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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?

Before I answer this question I note that although a judge must be effective to be good, being an effective judge is not the same thing as being a good judge; an effective judge could still be a bad judge. He or she could effectively do bad things.

To be effective the most important quality for a District Court Judge is District Court trial experience. That experience must be as a trial lawyer prior to becoming a judge. With that experience the judge will know how procedures work (and fail to work) in the courthouse. The judge will know how the law works (and fails to work) in real-life courtrooms as opposed to in law books and classrooms. Without that experience the judge will be ineffective. I have over 23 years of Wake County District Court trial experience, more than all four of my opponents combined. Two of my opponents have less than 6 years of experience as lawyers and even less experience with trials. That is not enough.

The second most important quality for effectiveness is knowing and understanding the law beyond the minimum necessary to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. That knowledge goes hand-in-hand with experience. The judge can gain knowledge of the law from books, classes, and research, but without the requisite experience he or she will not be able to effectively use that knowledge; he or she won’t know how to implement the law. With the requisite experience but without a solid knowledge of and understanding of the law the judge will be able to implement the law but will not know what to implement. Either way, the judge will not be effective without both experience and knowledge.

The third most important quality as to effectiveness is the ability to work efficiently. This also goes hand-in-hand with experience. A judge must be able to move the cases along toward conclusion in his or her courtroom or the docket will bog down and cases will languish. He or she must be willing to prod the lawyers in the courtroom to get on with the business of the court.

For example, in the criminal or traffic courtroom the judge must be willing to call cases for trial or hearing when the assistant district attorney (ADA) fails to do so. Judges typically allow assistant district attorneys to call the cases on the docket (the list of cases in a particular courtroom during a particular session of court) whenever and in whatever order the ADAs choose. Part of that practice arises because the District Attorney sets the docket; that is, the DA creates the list of cases set to be heard on any given court date. Since the DA picks which cases are to be heard most judges let the DA also pick the order and time of the cases which the DA puts on the docket. That leads to an extreme amount of wasted time when no case is before the judge, the people in the audience are twiddling their thumbs, and nothing is getting done except perhaps the assistant district attorney might be carrying on negotiations with a lawyer. That in turn leads to people having to return to court multiple times in spite of being ready to deal with their cases earlier. The judge must be willing to step on the ADA’s toes in calling cases on the docket rather than have a crowded courtroom, including the judge, bailiff, clerk, and others, waiting while the ADA and lawyers negotiate. Negotiations are crucial, however the business of the courtroom is dealing with trials and hearings. Most negotiations should go on outside of the courtroom. An effective judge will force assistant district attorneys and defense lawyers to conduct hearings and trials for those who are ready in their cases rather than making people sit idly in court unnecessarily.

For another example, in the family law courtroom the judge must quickly issue written orders. It is not unheard-of for a father and child to miss months of visitation after the judge has already ordered the visitation but before the judge issues a written order. Some judges prefer to have the lawyers write the orders then the judge signs the orders. Often the judge insists that the lawyers agree on the order before the judge will sign the order. If the lawyers disagree, months might pass before that judge finally writes his or her own order and signs it. Until there is a written order, the father often cannot have the visitation order enforced, so months go by without visitation, harming both the father and the child. An effective judge must work efficiently to write his or her own orders when the lawyers do not promptly do so for the judge.

A good judge must be effective, but that is never enough. In order to reach justice a judge must be tough but fair to all sides, respectful of everyone (even those who might not deserve his or her respect), be independent (not bend to undue influences, especially not the peer pressure for doing things “the way we’ve always done it”), and the judge must be impartial and of utmost integrity. A good judge must resist making up his or her mind until after all of the evidence has been presented, and a good judge must not put more weight on evidence presented by a lawyer from a prestigious law firm than on evidence presented by a lawyer fresh out of law school.

There are two people who come to mind who exemplify these qualities: from the past, former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice John Webb; from the future, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice (if we vote wisely) Anita Earls.

2. What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a judge?

Experience matters. Before becoming a District Court Judge a lawyer should have at least 10 years of experience representing clients in District Court. I have over 23 years of experience in Wake County District Court (more than all four of my opponents combined). That bears repeating: I have more relevant experience than all four of my opponents combined. Beyond graduating from law school, passing the bar exam, and practicing law a judge should have a passion for justice, for listening and helping people reach a resolution of their disputes, and the desire to do so fairly, impartially, and independently of undue influence. I have those qualities. I have demonstrated a passion for justice and the law, sometimes even to my own professional detriment. More than once a judge or fellow lawyer has asked me why I don’t simply go along with the way things have always been done rather than fight so hard for my clients’ rights. The answer is simple: I would dislike myself if I followed the way things have always been done rather than stand up for what is right. I choose knowing I’ve done things properly.

