Full Legal Name: Doretta LaShawn Walker
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Doretta L. Walker
Office Sought/District: Walker Seat/14th District - Durham
Mailing address: P.O. Box 753, Durham, NC 27702
Date of Birth: 11/13/1967
Campaign Web Site: www.electdorettawalker.com
Occupation & Employer: District Court Judge/ AOC
Years lived in Durham: 46
Home Phone: 919-479-0698 Work Phone: 919-808-3038
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?
The most important issues facing the District Courts of our county are violence by and among young people in our community, rising court costs and the inability to pay or keep pace because of continuing unemployment and underemployment, too few sentencing options and alternatives, overcrowded court dockets and dwindling resources, and the need to better educate the public about accessing and interfacing with the court system.
My top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term are to continue to deal fairly and equitably with those who come before the court while being sensitive to the increasing educational and financial disparities in our community. Additionally, I would like to work together with other stakeholders to develop more community-based initiatives and programs for our youth that are designed to steer them away from becoming a negative statistic in our juvenile justice system.
2. What qualifies you to serve?
I am qualified to serve in the position of a District Court Judge because of my training, education and experience. Moreover, I have been serving in this capacity since January of 2011, having been duly elected by the citizens of Durham. In addition, I previously served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office for thirteen years. I also have previous experience as a judicial clerk for three years at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. I have lived in Durham all of my life and know this community and its citizens. Moreover, I am confident that I possess the required judicial temperament and demeanor to handle each matter of concern appearing before the court when carrying out the duties of a judge. And beyond that, I take great pride in operating my courtroom in a fair and impartial manner and treating each person with dignity and respect.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
Judicial races are nonpartisan. Although I am a registered Democrat, I do not see the office of a judge as one to be guided by partisan politics. The law should be applied neutrally and without regard to political party or affiliation. I have pledged myself not to allow political party, religion, socio-economic status, or other persuasions to influence my decisions to the detriment of our community. My judicial approach is defined by the law and facts of the case before me and balanced carefully with what is fair and appropriate under the particular set of facts and circumstances at hand. I do however, where allowed, try to temper the law with compassion and the recognition that we are all frail, imperfect, subject to error, and in need of one another’s understanding.
4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity?FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with?
The most important decisions I have made as a District Court Judge are in deciding custody matters. I work in Family Court two weeks each month handling custody issues. It is highly important that I make every effort to arrive at the right decision because of the wide-ranging impact of these determinations, not only for the children involved, but the parents, the grandparents, schools, and every part of the child’s life. It is very important to listen carefully to all parties and try to discern what is in the best interests of the minor child.
5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority?
I am convinced that one of the more important decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court was its vote to uphold the legality and constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act because of its impact on the lives of everyday American citizens who had been shut out of the healthcare arena and denied important coverage because of pre-existing illnesses for many years. Even with continuing opposition, it created possibilities for many families and individuals that had never before existed. I certainly agreed with the ruling because of the potential for good that it may well bring about in the long term. I believe it also addresses to some degree, the continuing saga of “the haves” versus “the have-nots,” in that it undermines the tendency towards establishment of handing out rights, privileges, and services based on socio-economic class. Everyone deserves healthcare because it is a basic need.
6. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.
7. 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 stand that I would be willing to take and have taken is to remove children from the custody of one parent to another or even a third party. I will always do what is in the child’s best interest even if that means removing the child from their home. This is not always a popular position, and a parent may take exception to the custodial change; but so long as it is in the child’s best interest, I will do what is right no matter what the fall out may be.
8. What improvements can be made in terms of the juvenile justice system? What are the weaknesses or constraints in the court’s handling of juvenile offenders?
One of the main improvements that need to be made in the juvenile justice system has to do with providing sufficient services for the youth who come into contact with the courts. We need more resources for our youth, educationally, emotionally, financially, and physically. We need to enlist and encourage people in our community to become mentors to the young men and women who have become involved in the system to show them that there is a better way to live and serve as the positive role models that they may be lacking in their lives. Additionally, the mental health system has failed to keep pace with the needs of our youth. The resources needed to address some of the issues that brought them into the juvenile justice system are sorely lacking. While we need to hold our youth accountable for their actions, we also need to provide them with adequate tools to become better citizens and to stay out of trouble.
9. What do think the priorities should be for Durham law enforcement?
I believe some of the priorities for Durham law enforcement should be to better protect our residents from frequent criminal activity and continue to rebuild trust among our citizens with their stated mission being “to protect and serve” as they interact with persons in the greater Durham community. In addition, law enforcement must continue to engage citizens in a manner that creates a sense of community partnership and shared responsibility for our safety and welfare.
10. What additional resources would you like to see implemented for defendants? Is there a need for more diversion courts or sentencing services?
Additional resources that would be beneficial to many of the defendants appearing before our courts would be to continue funding the drug treatment courts –adult and juvenile; provide job skills training and opportunities; education programs that lead to obtaining a high school diploma or GED; and pre-trial diversionary services and other programs that would reduce recidivism and make productive citizens.
11. Many people complain that the criminal justice system is clogged with defendants suffering from mental illnesses. How would you like to see this problem addressed?
I would like to see adequate funding for treatment of mental illness and a proper protocol for assessing and determining which defendants are suffering from mental illnesses. Afterwards, we should provide the needed assistance and follow up to make sure the issues of concern are being addressed and the resources provided are being used. We need to make sure that there are facilities and/or rehabilitation and treatment that will provide for public safety. I believe specialty courts that give extra attention to these issues would be extremely helpful if we had the resources, whether it is mental health courts, drug courts, or veteran’s court. Additionally, I would like to see law enforcement personnel divert people with mental health needs to hospitals and other facilities prior to arresting them and sending them into our overburdened court system. As judges, we could also demand policies and procedures which set out clear release conditions and requires the person to continue treatment and contact with mental health providers once they are outside the confines of the jail or court system.
12. Durham Public School suspensions are on the rise, and many people worry about the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Can anything be done to remedy the problem on the judicial side of things?
We can continue to provide mentors and encourage people to become positive role models. We need to stress that education is important and make sure that everyone recognizes that education and sense of self-worth are two of the most important factors that help our youth to stay out of the school to prison pipeline. We also need to recognize that many of our young people are in this pipeline due to history of poverty, abuse, neglect, or learning disabilities, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling resources. We need to form a coalition of parents, educators, governing officials, judicial officials, law enforcement officials, and community stakeholders to address the wide-scale implications of this problem. This problem will never be resolved in isolation. We must come together collectively to “save the children.” Something can be done, but we all must be involved in doing it as a community.
13. Persistent domestic violence calls-for-service have befuddled law enforcement, women’s advocates and criminal justice officials across the state. What role can you play to help the situation?
As judges, we have to hold each offender accountable and make sure that they know that domestic violence will not be tolerated. We must take seriously every act of violence and use the most extraordinary methods available to stamp out the scourge, even if it includes extended lock-ups for the offenders.