole jurisdiction of a Superior Court Judge, but North Carolina statutes allow a District Court Judge to preside in a preliminary hearing, also known as a probable cause hearing, for such a felony charge. Under these statutes, however, there is no probable cause hearing if the prosecutor files a criminal information or obtains an indictment for the felony charge in Superior Court. Rather than proceed with a probable cause hearing before a District Court Judge for a felony charge, prosecutors in Wake County routinely file a criminal information or obtain an indictment in Superior Court for felony charges.
However, District Court judges do preside in a wide variety of criminal cases involving other domestic violence offenses, as well as civil cases where an aggrieved person is seeking a domestic violence protective order under Chapter 50-B of the North Carolina General Statutes.
At a trial of a criminal case in District Court involving a domestic violence offense, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, that is, the State of North Carolina, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the charged offense. The burden of proof is not on the alleged victim, nor is it on the defendant; it is on the State of North Carolina as prosecutor.
In civil cases where an aggrieved person is seeking a domestic violence protective order under Chapter 50-B of the North Carolina General Statutes, the aggrieved person may first seek a temporary ex parte domestic violence protective order against the defendant that lasts until the end of 10 days, or until a full hearing may be held in the case, whichever comes first. To obtain a temporary ex parte domestic violence protective order, the burden of proof is that the court must find that “it clearly appears to the court, from the specific facts shown, that there is a danger of acts of domestic violence against the aggrieved party or a minor child.” Then, at the full hearing of a Chapter 50-B case, to obtain a domestic violence protective order that can last for as long as one year, the burden of proof is that the court must find, based on competent evidence and specific findings of fact and conclusions of law, that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence.
As a District Court Judge, in hearing domestic violence cases, the main factors I consider in applying the burden of proof required under the applicable statute are the nature and severity of the alleged domestic violence, any physical evidence of the alleged domestic violence, the reliability and credibility of the witnesses, and the consistency and believability of the witnesses’ testimony.
10. 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 raising the juvenile jurisdiction to 18? Please explain why or why not.
North Carolina is one of only two states in the United States that automatically treat all 16-year old and 17-year old misdemeanants as adults for purposes of criminal court. The proposed legislation would raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanor offenses to 18 years old.
Research shows that adolescents, including 16-year olds and 17-year olds, have less-developed brains than adults and a lower capacity than adults to resist peer pressure and consider how their actions affect their future. In recent years, rulings by the United States Supreme Court have changed the age below which it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment from 16-years old to 18-years old and required that special consideration be given to a juvenile’s age in determining whether or not the juvenile is in the “custody” of police for purposes of affording the juvenile his or her “Miranda” rights.
Our juvenile justice system is very capable of providing an appropriate result for a 16-year old or 17-year old misdemeanant that serves the needs of victims for justice, protection and restitution while also serving the youthful offender’s needs for rehabilitation, treatment and, if necessary, confinement. Without the available protection of the juvenile justice system, a 16-year old or 17-year old misdemeanant prosecuted as an adult can end up with a criminal conviction that may become a barrier to employment and educational opportunities and put him or her on a path to becoming a repeat offender. Youthful offenders who go through the adult system are re-arrested, re-convicted, and re-incarcerated at higher rates than other adult offenders.
A possible disadvantage of raising age for juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanor offenses to 18 years old is that adding 16-year old and 17-year old misdemeanants to the juvenile justice system would dilute and reduce the availability of rehabilitation and treatment resources and placement options for younger juvenile offenders, unless our juvenile justice system is given funding for the resources and options needed to serve the 16-year old and 17-year old misdemeanants being added to the system.