3. In a sentence, how would you define your judicial philosophy?

A good judge must follow the law and the facts wherever they lead whether the judge likes that destination or not.

4. How do you define yourself politically? How do your political beliefs affect your judicial approach?

Before I answer this question I point out that good judges should reach the same conclusion in a given case whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party members, unaffiliated, or what have you. The law and the facts of the case are the same; the judge’s ruling must be based on those facts and the law, not on the judge’s political views.

I am a Democrat. I believe in our Constitution. I believe in liberty and equality for all. Political viewpoints in terms of political parties and conservative vs liberal philosophies should not impact a judge’s decisions. A judge should keep an open mind, hear all of the evidence, then apply the law to the facts proven in reaching a decision.

I believe that the primary purpose of government is to ensure liberty for everyone. “Everyone” means everyone, not just those who look like and identify with the people in positions of authority. Liberty means the lack of restraint on people by other people. The government’s primary purpose is protecting people from that restraint by other people. It’s simple in theory but complicated in application.

My judicial approach would be to leave politics out of the courtroom, to treat everyone equally. My political beliefs would not affect my judicial approach.

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 no incumbent in this race. There are five candidates for one vacant seat. The judge who held that seat (Judge Keith Gregory) was appointed by Governor Cooper to Superior Court in May of this year, creating the vacancy for his District Court seat.

6. On any given day, there are North Carolina residents 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?

An accused person should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Judges need to remember that. I would follow the laws already in place outlawing bails such as this question contemplates. Under North Carolina law the presumption is that the accused must be forced to pay money to get out of jail. North Carolina General Statute section 15A-534(b) outlaws bail for most crimes except in cases where there is evidence indicating that the accused person will do one of 5 things if released from jail: 1) not show up in court, 2) hurt someone, 3) destroy evidence, 4) get someone to lie on the stand for him/her, or 5) intimidate potential witnesses. The DA should show the judge what he or she has supporting any of these five things, if he or she has anything to show. The accused should be given a chance to refute what the DA shows the judge. The judge is supposed to be on neither the DA’s side nor the accused’s side. When the judge finds evidence convincing him/her of one of these five things, the judge must tell the person accused of his/her reasons and put in writing his/her reasons for making that finding. However, when the senior resident superior court judge says the judge making the finding does not have to put his/her reasons in writing, then under current North Carolina law the judge does not have to put his/her reasons in writing. The judge still must tell the accused person his reason for making that person pay money to get out of jail because it is basic due process of law that someone locked up in jail must be told the reasons he/she is locked up in jail, however there is no enforcement provision if the judge fails to tell the accused person the reason for the bail. Consequently, most of the time the judge does not tell the accused the basis for ordering that the accused pay money to get out of jail. Often there is no lawful reason at all; the judge imposes a money bail based on the seriousness of the accusation itself and the accused person’s prior record. Imposing a money bail in that way is illegal under existing NC law.

If I found that one of those reasons existed for making the accused person pay bail, my next step would be to examine the accused person’s financial means. The bail should be low enough for the accused to pay it himself and high enough that it would be a serious loss for the accused to forfeit that bail. It should never be so high that the accused cannot pay it and must remain in jail pending trial.

I oppose having a bail schedule. At first blush having a bail schedule seems logical but it is not. Such a schedule is always based on the level of accusation. An accused person is innocent until proven guilty, so pretrial detention must not be for punitive reasons. Basing the amount of money bail on the level of charge is a punitive measure. The money bail is by law illegal unless needed to make the accused appear in court, not hurt anyone, and not tamper with evidence or witnesses. Also, the money bond is supposed to be enough to assure that the accused will show up in court rather than lose the money but not so much that the accused cannot pay the money to get out of jail. A $10 bail might be too high for a homeless person. Inevitably poor people are stuck in jail, unable to pay the money. Poor people are forced to either plead guilty to get out of jail or plead not guilty and stay in jail for months until their trials are held. Bail schedules do not take into account the differences in financial means from one accused person to the next, so I am against bail schedules.

That said, I think it is possible to create a bail schedule that addresses these problems. For example, make the bail amount (assuming there is evidence of flight risk, physical harm to someone, or evidence-tampering) one month’s pay for misdemeanors and two months’ pay for felonies or some such. Someone with no income would not have to pay anything but could be ordered to house arrest or some other security measure. What we should not have is a schedule that says if you are charged with X crime then your bail range will be from $Y to $Z. That sort of schedule is an illegal scheme harming poor people.

