Name as it appears on the ballot: Nicolette Fulton
Campaign website: www.fultonforjudge.org
Phone number: (919) 714-2851
Years lived in the district: 10
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?
(a) The qualities that any judge must have to be effective are knowledge, compassion, fairness, temperament, integrity, impartiality, and a commitment to public service, all of which are important. Of this list, three critical qualities are:
i. Knowledge: A judge must know the law and how it is applied, and experience matters. Diverse legal experience and a broad practice area in multiple courts develops the knowledge that a judge needs. Knowledge also includes an understanding of the consequences of one’s decisions.
ii. Fairness/Impartiality: A judge should not have an implicit bias for or against any party. The only factors that should be considered in any case should be the facts as presented and the law as it is written. Politics, personal beliefs, and other associations should be cast away once a judge steps into the courtroom.
iii. Commitment to Public Service: A judge committed to public service recognizes the power of the legal profession, and the courts, in helping our communities. Public service does not mean that once the robe comes off at the end of the day your service is finished, but stepping forward to be a leader within the local and legal communities.
(b) North Carolina’s judiciary has a number of judges that exemplify the ideals of an effective judge, we are fortunate to have many in Wake County.
i. Hon. J.H. Corpening, Chief District Court Judge for the Fifth Judicial District, created a program to reunite babies born to drug-addicted mothers while at the same time helping those mothers with recovery;
ii. Hon. Paul Ridgeway, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for the 10th Judicial District; and
iii. Hon. James A. Wynn, Jr., Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
2. What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a judge?
I have 13 years of legal experience in Criminal Law, Family Law, and Civil Litigation. I practiced in both the public and private sector, representing all sides of a case, allowing me to see cases from every perspective. My career has given me the opportunity to represent my clients before District, Superior, Federal, Administrative, and Appellate Courts.
For the past nine years I have worked at the City Attorney’s Office for the City of Raleigh: representing the community where I live, advocating on behalf of citizens and the City employees, enforcing City ordinances, and making my community a better place to live and work. Before coming to Raleigh, I was in private practice, representing private citizens in criminal, family law, and civil litigation issues. I had the privilege of representing a number of growing small businesses.
I have developed a reputation for professionalism and a commitment to public service. I have a number of professional achievements through my work with the North Carolina Bar Association and Wake County Bar Association including serving on the WCBA/10th Judicial District Board of Directors and as Chair of the NCBA Government and Public Sector Section. My passion has been my public service in which I help the children and the underserved of North Carolina, including: creating “Partners Read”, a literacy program in conjunction with WakeEd Partnership for at risk first and second grade students that now serves 48 Wake County schools; establishing the Rule of Law Program for the Wake County Bar Association serving 120 high school students annually; and serving as NC Bar Foundation 4ALL Raleigh site co-chair since 2016, where 10,000 otherwise underserved persons are provided free legal information by calling volunteer lawyers throughout the State.
3. In a sentence, how would you define your judicial philosophy?
The role of the judge is to interpret and apply the law, as it is written, equally for everyone.
4. How do you define yourself politically? How do your political beliefs affect your judicial approach?
I am, and have been, Unaffiliated–because a political party does not define who I am. What does define me is my record of over a decade of diverse legal experience, dedication to public service and helping others, and reputation for professionalism in the legal community. Judicial independence has been substituted for what the legislature thinks matters: political party. Until recently, District Court elections were non-partisan. Judges should not be politicians, and politics do not belong in the courtroom. When you step before a judge, you do not expect a judge to decide a case based upon personal or political beliefs, as there are only two factors that matter in any court case: the facts and the law as it is written.
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?
There is not an incumbent for this position. The position was created by the vacancy as a result of Judge Keith Gregory’s appointment to Superior Court.
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?
A judge must be neutral in determining conditions of pretrial release, consider the purpose of bail, the rights of the defendant, and the rights of the public and victims. The facts and circumstances of each case should govern the decision of a judge in setting the conditions of pretrial release, including bail. Rigid bail schedules, masked as guidelines, are incompatible with such a decision.
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 would support limits to the present cash bail system. Other jurisdictions have recently implemented changes, using methods ranging from objective algorithms to elimination in their entirety. The court, after making careful determinations based on individualized, evidence-based assessments that use objective, verifiable release criteria that do not have a discriminatory or disparate impact, should impose bail, and in only such an amount, when no other less restrictive conditions of release will reasonably ensure the defendant’s appearance in court and compliance with any other pretrial conditions.
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?
District Court Judges are responsible for treating all defendants similarly situated equally, they should be blind to a party’s race or ethnicity. I would work to treat all similarly situated defendants equally. Also, I recognize with the recent cut in funding of Legal Aid of over $1.7M and decrease in Indigent Defense Services funding, many defendants do not have representation or may lack competent counsel. Judges should ensure that if defendants waive their right to counsel they do so knowingly and that if counsel is appointed, that the attorney has the experience and time to handle the matter competently.
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 arguably 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?
Court dates are mandatory, persons who have a court date are required to show up, on their date, on time. A judge should not “overlook” failures to appear for any offense; however, should a defendant have a legitimate reason, upon motion of the defendant or their attorney, with the reasons included, the FTA could be stricken as an “FTA in error, nunc pro tunc,” the DMV process stopped and the underlying charge dealt with that day or on an agreed upon continued date, thereby minimizing unexpected consequences for an unintentional event.
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?
Yes, restorative justice is one of the best resources available to stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system. While at Campbell Law School, I participated in the Victim Offender mediation program. The discussions, while difficult at times, furthered understanding between the parties, humanizing both. The Campbell Law School Restorative Justice Clinic has successfully operated since 2004.
A restorative justice program, in mediation form, would be best suited for juveniles, first-time misdemeanor offenses, and other cases upon consent of the parties.
11. How do you believe low-level drug cases should be handled?
Mandatory minimums for low-level drug cases often punish the user, who is in need of help, and do not go to the source of the problem, the dealer. For defendants that would qualify, I would recommend the use of drug diversion programs.
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?
In 2017, the NC General Assembly passed a provision requiring courts to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard to any entity entitled to a portion of court costs if the judge waives or does not assess court costs in a case. This legislative action also required the AOC to monitor and report to the NCGA, by name, each judge that waives or does not assess costs, and the number of cases. State law requires that any time costs are waived or not assessed, there be a written determination as to why, usually the inability to pay by the defendant.
Poverty or the inability to pay should not be cause for continued fees or detention.