Full Legal Name: Mark Joseph Simeon
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Mark J. Simeon
Office Sought/District: District Court Judge (Walker seat)
Party: Lifelong Democrat
Mailing address: P. O. Box 1702, Durham 27702
Date of Birth: 03/29/1956
Campaign Web Site: www.markjsimeon.com
Occupation & Employer: self (SimeonLaw.com Law Office)
Years lived in Durham: 27 (since 1987)
Home Phone: 919-489-5492
Work Phone: 919-TRAFFIC TICKETS (919-872-3342)
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Court? What areyour top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
I believe the most important issues facing the District Court are:
– Restoring confidence in the Durham County criminal justice system, to regain ground lost by the last two elected district attorneys, and the Durham judges’ poor scores on the recent judicial performance evaluations. (See, )
– Bringing balance to the District Court bench. It’s time Durham elected a defense lawyer as judge, not just former prosecutors.
– Overhauling traffic court policies and procedures, to reduce DWLR recidivism, and allow for safe drivers to get back to work.
– Refocusing criminal and juvenile courts, more on correction than punishment, by increased use of diversion programs.
2. What qualifies you to serve?
For over 25 years, I have represented people in family court, juvenile court, traffic court, and criminal courts. I have won criminal jury trials in Superior Court, and won in the North Carolina Court of Appeals. But my passion is for District Court, where the great majority of newcomers to the criminal justice system begin, either in traffic court or misdemeanor court. I have practiced all over the Piedmont, in over 25 counties, each of them unique in their policies and procedures. I have seen what works and what does not, and I know where there is room for improvement here in Durham. In the great majority of cases disposed by means other than trial, I helped fashion commonsense ways people can be held accountable without it ruining their lives.
I have invested time and resources in the Durham community. I volunteered with Durham Companions, where I sat on the board and served as president until I term-limited out. I helped raise money for the Duke Children’s Miracle Network. I served as president of the Triangle Morehouse Alumni Association for over ten years, and helped families get their kids in college. I routinely perform random acts of service for people in need, without recognition or compensation.
My broad legal experience in varying counties, and my having lived in different parts of the country (Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington DC), gives me a bigger picture perspective on life and appreciation of liberty. I’ve spent decades helping people, advocating on their behalf, trying to influence the decision makers. After 25+ years, I’m ready to become a decision maker.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
In a word, I am a progressive. I consider myself a populist, a freedom-loving progressive capitalist. I do not deny my liberal leanings, as I embrace government’s necessary and constitutionally mandated roll in establishing Justice, and promoting the general Welfare. I’d probably qualify as a “collectivist”, because I believe in people pulling together to help each other. But, like my conservative friends, I appreciate the desire to limit government, and be mindful of unnecessary spending. To me, “smaller government” includes keeping lawmakers out of people’s romantic affairs and out of women’s reproductive decisions. And to me, fiscal prudence includes not wasting taxpayers’ money jailing people that are not dangerous.
4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your currentcapacity?
FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagreewith?
I disagree with the incumbent’s inclination — like most, but not all of the other Durham District Court judges — to deny FTA/FTC strike order relief for drivers who may have failed to timely appear or comply, but come back to court ready to make amends, seeking restoration of their driver’s license. The incumbent maintains the view she held as a prosecutor In my view, not only is such relief authorized by NCGS §20-24.1, it is required. Other counties, like Alamance, District Courts routinely strike these FTA suspensions simply on request, upon application to “FTA Court” and payment of a small $25 fee. Such relief is important to restoring suspended licenses, and a valuable tool that would reduce the unnecessary recidivism of DWLR (driving while license revoked).
Additionally, I disagree with the incumbent’s use of her contempt powers. In two instances, she was overturned by the Court of Appeals.
In County of Durham, ex rel v. Orr, (92CVD 5241) Judge Walker held Mr. Orr in contempt for failing to pay child support. Orr was living off of $430/month in social security, and could not work due to ruptured discs in his back. All of the SSI money went to pay for rent; his finance (also not working) used food stamps to provide food for herself, Orr, and Orr’s teenage daughter. Orr received a $2900 back payment check, and used it to pay off personal debts. Walker held him in contempt for not using that money to pay child support arrears (for another child). “…the trial court did not appropriately consider Defendant’s expenses, including rent and the costs of raising his minor daughter Anna…Specifically, the district court acknowledged that Defendant uses his entire monthly SSI payment to “contribut[e] to current household expenses,” but still held him in contempt. When a defendant uses his entire monthly SSI payments on apartment rent for himself and his minor daughter, we hold that he is in fact contributing to the costs of raising the child and he lacks the present ability to pay as required by law. Lastly, since the district court did not find Defendant has any other assets or the ability to seek employment, he could not have taken reasonable measures to comply with the Child Support Agreement…Consequently, we conclude the trial court erred by holding Defendant in contempt because he lacks the present ability to comply with the Child Support Agreement.”
In Willis v. Roberts,(00 CVD 2860), Judge Walker held Mr. Roberts in contempt based on a non-existent order. Durham County filed a show cause order for failure to pay child support (the order for which was faulty), but Roberts failed to appear, so the court issued an arrest and show cause order. Judge Walker issued handwritten findings that were “difficult to decipher”, and held Roberts in contempt for failing to comply with the original order. The Court of Appeals reversed.
In my view, taking someone’s liberty — ordering them to jail — is a drastic measure, and should be used sparingly, and only with good cause.