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.

First we need mechanisms to force our judges to follow the laws meant to protect us from the negative aspects of our bail system. Making judges document their reasons for holding people in jail is a good start.

We need to eliminate the loophole which allows judges to hold people under a cash bail without making the appropriate written findings. Make judges put in writing their reasons for holding people in jail. Eliminate the loophole that allows judges to not put their reasons in writing. That is plainly what the law was meant to do in the first place. Pass a law stating that if the findings are not put in writing at the same time as the bail being imposed (5 words written on the accused’s jail paperwork could satisfy this requirement) then the prisoner must be immediately released, even if the judge later puts his reasons in writing. That would give judges incentive to follow the law. The accused person can still be held on house arrest or some other reasonable, non-jail restraint.

In addition to this North Carolina statute meant to protect against unnecessarily forcing people to be in jail awaiting trial we have both federal and NC Constitutional protection. This Constitutional protection is also ineffective. In spite of the US Constitution’s 8th Amendment and the NC Constitution’s Article I, section 27 prohibition against excessive bail, we routinely impose excessive bail. District Court judges should follow the laws already in existence as to bail, alleviating if not eliminating this problem. Defense lawyers should immediately demand bond hearings in unlawful bail situations. When the State refuses to give the bond hearing the defense lawyers should petition the Court for a writ of habeas corpus. I have done this many times, however it is tedious and time-consuming, sometimes taking 20 hours of work and days before a hearing can be held. It has always been worth it since it has almost always resulted in my client being released from jail, but it is hours of work for no compensation. In Wake County a court-appointed lawyer is not paid for this extra work so most court-appointed lawyers fail to do it. If we paid court-appointed lawyers $30 an hour for the work they put into habeas corpus proceedings we would see many more lawyers fighting to free their illegally-jailed clients. $30 an hour is much more incentive than $0 an hour.

Judges and prosecutors do not like writs of habeas corpus because such writs disrupt the regular flow of their work days. These writs are so important and crucial to our judicial system that we have a law (NCGS section 17-14) that says when a judge fails to grant the writ that judge must be held personally liable for $2,500 to be paid to the person in jail. That law dates back to 1868, when $2,500 was worth considerably more than it is now. As far as I know no Court has ever enforced this law. In this situation judges are not held accountable for disregarding the law. We need to make judges accountable for not following the law. We should pass an enforcement law stating that if a person was held in jail under a money bail (secured bond) AND that the judge who ordered that money bail failed to put in writing the reasons for the money bail (or had absolutely no lawful basis for the written reason given) AND the person was confined in jail as a result of that illegal money bail, then the judicial official must personally pay the person $200 for every 24-hour period the person was held in jail. To make that punishment and the habeas corpus $2,500 punishment enforceable we should allow people to file lawsuits for free against the judges when the basis of the lawsuit is an illegal bail. (Normally a person must pay money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, just to file the paperwork at the courthouse for the lawsuit). We should do the same for lawsuits over denial of writs of habeas corpus. To prevent frivolous lawsuits the proper supporting paperwork would be required to be attached to the lawsuit papers. After a few such lawsuits our judges would begin following the law concerning money bails.

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?

Since judges are the people who sentence or order people to jail they have some direct responsibility for this disparity. All judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers should undergo implicit bias training. The racial equity workshops offered by Greensboro’s Racial Equity Institute are generally 2-day workshops that cost less than $300. The November 29-30th of 2018 workshop in Charlotte costs $275. Even those of us who are positive that we are not racially prejudiced are to one degree or another actually prejudiced. These workshops can teach us to recognize, dismantle, and minimize our prejudices. If elected I will sign myself up for and take that very class in Charlotte.

Our District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said that she took the class and found it worthwhile but that her department cannot afford to pay for all of the assistant district attorneys to take the classes. Lawyers must take 12 hours per year of legal classes. Part of that requirement is a minimum number of ethics classes and substance abuse classes. The Bar could require lawyers, including judges and district attorneys, to take a racial equity workshop once every 10 years, including once within the first five years of being a lawyer.

Through Implicit Bias Training we can make people in positions of authority aware of the problem so many people deny exists. This will not solve the problem but it will move us in the direction of a solution.

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?

