Full Legal Name: John Wesley Casteen, Jr.
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: J. Wesley Casteen
Seat Sought: Court of Appeals (Wynn Seat)
Partisan Affiliation: Unaffiliated
Date of Birth: April 28, 1968
Home Address: Wilmington, North Carolina
Mailing Address (if different from home): P.O. Box 12028 – Wilmington, NC 28405
Campaign Web Site: www.casteen.org
Occupation & Employer: Attorney and CPA – Carolina Legal Counsel
Bachelor's Degree Year & Institution: B.S. – Accountancy – Wake Forest University (1989)
JD Year & School: J.D, with honors – Campbell University (1994)
Other Degrees: Master of Laws (LL.M.), with honors – Concentration in Taxation – University of Alabama (2010)
Years lived in North Carolina: 42
Work Phone: (910) 509-7209
1. What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
North Carolina's continued growth will inevitably stress the legal fabric that binds all of us together. As our lives become more complex, the role of the judiciary becomes even more important. Judges neither live nor do they apply the law in a vacuum. They must look and consider the particular facts and life experiences of the parties, and each judge relies upon his own reason and life experiences in order to apply the laws of the State in a fair and equitable manner.
Our courts are arbiters of life altering issues, and I am privileged to have advocated issues that have influenced the lives of my clients in a positive manner. A position on the Court of Appeals presents an opportunity to apply and shape the laws of this State for the protection and benefit of all of its citizens.
2. What qualifies you to serve?
Being both an attorney and CPA, I have a unique background among the judicial candidates. My background includes an advanced academic law degree and years of training and experience in finance, business, and commercial matters. This breadth of experience makes me singularly qualified to provide a fresh reasoned perspective to the matters that come before the court.
My law practice has placed me before all divisions of our North Carolina Courts, including the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. I also have represented clients before the United States Bankruptcy Court and the United States Tax Court. While a zealous advocate for my clients, I have always endeavored to remain faithful to the laws of this State and to the guiding principles upon which those laws are founded.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
I am registered as "Unaffiliated," and this designation is consistent with my political philosophies. While individuals may have leanings toward either side of the political aisle, most people live their lives well shy of the political extremes. In applying the law, a judge has a responsibility to apply the law fairly, evenhandedly, and without prejudice. I think that it is important that a judge view each party and review each case on its own facts and merits consistent with applicable law. Having a balanced well reasoned approach is necessary to such a review, and I believe that this is consistent with what would be my judicial approach.
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?
Since this seat was recently vacated Judge James Wynn, any critique of a decision or opinion authored by him would be inappropriate. However, there is a point made by Judge Wynn in this very publication that bears repeating. In a prior candidate questionnaire, Judge Wynn responded that he was proud of his concurrence in Broderick v. Broderick, 175 N.C. App. 501 (2006), which he contended stood for a party's right to a forum in the appellate courts.
About the same time, I was shepherding a client's case up and down the North Carolina appellate courts. The case, Walsh v. Wrightsville Beach, 179 N.C. App. 97, 632 S.E.2d 271 (2006), was originally dismissed on technical grounds. The North Carolina Supreme Court eventually reversed the dismissal [361 N.C. 348, 644 S.E.2d 224 (2007)]. That reversal along with the companion case of State v. Hart, 361 N.C. 309, 644 S.E.2d 201 (2007), were collectively hailed by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly as the most significant appellate decisions of 2007.
Although the client eventually lost the case, not on the merits but for lack of standing, he was satisfied that he "had his day in court." No attorney can predict the outcome of a case and no judge should presuppose an outcome before hearing all of the evidence. Nevertheless, it is not the outcome that is most important. Instead, the confidence in the judiciary and in the system of justice is paramount. Protecting and assuring access to the courts, including the appellate levels, will assure confidence in the courts and provide the stability, which comes from citizens knowing that they have a forum in which to air their grievances and have them decided fairly.
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?
Given the breadth and scope of the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, all of its decisions are important. Nevertheless, one of the most important recent decisions was handed down in McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010). The case was an extension of the Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008), which definitively held that there exists an individual right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The Court in McDonald expanded its prior ruling and thereby limited the ability of states and municipalities (Chicago) to restrict access to and possession of firearms by local citizens and residents.
This decision is important not only for its breadth of application, but also as an example of the core role of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court is the final arbiter of the U.S. Constitution, and the court utilized this power in defining a fundamental personal right. Additionally, the case demonstrates the incremental approach historically taken by courts in making their rulings. Although sometimes absent, this judicial restraint favors rendering decisions in cases that are ripe and fully developed.
I do agree with the Court that the Second Amendment guarantees a personal and individual right to keep and bear arms. The Court will be tasked in future decisions to determine what limitations and restrictions are allowed under the Court's interpretation and application of the Second Amendment.
The purview of the U.S. Supreme court extends to the U.S. Constitution and federal statutory law. It does not matter whether a judge personally agrees with a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. When such a decision is interpretive of the U.S. Constitution, these decisions of the Court are final and absolute subject only to reconsideration by the Court itself (or amendment to the Constitution). However, in interpreting and applying the North Carolina Constitution and state laws, the final authority rests in the North Carolina Supreme Court.
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?
The Constitution of North Carolina requires election of appellate judges, and I am uncertain whether the legislature or the citizens of this state are prepared to effect a constitutional amendment to cure any perceived deficiencies in the current system. Any system will inevitably have problems and inefficiencies. Improvements in the system can only come about through trial and error. The instant race for the Wynn Seat is a prime example. In this race, Instant Runoff Voting is being used statewide for the first time in modern history. The objective is to avoid the expense and delay of runoff elections and to protect the integrity of the vote by avoiding election of a candidate with a small plurality of votes. Only experience will tell whether this experiment was an exercise in futility or a significant step in the right direction.
7. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.
8. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
As an intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals does not set policy. It is an error correcting court. The Court of Appeals is almost always limited to the record and facts established by the trial court, and it is constrained by the laws established by the legislature and previous interpretive rulings by the state Supreme Court. Even on novel issues of law and cases of first impression, the rulings of the Court of Appeals are subject to final review by the Supreme Court.
Any decision of a court is unpopular to the losing party and to those who may be aligned with him. The popularity of a decision should never be a consideration for a judge. This fact was recognized by the drafters of the North Carolina Constitution when they prescribed that appellate judges and judges of the Superior Courts shall serve eight (8) year terms. These extended terms allow these judges to focus on the propriety of their decisions rather than the popularity.
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.
Capital cases have a right of appeal directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court. These cases are not reviewed by the Court of Appeals. Therefore, any modification or extension of Plain Error review is not a matter to be considered by the intermediate appellate court. Policy decisions, such as proposed, are subject to the appellate rules established by the legislature and the state Supreme Court. Whatever rules are established by these bodies, the North Carolina courts are bound to follow and apply those rules.