5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important recent decision? Didyou agree with the majority?
In my opinion, the most important recent SCOTUS decision was McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. I disagree with the 5-4 decision. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion which ruled in favor of the super-rich seeking to influence elections, and struck down the aggregate campaign contribution limits, further eroding campaign finance laws which were intended to prevent corruption and protect the integrity of our democracy. Now, a single donor will be able to give more than $5 million in individually limited contributions to every House candidate, every Senate candidate, every state party committee, every national party committee, and every leadership PAC connected to one political party.
6. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minortraffic offense? Please explain.
7. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected thatyou suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I cannot pre-judge cases, or otherwise step afoul of the seven canons of the amended North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, but I intend to honor my obligation under Canon 3 (A)(1) to be faithful to the law, and unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism, which in some instances, may not sit well with either my progressive or conservative supporters, especially when it comes to cases involving alcohol or controlled substances. There may be times when I sentence impaired drivers to terms of incarceration beyond the minimum, and there may be times when I dismiss marijuana possession cases if I am not fully satisfied and entirely convinced that the State has met its burden of proof.
8. What improvements can be made in terms of the juvenile justice system? What are theweaknesses or constraints in the court’s handling of juvenile offenders?
I think there should be an expanded use of diversion programs to steer kids towards correction, rather than using punishment as a deterrent. Ninety-five percent of juvenile complaints in North Carolina are eligible for diversion (https://www.ncdps.gov/div/JJ/DJJ-DiversionReport-final-web.pdf). Juveniles that complete a diversion program have far lower recidivism rates, and diversion is cheaper than detention. Some of these kids come from home life so bad that “punishment” is simply more of the same, but in the wrong direction. In diverting juvenile offenders, the system allows them to correct and reform without the stigma or baggage that comes from detention.
9. What do think the priorities should be for Durham law enforcement?
In my view, law enforcement needs to work harder at solving the racial profiling problem, and ridding racial intolerance within their ranks. That would go a long way towards improvement in community relations, and elevate the public’s confidence in the integrity of arrests. Additionally, minor possession of small amounts of marijuana should no longer be a primary focus for arrest and prosecution.
10. What additional resources would you like to see implemented for defendants? Is there aneed for more diversion courts or sentencing services?
Yes, there is a great need for diversion courts and sentence alternatives. The longterm affects of criminal prosecution and incarceration have been overlooked for far too long. The adverse impact lingers long after the sentence is served, often relegating the person to a lifetime of second class citizen status, negatively impacting employability and the ability to assimilate in society. We deny ourselves the contributions and services of people who, because of their criminal record, are shut out of society. These people, because of their need to survive, often return to an underground existence that often lands them back in the courts.
I applaud Judge Marcia Morey’s new, albeit long overdue diversion program aimed at helping 16 and 17 year olds avoid criminal prosecution for non-violent misdemeanors. I intend to support it, and participate in creation of new programs with similar goals. In my big-picture view, incarceration ought only be resorted to in cases where public safety is at risk. Rather than waste taxpayers’ money housing and feeding people that will only come out of jail worse, and less likely to succeed, I would instead be more inclined to impose sentences geared toward rehabilitation and correction, rather than punishment.
11. Many people complain that the criminal justice system is clogged with defendantssuffering from mental illnesses. How would you like to see this problem addressed?
According to the Department of Justice, more than half of all state prison inmates have a recent history or symptoms of mental illness (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf). I believe more ought be done to alleviate this very real problem. It begins with funding, of course, and identifying programs which isolate and treat the illness(es) at the root of the problem. The National Alliance of Mental Illness suggests that mental health courts might be a way to help alleviate the problem. Mental health courts divert those suffering from mental illness away from jail or prison and towards treatment for their illness. Currently, there are mental health courts operating in Brunswick, Guilford, Orange and Mecklenburg counties. I support an inclusion of Durham county among the ranks of those operating mental health courts.
12. Durham Public School suspensions are on the rise, and many people worry about theso-called “school to prison pipeline.” Can anything be done to remedy the problem on thejudicial side of things?
As I alluded in my responses to questions 8 and 10, more ought be done to achieve correction, not simply punishment. The school system is making progress on the problem of high school dropouts, but suspensions are far too common. During the 2012-2013 school year, in Durham County high schools, there were 29 suspensions for every 100 students (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/research/discipline/reports/consolidated/2012-13/consolidated-report.pdf). Students start down the pipeline to prison through juvenile courts when they are pushed out of schools. Suspension from school ought only be resorted to when the offense endangers others or substantially interferes with the learning environment. The ‘pipeline’ is disproportionately filled with minority and disabled students (http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison). District Courts must do more to embrace the opportunity to change the trajectory of a young offender’s life, rather than increase the likelihood of recidivism. This includes outreach to local schools, and diversion programs that keep students in classrooms, rather than in jail.
13. Persistent domestic violence calls-for-service have befuddled law enforcement, women’sadvocates and criminal justice officials across the state. What role can you play to help thesituation?
I would promote and encourage utilization of services offered by the Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative (DVPI), and the Battered Immigrant Project (BIP), special statewide projects of Legal Aid of North Carolina that provide assistance to battered women and/or domestic violence victims. Additionally, I would make myself available after hours, and encourage the same from the other judges on a rotating on-call basis, for instances where judicial action is required.