Name as it appears on the ballot: Ola M. Lewis
Date of Birth: July 11, 1965
Campaign Web Site: www.votejudgeola.com
Occupation & Employer: North Carolina Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, Judicial District 13B; State of North Carolina
Years lived in Durham: 1987-1990 for Law School at North Carolina Central University
Home Phone: 910-964-5216
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?
I pledge to make the Supreme Court more effective and efficient by having the Court "write more!" According to a Law Review Article By former Justice Robert Orr, our State's Supreme Court has been on a steady decline by way of productivity.i In 2000 the Court authored 102 opinions and by 2009 only 71.ii From July 2012 through June 2013, my opponent wrote a mere 5 opinions.iii
I pledge to work with the North Carolina Legislators in order to ensure adequate funding for our courts. Moreover, I pledge to increase the number of therapeutic courts similar to measures we have long established in Brunswick County with our five cutting edge, problem solving courts. They include a Drug Treatment Court, a true night court, DWI Therapeutic Court, Domestic Violence Therapeutic Court, Mental Health Therapeutic Court and a Sex Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Court. We have written over $600 thousand dollars worth of grants. I believe these cost savings, problem solving courts should be in every district of the State. Especially to serve our Veterans who may need assistance and cannot afford treatment or are not given adequate treatment options. I am also very concerned about access to justice issues for those citizens in need. The Administrative Office of the Courts will work closely with those on a local level to provide access to justice for those in rural and urban areas of our great State.
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.
The Chief Justice is in charge of the administrative duties of the court. I am the only Candidate with full time judicial administrative experience currently serving as Senior Resident of judicial district 13B. My duties are designated by the following:
North Carolina Constitution
Duties assigned by the General Rules of Practice for the Superior Courts
Duties assigned by the Rules Implementing Statewide Mediated Settlement
Conferences in Superior Court Civil Actions
Duties assigned by the Rules for Court-Ordered Arbitration in North Carolina
Duties assigned by the Rules of the North Carolina Supreme Court
Implementing the Pre-litigation Farm Nuisance Mediation Program
Duties assigned by the Rules for the Dispute Resolution Commission
Duties (which may be) assigned by local acts of the General Assembly
Some of these duties include: Appointment to fill vacancy of the Clerk of Superior Court, appointment of Magistrates, scheduling civil cases, mediation of farm nuisance disputes, mediation of public record disputes, removal of the District Attorney for wrong doing or misconduct, appointment of jury commissioner, appointment of drug treatment court management committee, impaneling grand jury, hearing motions for appropriate relief, orders to protect clients of disbarred, deceased or missing lawyers, calendaring of all civil cases, ordering parties to arbitration, establishment of local rules and bail policies and electronic coverage of court proceedings to name a few.
In addition, I manage personnel, budgets and technology in my office. I work with our local County Manager and County Commissioners and other stakeholders on budgetary concerns involving the courts such as the number of days inmates are housed in our local facility to the burden of local taxpayers. I am responsible for a Continuity of Operations Plan for the Courts in case of pandemic, epidemic, terrorist threat or act of God. We work directly with emergency preparedness during hurricane season and inclement weather to make certain the safety of the community is paramount while meeting the needs of the citizens we serve.
During my tenure as a Superior Court Judge I have tried all level of criminal matters from misdemeanor appeals, high level drug offenses to violent crimes including capital first degree murder. I have also presided over civil matters in controversy in excess of $10,000 to include will caveats, contract disputes and tort claims.
I bring with me the experience of working with court personnel on a daily basis. I understand issues facing the bench, bar, law enforcement, clerks, probation officers, magistrates and bail agents.
My service as a Superior Court Judge, District Court Judge, former assistant Prosecutor and defense attorney give me perspective from many levels of the judicial system. I have been a Plaintiff in a civil suit which took almost three years from filing date to successful jury verdict. I have a brother serving a lengthy sentence as a habitual felon fueled by drug addiction and a lifetime of poor choices. I have visited more prisons than I care to remember. These life experiences give me exceptional perception and my service as Senior Resident Superior Court Judge since 2006 determine me uniquely qualified to serve as Chief Justice for the North Carolina Supreme Court.
3. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
On Tuesday, March 25, 2014 during a public forum sponsored by the Conservatives for Guilford County, my opponent remarked that he did not understand "why Judge Lewis did not want to stay in her place as a Superior Court Judge with the State of North Carolina." It is this type of rhetoric which places individuals who are striving to achieve in their personal or professional lives in situations where we may feel ridiculed, demeaned or belittled. It is also a reason I continue to be vigilant to intolerance and unprofessionalism as I serve as a jurist across this great State. I feel in order to build a "just community" we must expect exemplary behavior from our leaders and elect fair-minded people into office. In order to build just communities we need to implement treatment courts to ensure community safety while ordering compliance with all program goals. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, of which I am a proud member, Drug Courts reduce crime, save money, ensure compliance, combat addiction and restore families.iv
4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I have taken an oath to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of North Carolina and the Constitution of the United States of America, not inconsistent therewith.
5. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? Please explain. What changes would you make to the current system to improve it?
The North Carolina General Assembly passed comprehensive voter reform including the manner in which judicial appellate candidates campaign. It is the law I will abide by until reformed by the legislature or met with successful challenge in our courts. I respectfully believe answering the question may appear to cloud my impartiality should the matters come before the court.
6. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.
I have heard hundreds of cases as a district court and superior court judge with the State of North Carolina. The law provides for judges who may have a conflict to remove himself/herself from the appearance of impropriety. I have had occasion where I knew one or both litigants....the case that comes immediately to mind is a case from Holden Beach, NC where a property owner's association sued a builder. I am a member of the Holden Beach Women's Club and several Club members were parties to the lawsuit. I promptly recused myself and continued the matters.
7. 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.
I believe we as judges still have discretion in sentencing criminal defendants in court. The mandatory minimums and maximums act as a guide in order to ensure that all who come before the criminal justice system are treated fairly and are similarly situated. District Attorneys have latitude in the manner in which they proceed with a case which may in turn allow judges greater discretion in sentencing options.
8. In this new technological world, do you perceive a conflict between government surveillance and the need to protect an individual’s privacy?
I believe we have safeguards in place. Judges are the gatekeepers of the Constitution and laws. We must use the tools we are given to shield individuals from widespread governmental invasion of privacy.
9. What are your thoughts about criminal culpability for young people? Is the North Carolina criminal justice system treating them appropriately?
During my seven year tenure as a District Court Judge for the State I was a certified juvenile court judge. I fully understand the position, based on evidence based data, youthful offenders may not be fully capable of understanding the nature of their alleged criminal behavior. Trained Juvenile Court Counselors are our first line of communication and are given discretion in deciding whether a juvenile will proceed to court. However, pursuant to law, there are limits as to what types of cases may be diverted:
Murder, rape, sex offenses, arson, burglary, serious assaults with a deadly weapon or drug offenses which are felonies if committed by an adult.
Juvenile judges determine if a juvenile's matters will remain in juvenile court or be bound over to the superior courts if a serious statutory violation is alleged. When probation is an option, juveniles must be afforded all reasonable community based alternatives before detention at a youth Development Center. These alternatives include but are not limited to:
Teen Court, physiological examinations, life skill programs, restitution programs, community service programs, or conflict resolution programs, depending upon resources available to the juvenile.
With these stringent requirements in place, North Carolina is making definite strides in improving the juvenile system.
10. Does the death penalty place an undue financial burden on the courts? If so, assess the impact.
Pursuant to the Rules of Judicial Standards and the Code of Judicial Conduct, I respectfully believe answering the question may appear to cloud my impartiality should the issue come before court.
11. 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?
I am a proud member of the National Association of Drug Treatment Court Professionals. I believe marijuana is a gateway drug to substance abuse. However, I understand there is scientific research which shows marijuana to be beneficial in treating certain medical conditions. I respect all laws, Federal and other State laws and fully understand how there may be conflicting laws which co-exist in harmony.
12. The law offers special protections to racial and ethnic minorities. Are members of the LGBT community sufficiently protected?
I respect all persons and believe in teaching tolerance. Pursuant to the Rules of Judicial Standards and the Code of Judicial Conduct I respectfully believe answering the question may appear to cloud my impartiality should the matters come before the courts.
13. Has the current process for redistricting served the State well?
Pursuant to the Rules of Judicial Standards and the Code of Judicial Conduct, I respectfully believe answering the question may appear to cloud my impartiality should the issue come before the court.
14. Has the current process for redistricting served the State well?
Codification of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure bring uniformity and establish rule of law. The members of the General Assembly will often seek input or listen to the interest of the judiciary before rules are established. Moreover, if a measure is proposed and has unintended effects, the Conference of District Court Judges and the Conference of Superior Court Judges will ensure our concerns are noted.
15. 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?
There is always room for improvement. Problem solving courts build safer communities, save money and reduce the rate of recidivism. Brunswick County Therapeutic Courts have written over $600 thousand dollars in grants. I stand ready to assist local jurisdictions across the State, weigh their needs, and seek alternate funding streams from grants to local resources.
i. Robert Orr, What Exactly Is a "Substantial Constitutional Question for Purposes of Appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court?, Campbell. L. Rev. 33 n. 2 (2011). ii. Id. iii. Sharon McCloskey, Business as Usual at the Supreme Court, North Carolina Policy Watch, June 19, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from http//www.ncpolicywatch.com. iv. http://www.nadcp.org/learn/facts-and-figures, April 3, 2014