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Candidate for N.C. Court of Appeals, Wynn seat

James A. (Jim) Wynn 

Candidate for N.C. Court of Appeals, Wynn seat

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Name as it Appears on the Ballot: James A. (Jim) Wynn

Date of Birth: March 17, 1954

Campaign Web Site: www.judgewynn.com

Occupation & Employer: Senior Associate Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals

Years lived in North Carolina: Aside from time in law school and the Navy, I've spend my life in North Carolina. I was born and reared in Robersonville and attended UNC-Chapel Hill for college. After law school and time in the Navy JAG corps, I returned to home to practice law in Wilson and Greenville, where I remained until my election to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 1990.


1. What in your record as a judge, lawyer and/or public official, or other relevant positions, demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office. When speaking about your legal experience, please be specific about the nature of positions held, and whether you were hired, appointed or elected.

For the past eighteen years, I have served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court (1998). I currently serve as the Senior Associate Judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In 1999, I was twice nominated for a seat on the Fourth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals. I seek to continue to serve as a fair and impartial judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Additionally, for over 29 years, I have served in the JAG Corps of the U.S. Navy including four years of active duty and 25 years in the active reserves. In the Navy, I hold the rank of Captain. I am a certified military judge and formerly served as Commanding Officer of the Navy Reserve Judicial Unit.

Most recently, I served as Chair of the American Bar Association's 4000-member Judicial Division which consists of federal and state judges. I previously chaired the ABA's Appellate Judges Conference. I also served as Chair of the ABA Commission to Reevaluate Canon 5 of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct; Chair of the North Carolina Bar Association's Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Celebration; Vice-President of the North Carolina Bar Association; and Vice-Chair of the Justice at Stake Campaign (www.justiceatstake.org). I also serve on the World Justice Commission and participated in efforts to promote adherence to the Rule of Law at conferences in Ghana and Austria. As part of that initiative, I co-convened a pilot Rule of Law Conference in 2007 in North Carolina that brought together leaders from many career disciplines to discuss the importance of adhering to the rule of law. That conference has now become a model for facilitating Rule of Law Conferences throughout the United States.

Over 15 years ago, the Governor appointed me to serve on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws where I have held positions on the Executive Committee; Scope and Program Committee; and currently as Division Chair for several drafting committees.

Additional Experience:

  • Senior Associate Judge, NC Court of Appeals (1990-1998, 1999-present)

  • Associate Justice, NC Supreme Court (1998)

  • Military Judge, U.S. Navy, Certified under Art. 42(a) of Uniform Code of Military Justice

  • Immediate Past Chair, Judicial Division, American Bar Association (ABA)

  • Former Chair, ABA Appellate Judges Conference

  • Executive Board, Division Chair, National Conference of Uniform State Laws

  • Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Justice At Stake Campaign

  • Past Vice President, North Carolina Bar Association

  • Former Trustee, North Carolina Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) Committee

  • Judicial Council, North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers

  • Former Trustee, Pitt Community College, Greenville, N.C.

  • Fitch, Butterfield & Wynn, Attorneys at Law, Wilson and Greenville, NC, 1984-90

Honors and Awards:

  • National Bar Association Raymond Alexander Pace Achievement Award

  • UNC-Chapel Hill Alumni Harvey Beech Achievement Award

  • Marquette University, "All University Alumni Merit Award"

  • Marquette University School Of Law, "Hallows Fellow and Visiting Scholar"

  • General Baptist Convention Martin Luther King Achievement Award

  • Scholarship for John Marshall Harlan Symposium on Comparative Law in England & Scotland

  • N.C. Academy of Justice Appellate Judge of the Year

  • Kappa Alpha Psi, Greenville Alumni, Man of the Year Award

  • Commanding Officer, Navy Reserve Trial Judiciary Unit

  • Commanding Officer, Navy Reserve Legal Service Office, Jacksonville, Florida

  • Commanding Officer, Navy Reserve Civil Law Support, Atlanta, GA

  • Captain, JAG Corps, U.S. Navy Reserve

2. If you have experience as a judge, please cite at least one majority opinion, and one minority opinion, which you feel best demonstrate your understanding, and interpretation, of the law. If you have experience as a lawyer, please cite at least one case that you argued that demonstrates this understanding. (Please be specific; provide docket numbers, and—if necessary—include documents.) If you have other legal experience, please point to an article, opinion or other piece of writing that best demonstrates the same. Please indicate why you have chosen this particular opinion, case and/or piece of writing.

