Full Legal Name: KEISCHA MICHELLE LOVELACE
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: KEISCHA LOVELACE
Office Sought/District: N.C. COURT OF APPEALS-MARTIN SEAT
Party: NONPARTISAN OFFICE; REGISTERED DEMOCRAT
Date of Birth: SEPTEMBER 17, 1975
Home Address: 768 SEASTONE ST, RALEIGH, N.C. 27603
Mailing Address (if different from home): POST OFFICE BOX 27491, RALEIGH, NC 27611
Campaign Web Site: www.lovelaceforcourtofappeals.com
Occupation & Employer: DEPUTY COMMISSIONER-N.C. INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION
Years lived in Durham: 0
Home Phone: 919-810-5531
Work Phone: 919-807-2560
1. If you have made pledges, taken positions or otherwise commented on how you might rule in office, what are your top three priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
There have been several lawsuits filed in our State regarding recently enacted legislation. I understand that there are citizens in our State who support or disagree with the new laws. Under the Code of Judicial Conduct, judicial candidates are prohibited from commenting upon how she might rule as a judge or taking positions on issues which may come before the court. My pledge to voters is to decide cases upon the Constitution and relevant legal precedent after developing a full understanding of the facts. I will not base any decisions upon popular opinion or political ideology. I will be a fair and impartial judge who serves the community with integrity, treats all citizens with dignity and respect and rules upon legal disputes quickly without sacrificing quality.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Approximately half of the cases decided by the Court of Appeals are criminal cases. Workers’ compensation, child abuse and termination of parental rights cases also comprise a significant percentage of the court’s caseload. The N.C. Industrial Commission has exclusive jurisdiction of workers’ compensation cases and I have worked at the Industrial Commission since 2006 in several positions. I currently serve the State of North Carolina as a N.C. Industrial Commission Deputy Commissioner which means I travel the State to judge workers’ compensation cases and negligence claims against the State. Prior to the Industrial Commission, I served the State as an Assistant Appellate Defender representing criminal defendants and indigent parents in termination of parental rights cases in appeals to the N.C. Court of Appeals. I began my legal career as a Court of Appeals law clerk to the Honorable Judges James A. Wynn, Jr. and Robert C. Hunter. I am the only candidate with experience working in the Court of Appeals, practicing before the Court of Appeals and performing judicial duties. I am also the only candidate with experience in the top four areas of cases heard by the Court of Appeals—workers’ compensation, criminal, child abuse and termination of parental rights.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how do your political and legal philosophies show in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
Political ideology and debate is for the legislative and executive branches of our government. The judiciary must be free of politics in order for our government to function effectively. Therefore, I have informed voters that political favoritism or ideology will not influence my decisions. I am a Democrat and I believe my work as a public school teacher, a lawyer representing indigent parents, and my work with the N.C. Healthy Start Foundation and in my church reflect my personal beliefs and values.
4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
A judge must be a leader in our communities. Although prohibited from taking positions on issues which may come before the Court, a judge is permitted to participate in educational programs and may explain court procedure. Once elected, my pledge is to serve as an educational resource to our citizens. A just community is established when our citizenry is informed, know their rights, and understand how to fight for their rights in our legal system.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
A judge must have the conviction to rule in accordance with our Constitution—even when that decision would be unpopular. As best said by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “[t]he founders realized there has to be someplace where being right is more important than being popular or powerful, and where fairness trumps strength. And in our country, that place is supposed to be the courtroom.” I am prohibited from indicating how I would rule upon a certain issue or case. I can state, however, that I do have the conviction to rule in accordance with our Constitution and relevant legal precedent even if the decision would be unpopular.
6. The Court of Appeals does not hold oral arguments for a large portion of cases, and a large portion of opinions go unpunished. Is this an adequate way to build a body of case law?
Over the ten years since I served as a Court of Appeals law clerk, the number of cases that receive oral argument have decreased. Recommendations for which cases should receive oral argument are made by the Court of Appeals staff counsel. A Court of Appeals judge has the authority to reject that recommendation and order oral argument. As a Court of Appeals judge, I will review each of my assigned cases to determine if oral argument is necessary. In regards to the number of unpublished decisions, if a case does not add something new or significant to the body of case law, the case should be unpublished. Many unpublished decisions are criminal cases because every convicted criminal has the right to appeal their conviction to the Court of Appeals. As there is not a significant legal issue in many of these criminal appeals, many of these opinions are unpublished as they do not add value to the body of case law. Finally, attorneys and the public have the right to request the publication of an unpublished decision within ten days of the decision. Therefore, the public has a way of informing the Court that the unpublished decision has value as precedent and should be published.
7. What is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in setting precedent for North Carolina’s appellate courts?
The U.S. Supreme Court is the final authority on the interpretation of our U.S. Constitution. U.S. constitutional issues may be presented in lawsuits pending in state courts and our state’s appellate courts are bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In matters solely relating to the North Carolina Constitution or state law, the pronouncements of the Supreme Court of North Carolina are the final authority.
8. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? Please explain. What changes would you make to the current system to improve it?
I favor public financing of judicial races. The influx of large amounts of money into judicial races creates the perception that justice is for sale and that a particular judge may be beholden to his or her largest campaign contributors. This undermines the public’s confidence in our judiciary. I believe the recently repealed public financing system effectively balanced the need for judges to raise money to run a campaign and maintaining an appearance of impartiality. I would like for our public financing system to be reinstated. Other methods for selecting judges should be studied, such as appointing judges and retention elections.
9. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.
10. Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with those conflicts?
I believe it would be improper for me to answer this question as it could create a perception that I would rule upon an issue in a certain way. As an informed citizen, I do have opinions about political and social issues which I keep private due to my current position as a Deputy Commissioner and as a judicial candidate. In the courtroom, my focus is upon our Constitution, statutes and relevant legal precedent—not my personal beliefs.
11. The passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws has removed some of the discretion judges, juries and prosecutors used to exercise in the sentencing phase of criminal trials. Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Please explain.
Historically, judges are looked upon to serve justice for all and to show mercy when necessary. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have removed some of the discretion judges and prosecutors have to show mercy if appropriate. Our public wants a judiciary that is tough on crime. Our public also wants a legal system that reduces or eliminates recidivism. Our General Assembly should study how to have a system that is tough on crime while giving prosecutors and judges the flexibility to determine punishment, sentences and outcomes that appropriately punish, but reduces or eliminates the recidivism cycle.
12. In this new technological world, do you perceive a conflict between government surveillance and the need to protect an individual’s privacy?
As our world advances technologically, the need to protect society as a whole must be effectively balanced with the individual’s constitutional right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Our citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights as it relates to technology are an issue that will arise and will be appealed to our appellate courts. Therefore, it would be improper for me to comment upon this question as it will be an issue that will come before the appellate courts.
13. What are your thoughts about criminal culpability for young people? Is the North Carolina criminal justice system treating them appropriately?
As a former educator, I know that our young people do not have adult decision-making skills. For that reason, our juvenile courts emphasize rehabilitation when determining how to appropriately sentence our youth. Additionally, our U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the death penalty is forbidden for youth under the age of 18. Legislation to raise the jurisdictional age limits of our juvenile courts from 16 to 18 was introduced in our General Assembly. There are also discussions in our community about school policies labeled the “school to prison pipeline.” Our communities and legislative leaders are discussing the criminal culpability of our youth.
As a judge, my responsibility is to follow the law enacted by our General Assembly unless unconstitutional or contrary to relevant and applicable legal precedent. However, as a judge, we are permitted to discuss legal procedure and issues facing the legal system as long as we do not indicate how we would rule on a particular issue. As our state discusses the “school to prison pipeline,” juvenile court age limits, or youth rehabilitation alternatives, our judges could serve as an educational resource in this area. Our judges can provide some insight into the types of cases heard and how to improve the system.
14. Does the death penalty place an undue financial burden on the courts?
Studies have shown that it costs more to prosecute and administer the death penalty than to house someone in prison for life. Whether these costs pose an undue financial burden on our legal system is an issue that must be debated in our General Assembly.
15. Justice Department Officials had instructed federal prosecutors across the country not to focus federal resources on individuals who were complying with state laws regarding the use of medical marijuana. As a judge, do you find this philosophy confusing?
The prosecuting authorities in federal and state jurisdictions have the authority to determine how cases will be prosecuted—i.e., whether to proceed with criminal prosecutions, to dismiss a case, or to plea bargain. As an appellate court judge, my responsibility would be to ensure prosecutions are free of legal error. The charging decision is in the province of the prosecutor. I also believe it would be improper to comment specifically upon medical marijuana or other issues because it could indicate how I would rule upon a case.
16. The law offers special protections to racial and ethnic minorities. Are members of the LGBT community sufficiently protected?
With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, federal hate crime protections have been extended to the LGBT community. In regards to other rights, several federal circuits, including the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, have recently issued decisions regarding LGBT rights. Many legal scholars believe the U.S. Supreme Court will soon take a case to consider LGBT rights in our country. Additionally, at least one LGBT rights related case is pending in North Carolina courts. Therefore, it would be improper to comment upon this issue as it could indicate how I would rule upon a case involving this issue. As stated in other responses, my responsibility as a judge is to follow relevant legal precedent.
17. Has the current processing for redistricting served the State well?
Currently, the redistricting case is still pending before the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Members of our General Assembly are also discussing redistricting alternatives. It would be improper to comment upon this issue as there is a possibility redistricting issues could come before the Court of Appeals.
18. Have the legislative branch unduly depleted the power of the judicial branch in terms of civil procedure?
In 2011, the General Assembly amended the Rules of Civil Procedure to address E-discovery and pre-trial discovery procedures. The E-discovery procedures largely mirror the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and address the discovery of electronically stored data, an issue lawyers and courts have struggled with over the past few years. The pre-trial discovery conference between litigants now occurs outside the courts and removes the judge from the discovery conference unless the parties are unable to agree on an issue. I am in favor of parties resolving discovery disputes without involving the courts and involving the judge only when the parties have been unable to resolve a disputed issue after putting forth good effort.
19. There is not complete judicial uniformity across the state; some jurisdictions, for example, have family and drug courts while others do not. Are we meeting the needs of the entire state?
Our Chief Justice should continue to advocate in the General Assembly for adequate funding for our judiciary so the needs of all citizens can be met in our judicial system. In regards to family and drug courts, the implementation of these courts in some of our counties have resulted in better outcomes for families struggling with a variety of issues or individuals struggling with addiction. The best practices from these courts should be extended to all judicial districts in our state.