Full Legal Name: Sanford L. Steelman, Jr.
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Sanford Steelman
Seat Sought: Steelman seat, North Carolina Court of Appeals
Partisan Affiliation: Republican
Date of Birth: September 11, 1951
Home Address: Weddington, North Carolina
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 28352, Raleigh, NC 27611-8352
Campaign Web Site: www.judgesteelman.org
Occupation & Employer: Judge, North Carolina Court of Appeals, Administrative Office of the Courts
Bachelor’s Degree Year & Institution: A.B. 1973 (cum laude) Davidson College
JD Year & School: 1976, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Years lived in North Carolina: 36
Home Phone: unlisted
Work Phone: (919) 831-3790
1. What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
2. What qualifies you to serve?
pro tempore of the Town of Weddington, where I participated in drafting of land use and other ordinances.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
In the present acerbic political environment, each of the labels liberal, moderate, and conservative carry excessive baggage. I refuse to be placed in one of those boxes. I believe in limited government, the separation of powers, personal freedom for all persons, and fiscal responsibility.
This means that I fully understand my role as a judge on an intermediate appellate court, which is not to usurp the role of the Supreme Court, the legislature, or the executive branch. It also means that I will defend the role of the courts to protect the rights and privileges of citizens of North Carolina.
4. What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity?
Each judge on our court authors between 100 and 125 opinions every year. This means that I have authored over 700 opinions in my tenure on the court. Each of these cases is vitally important to the parties involved, and I treat them as such.
In the Pharmacy Board case, I was the only Court of Appeals Judge to vote to affirm the Board’s authority to limit the number of hours that pharmacists can be required to work, because “The consequences of an improperly filled prescription can be deadly to a customer.” The Supreme Court adopted my dissent, without further opinion. N.C. Board of Pharmacy v. Rules Review Commission, 174 N.C.App. 301 (2005).
In State v. Llamas-Hernandez, I was the only Court of Appeals Judge to vote to reverse a drug conviction, where the State’s only evidence that a white powder was cocaine was the arresting officer’s opinion that “It sure looks like cocaine to me.” The Supreme Court adopted my dissent, without further opinion. State v. Llamas-Hernandez, 189 N.C.App. 640 (2008).
In Tubiolo I wrote that the courts should not become involved in membership disputes based upon scriptural discipline, writing that the “power to control the membership of the church is the power to control the church.” Tubiolo v. Abundant Life Church, Inc, 167 N.C.App. 324 (2004).
5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority? What is the role of that court in setting precedent for North Carolina’s appellate courts?
Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. in which the U.S. Supreme Court set a new standard for the recusal of judges, holding that where a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice had benefitted from $3 million in contributions to his campaign, the justice should have been recused from hearing the case. Based upon the facts of the case, I agree with the decision of the Supreme Court.
The role of the U.S. Supreme Court for setting precedent in North Carolina is very limited. Clearly it is binding on all matters of federal constitutional and statutory interpretation. However, in other areas, the rulings of our Supreme Court are controlling.
6. Do you feel that North Carolina’s current system of judicial elections serves the state well? Are there other forms of selecting judges you feel would function better or worse than the current one?
No. The present system of non-partisan judicial elections creates the substantial risk that judges will be elected based upon whether their name is a standard name, and by their gender. For many voters, this is the only information that they have when they cast their ballots. I favor an initial partisan election, followed by retention elections. This eliminates the weaknesses of the present system, and still preserves the right of the public to remove a bad judge.
7. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense?
8. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
In each case that you decide, you run the risk of alienating at least half of the parties involved. Every case must be decided fairly and impartially, without regard to the status of the litigants, or how the public will perceive the ruling. It is only when cases are handled in this manner that the court system has integrity and commands the respect of the public. In any criminal case where a new trial is ordered, or a civil case where a large verdict is set aside, a court’s decision will be unpopular with some portion of the public.
9. 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.
Since capital cases are heard by the North Carolina Supreme Court and not by the Court of Appeals, this question is more appropriately addressed to the candidates for the Supreme Court.
I do not favor the expansion of plain error review in any type of case. Plain error allows a defendant to raise an objection on appeal that was not raised at trial. Currently, this is limited to evidentiary rulings and jury instructions. It is not the role of the appellate courts to retry a case on appeal upon a different theory than at trial.
I do not favor mandating appellate review in post-conviction capital cases. To get to the post-conviction phase, the case has already had a full, mandatory review on direct appeal. The Supreme Court should have the discretion to accept or deny review of post-conviction capital cases, based upon the facts of the case. These cases are given the most careful and comprehensive review of any cases in our legal system.