In all of my opinions, I seek to be fair and impartial and to ensure that our Courts are open and provide access to justice for all citizens. One of the most memorable majority opinions was Nelson v. Freeland, 349 N.C. 615, 507 S.E.2d 882 (1998), when I was on the Supreme Court. That was the case where we abolished the distinction between duties of care owed to licensees and invitees. In this opinion, we were able provide clarity and predictability to an area of law that had previous been confusing and inadequately apprised landowners of their respective duties of care. Similarly, my concurrence in Broderick v. Broderick, 175 N.C. App. 501, 623 S.E.2d 806 (2006), is an illustration of my steadfast commitment to ensuring access to the courts for all citizens, and my belief that, where possible, the Court should review of the substantive merits of arguments on appeal, rather than deny justice by dismissing cases for technical rules violations. Further, my dissent in Vernon v. Mabe Builders, 110 N.C.App. 552, 430 S.E.2d 676 (1993), was adopted by the N.C. Supreme Court holding that the North Carolina Industrial Commission, when acting in a judicial capacity, should be required to import basic notions of fairness into their consideration of workers' compensation settlements.

3. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please explain.

I believe strongly in a judiciary free of partisanship, political pressure, and special interests—and one guided only by the sovereign will of the people, and embodied by our Constitution. To this end, I have recused myself from cases where there were potential or present conflicts of interest in order to ensure that all of the parties felt confident in the impartiality and fairness of the Court's decision. This has included cases involving former law clerks who acted as lawyers soon after leaving my chambers or in instances where there was the possibility that a conflict of interest might be perceived by the parties involved.

4. In the case of N.C. v. Frank Delano Washington, which came before the N.C. Court of Appeals, all charges against Washington were dropped because, the appellate court determined, Washington's right to a speedy trial was denied. What is your interpretation of a defendant's right to a speedy trial, and what are the implications of releasing a convicted felon, in an effort to preserve that right? Please provide your opinion of the case, and the role you see judges playing in preserving constitutional rights, versus preserving public safety.

Access to justice and the courts remains a particularly critical issue in North Carolina. In State v. Washington, __ N.C. App. __, 665 S.E.2d 799 (2008), the Court determined that the four-year and nine-month delay between the defendant's arrest and his trial was a violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Further, the Court concluded that the delay was a result of the repeated neglect and under utilization of resources by the State and the district attorney's office.

The constitution represents the sovereign will of the people. The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed under the constitution. Apparently, the Court, upon finding that the constitutional right to a speedy trial had been denied to Washington, concluded that in this particular instance, Washington was significantly prejudiced by this delay because "the inability of a defendant adequately to prepare his case skews the fairness of the entire system" and calls into question the reliability of the State's initial conviction. In making this decision, the Court most likely considered the gravaman of the offense, the seriously of the constitutional violation, and the need to effectuate a remedy appropriate to the case.

5. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that enemy combatants held in the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have a right to file habeas corpus petitions under the federal court system. What is your opinion of Boumediene v. Bush? More generally, what is your opinion of granting constitutional rights to enemy combatants captured in the "War on Terror"?

Our government consists of three branches -- legislative, executive, judicial -- which act much like a three-legged footstool. If one leg fails, the stool falls. It is the province of the judiciary to interpret the constitution and determine whether rights have been violated. It is the province of the legislative to enact laws which seek to protect us and for the executive branch to ensure that our security is in tact. The tension brought about in Boumediene v. Bush was further complicated by the implication of international law and human rights.

In that case, the federal court apparently determined that the ancient, and some say sacred, purpose of habeas corpus applied to the detention of those at Guantanamo Bay. None of this was under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. But the duty of a judge to interpret and uphold the constitution, sometimes involves difficult decisions which may not be popular. The determinant is whether the judge exercises his or her authority with deliberation guided by fairness and impartiality.

6. One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. counties—including Alamance, Johnston and Wake—have employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your opinion of these counties' handling of this program? Critics say that sheriff's departments in these counties are arresting non-citizens for petty offenses in order to enter them into federal deportation hearings, while local law enforcement agencies insist they are following the rule of law. As someone who, if elected, will interpret the law, what is your legal assessment of these arguments? More generally, can there be discretion in deciding when to apply the rule of law?

This question addresses a matter in controversy that may arise before the court on which currently sit. I must therefore respectfully decline to offer an opinion on a matter before it is presented. I must keep an open mind and not make a preliminary determination on a controversy. I pledge to continue to serve as a fair and impartial judge.