As a District Court Judge, I will uphold our state’s law and juvenile code as it exists and as it may be amended. The proposed legislation to raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanor offenses to 18 years old, and our current law and juvenile code, both have provisions to make sure that juvenile offenders who have committed violent misdemeanor offenses and other serious misdemeanor offenses are held responsible and that the public is protected. The national trend is moving in support of proposed legislation to raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanor offenses to 18 years old, because doing so would reduce recidivism and help more youthful offenders avoid the diminished opportunities for education and employment that come with the stigma of having an adult criminal record. On this basis, and if our juvenile justice system has the funding needed to serve the 16-year old and 17-year old misdemeanants being added to the system without diluting or reducing the rehabilitation and treatment resources and placement options for younger juvenile offenders, I would support the proposed legislation to raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction for misdemeanor offenses to 18 years old.
11.What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority?
In 2013, in Missouri v. McNeely, the United States Supreme Court held that the fact that alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream over time does not, by itself, give a law enforcement officer conducting a DWI investigation the right to draw a defendant’s blood for alcohol analysis without a search warrant from a judicial official. The defendant in McNeely was pulled over for speeding and exhibited signs of intoxication and performed poorly on field sobriety tests. He was arrested for DWI and refused to take a Breathalyzer test. After being taken to a hospital, the defendant refused to consent to a blood test. The arresting officer had the defendant’s blood drawn for analysis, about 25 minutes after he had been pulled over for speeding, without obtaining a search warrant for the blood draw from a judicial official.
The Supreme Court in McNeely found that “warrantless intrusions of the body are not be to undertaken lightly,” and affirmed the lower court’s suppression of the results of the defendant’s blood analysis on the grounds that there had been no “exigent circumstances” of the sort needed to support a warrantless search of a person’s body. The Supreme Court ruled that whether a warrantless blood test of a drunk-driving suspect is reasonable, and, therefore, constitutional, must be determined on a case-by-case basis considering the totality of the circumstances, and that many factors may and must be considered in deciding whether a warrant is needed, including the “practical problems of obtaining a warrant within a time frame that still preserves the opportunity to obtain reliable evidence.”
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that modern technology makes it possible for a law enforcement officer to communicate with a magistrate or other judicial official by phone, email, or other computer applications to apply for and obtain a search warrant for a blood draw, if it is not possible for the officer to personally appear before a judicial official to seek a warrant in a timely fashion. Because the arresting officer in McNeely subjected the defendant to a warrantless blood draw only 25 minutes after he was pulled over for speeding, and there were no facts or circumstances showing whether or why it was not feasible for the office to seek and obtain a warrant from a judicial official within a reasonable time before there was significant dissipation of alcohol from the defendant’s bloodstream, the Supreme Court ruled the warrantless blood draw was unreasonable and unconstitutional.
In a dissenting opinion in McNeely, the dissenting justice disagreed with the majority opinion, writing that, “Nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires officers to allow evidence essential to enforcement of drunk-driving laws to be destroyed while they wait for a warrant to issue.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely applies to any DWI case in our District Court involving a warrantless blood draw. I support the Supreme Court’s decision in McNeely, and I agree with the majority’s ruling in McNeely. I believe the Fourth Amendment requires a law enforcement officer who obtains a warrantless blood draw to show that there were sufficient practical problems in obtaining a warrant within a time frame before there was significant dissipation of alcohol from the defendant’s bloodstream, to justify such a warrantless intrusion of a person’s body.
12.Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? If yes, please explain.
My record consists only of traffic or motor vehicle violations.
13. What improvements could be made in the Wake County judicial system to expedite the trying of cases and ease caseloads?
Wake County District Court is already making great strides in managing the high volume of criminal and civil cases we have in District Court.
Our “Disposition” court system in our first floor courtroom in the Wake County Justice Center processes up to 1,000 criminal cases every day and includes a “convenience court” where defendants can resolve older criminal cases, including older traffic cases that are keeping them from getting their driver’s license restored to active status. We are using magistrates full time now in our “Disposition” court to resolve traffic infractions and low-level misdemeanor cases, which has enabled us to open and operate a second special DWI courtroom staffed by a District Court Judge on a full-time basis to conduct trials in DWI cases.