No, I do not think that a judge should overlook failures to appear for things like traffic tickets. I think that a person should not be put in jail for a failure to appear for a traffic violation, but that does not mean the judge should overlook the failure to appear. Assuming we are talking about a normal traffic violation (speeding 13 mph over the limit, failure to wear a seatbelt, running a stopsign, etc), we are talking about an offense that even if the accused were found guilty of (responsible for) that person could not lawfully be put in jail as punishment. When someone misses court for a traffic violation, if he or she does nothing about it, his or her driver’s license will be revoked after approximately 80 days for failure to appear in court. Additionally, there will be a $200 failure to appear fee added to the nearly $200 so-called “court costs.” There will be fees to pay DMV as well, something like a $50 revocation fee and a $10 fee for a new license. This monetary punishment coupled with driver’s license revocation is excessive punishment already for missing court on a traffic ticket. Arresting someone is far out of proportion to the act of missing traffic court. What the judge should do is to begin the revocation process for the failure to appear (start the clock running on the 80 days), set a new court date (which can be done without affecting the 80-day clock), and have the clerk send a letter to the person who missed court. That letter should tell the person who missed court what his new court date is, explain the pending license revocation if the ticket is not dealt with by the 80-day mark, and explain the increased fines he or she will have to pay if he or she does not appear in court to answer the charge(s). Additionally, the letter should explain that if the ticket is not dealt with and the person gets pulled over by the police for driving after his or her license has been revoked the person could be charged with misdemeanor driving while license revoked and made to pay a money bail to get out of jail pretrial because this failure to appear on the present traffic ticket can be used as evidence that he or she might not show up in court for the driving while license revoked ticket.

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, I support restorative justice practices prior to sentencing. Restorative justice refers to repairing the harm done by criminal acts as opposed to punishing people for those acts. The two are not exclusive: you can have restorative justice and still have punishment. Restorative justice practices can lessen the punishment or take the place of the punishment for a criminal act, although the punishment can still be imposed the same as if the restorative justice practice had not been employed. I support victim-offender mediation, anger management classes, community service, drug and alcohol classes, both in-patient and out-patient mental health treatment, wage garnishment to repay victims, family group counseling, and other restorative justice measures because the end result is better for everyone than the end result of traditional punishment alone. Some of the goals of restorative justice measures are to help the victim regain his or her dignity, change the offender’s behavior so that he or she will not offend again, pay the victim restitution, force the offender to confront and acknowledge responsibility for his or her actions, and save taxpayer money for housing the offender now and in the future. Prior to sentencing means after being found guilty but before the judge announces the punishment. If the offender fails to complete the restorative justice practice employed, for example if he or she refuses to apologize to the victim or go to anger management classes, the judge still can lock him or her up. If the offender completes the restorative justice practice employed, then the judge should sentence at a lesser amount of punishment than if the offender fails to complete the practices employed.

I support restorative justice practices in all cases, even in capital murder, because even if the offender is seemingly too far gone to help, restorative justice practices can help the victim(s) and society at large. Even in the extreme case in which the offender will be put on death row regardless of how well he or she does with his or her restorative justice method, that restorative justice practice can help the family of the victim to understand the terrible thing that the offender did and help that family to move on with their lives. Allowing the family of the victim to confront the offender in a prison visitation situation if the family chooses to do so might help the family move on with their lives. In any event it is unlikely that restorative justice practices would do any harm.

I think every offender should be eligible.

11. How do you believe low-level drug cases should be handled?

The legislature should decriminalize low-level drug matters.

A judge does not have the power to do that, of course. A judge must follow the law and the facts where they lead, even if the judge does not like the destination. Under present law a judge does have the power to order that a first-offender perform some required task of the judge’s choosing, such as attend substance abuse classes, then the judge can dismiss the charges. When a judge does not have the option of such a diversionary path, he or she should seek something to help the offender avoid similar legal problems in the future rather than merely punish the offender. After all, the victim harmed in such cases is the offender himself or herself. The offender might need drug or alcohol rehabilitation but punishing the offender with jail or fines means punishing the victim and makes little sense.

The District Attorney should set up diversion programs such as the drug court we have in Wake County.

The goal should be rehabilitation with these cases, not punishment.

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?

It seems as if court fees have gone up even more than 400 percent in the past 20 years. Yes, I believe the court system in North Carolina criminalizes poverty. The most obvious example involves money bail bonds, which I addressed above. Poor people accused of crimes are routinely forced to either plead guilty to get out of jail or plead not guilty and remain in jail for months, whether they did anything wrong or not.

As a judge I would do my best not to order a person to pay more than he or she can reasonably pay, whether as bail or court fines. Court fines and costs of $200 for a speeding ticket is too high for someone working a minimum wage job.

The primary mitigation must come from the legislature, and they have taken some steps to lessen the criminalization of poverty. They eliminated outright revocation of probation for mere failure to pay the court money and have taken other measures but they need to go further. What I would be able to do as a judge is to impose lower or nonexistent fines and costs on poor people. I would not punish people for inability to pay money.