7. In Kimbrough v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for the possession of crack cocaine were unconstitutional. What is your opinion of this ruling, and on mandatory minimum sentencing laws in general? Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Finally, do you feel that state judges can ever apply discretion in interpreting cases differently than federal guidelines mandate? Please provide examples.

In Kimbrough, the Court held that "the cocaine Guidelines, like all other Guidelines, are advisory only" and that a district judge "must include the Guidelines range in the array of factors warranting consideration" but that disparity between the crack and powder cocaine guidelines were not mandatory. The majority recognized the duty of the district court to assess the reasonableness of sentencing in light of all of the evidence, and serve the objectives of the sentencing guidelines by rejecting a sentence that is greater than necessary given the particular circumstances of the case. This approach is in keeping with my judicial philosophy of applying the laws fairly and impartially.

8. Does the North Carolina Constitution afford more rights than the federal Constitution, or the same?

It is generally accepted that the "law of the land" clause of the North Carolina Constitution affords greater rights than the "due process" clause of the U. S. Constitution.

9. Do you think that drug courts and mental-health courts have a place in the North Carolina judicial system? What is your opinion on "alternative sentencing" and restorative justice? Have you ever issued judgments, or advocated for judgments, that emphasize a mutual resolution between victims and defendants, and/or judgments that emphasize treatment over punishment? Please be specific.

Specialized courts are becoming increasingly common throughout the United States. As we face greater challenges in the administration of criminal justice, the legislature has enacted policy decisions that provide for the creation of alternative sentencing and restorative justice in some jurisdictions. Those policy decisions, e.g., whether to create a specialized court or enact alternative decisions, lie within the province of the legislative branch of government.

10. What is your interpretation of the purpose of bail?

The North Carolina Court of Appeals does not determine whether an individual is entitled to bail and in the eighteen years I have been here, I have never seen a case regarding the failure to provide bail. However, my understanding is that the purposes of bail are principally: (1) to ensure the presence and/or secure the attendance of a defendant at the time of trial, (2) allow the defendant the chance to participate in the his or her own defense, and (3) to preserve the presumption of innocence as well as the right to freedom prior to conviction. See, e.g., U.S. v. Graewe, 689 F.2d 54, 57 (6th Cir. 1982) ("The traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction and preserves the presumption of innocence."); Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1, 4, 72 S. Ct. 1, 3 (1951) ("Unless this right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning.. The right to release before trial is conditioned upon the accused's giving adequate assurance that he will stand trial and submit to sentence if found guilty.")

11. 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 do not come before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Those cases are appealed directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court. I defer to that Court on deciding the appropriateness of plain error review. As for the appellate review in post-conviction capital cases, that is a legislative decision.

12. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? In particular, how do you view Canon 7 of the N.C. Judicial Code of Conduct regarding the personal solicitation of campaign contributions, taking positions on issues and endorsing candidates for other offices? What changes would you make to the current system? Please explain.

I strongly favor public financing of judicial elections and was perhaps the very first appellate judge in North Carolina to take a leading role in getting it enacted through my work with the North Carolina Voter Education Project and the Justice at Stake Campaign, www.justiceatstake.org. I opposed the enactment of the Canon 7 provision, allowing the direct solicitation of campaign contributions but the NC Code of Conduct was enacted by the North Carolina Supreme Court and remains the law as of today.

I would delete the provision allowing judges to directly solicit money; add provisions making it improper to make a pledge or promise on a matter that may come before the court; and prohibit judicial candidates from making false and misleading statements about their opponents. I would also delete the part of the N.C. Code that allows judicial candidates to endorse any other candidate, whether judicial or not.

13. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I have been honored to serve the people and justice system of our great State as an appellate judge for almost eighteen years, and I have worked hard to apply the law fairly and to treat everyone with respect. My highest priorities as a judge have been, and if reelected will remain, to serve as a fair and impartial judge; to ensure that our Courts are open and provide access to justice for all of our citizens; to be accountable to the Constitution and law; and to ensure that individual rights of our citizens are protected by upholding the Constitution.

We must seek to promote the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the judicial system. That means working to ensure access to justice for all citizens regardless of their status, and improving the judicial system to ensure that we are fair and impartial.

I seek to remain on this Court to continue the privilege of serving the people of the State of North Carolina. It has been my honor to also serve our country for the past twenty-nine years as a Navy Reservist with the current rank of Navy Captain.

  • Candidate for N.C. Court of Appeals, Wynn seat

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