Having two special DWI courtrooms in Wake County District Court staffed by a District Court Judge on a full-time basis is necessary because Wake County leads the state in the number of DWI cases we have each year. In addition, four different law enforcement agencies in Wake County now have special DWI enforcement units funded by special grants. As a result, one of these agencies, the Raleigh Police Department, expects there will be 1,800 more DWI cases in Wake County the coming year than there were in the last year.
Also, though not authorized to conduct trials in felony cases, District Court Judges are authorized to take guilty pleas and impose sentences in the two lowest classes of felonies (Class H and Class I), and Wake County District Court leads all judicial districts in the state in the number of felony cases resolved by guilty plea and sentencing by a District Court Judge. This enables our Superior Court Judges in Wake County to conduct more trials in felony cases each year.
With respect to civil cases in District Court, we are making good use of available alternative dispute resolution programs, such as the Family Court Mediation program and the District Court Arbitration program, to settle civil disputes between parties without using court time for trials to resolve these disputes. Wake County District Court has a pilot program to schedule and hold special settings of Chapter 50B domestic violence cases that involve claims for child custody, and is looking at implementing an electronic filing system to simplify the process for domestic violence victims who are unable to afford an attorney to file and pursue a Chapter 50B domestic violence case. All of these programs are vital to expediting trying cases and reducing caseloads in our District Court civil cases.
Improvements could be made in our Wake County justice system to expedite the trying of criminal cases and ease criminal caseloads in Wake County District Court. At present, the high volume of District Court criminal cases in a given courtroom for guilty pleas and sentencing, continuances, or other non-trial dispositions makes it difficult to reach the criminal cases that need to go to trial (and take substantially more court time for trial) before the end of a morning or afternoon court session in that courtroom. As a result, District Court criminal cases that need to go to trial are often postponed to a future court session, sometimes more than once, before a trial can be conducted.
With Wake County’s new Justice Center, we are fortunate to have enough courtrooms and courtroom space to manage the high volume of criminal cases in District Court, but some of our new courtroom space is not in use during some morning or afternoon sessions because it would overstrain our current level of judicial staffing (judges, clerks, prosecutors, and public defenders) to staff additional court sessions. If we could obtain the additional judicial staffing needed to make more use of our new courtroom space on a regular or “special setting” basis for trials of District Court criminal cases, we could reduce the backlog of these cases waiting for trial.
We are also fortunate to have state-of-the-art audio and video equipment and systems for conducting trials in our new courtrooms in the Wake County Justice Center. However, to expedite the trying of cases and ease caseloads, our court system needs to update other technology systems that have become outmoded and provide new technology and training in the areas of electronic filing in criminal and civil cases, electronic “discovery” in criminal cases, and electronic records of criminal and civil cases.
Increased funding for our court system would allow us to obtain additional judicial staffing and new technology and training, and update outmoded technology systems. If budget limitations do not permit such increased funding, we will need to explore other ways to balance and shift our court system’s existing resources to expedite trying cases and reduce caseloads in our District Court criminal cases.
14. Is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself or the issues that are close to your heart? I grew up in the town of Wilson, North Carolina and attended Wilson County public schools before getting my undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest University. I have a family background of public service. My wife is a graduate of North Carolina Central University’s School of Law who has spent her entire career as a public servant working for the State of North Carolina and is now serving as a Special Deputy Attorney General with the North Carolina Department of Justice. My mother is a retired public school teacher. My father was a lawyer before serving as an Associate Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court for 15 years and then serving as a Special Superior Court Judge prior to his death in 1999. Like me, he left a successful private law practice to become a judge and make a positive difference in our state’s justice system. Honesty, fairness, and integrity are the principles of conduct I have strived to follow throughout my legal career. A passage from the Wake County Bar Association’s Creed of Professionalism, which I helped compose, is my guiding light. “My word is my bond. Integrity is an absolute. Fairness and civility are essential.” As a District Court Judge, I am committed to these principles.