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Statewide Judges 

2006 judicial races

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Statewide Judicial Races
NC Supreme Court
Chief JusticeRusty Duke
Sarah Parker
Associate JusticeEric Levinson
Patricia Timmons-Goodson
Associate JusticeRachel Lea Hunter
Mark Martin
Associate JusticeRobin Hudson
Ann Marie Calabria
NC Court of Appeals
JudgeRobert C. 'Bob' Hunter
Kris Bailey
JudgeLinda Stephens
Donna Stroud

NC Supreme Court

Chief Justice

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RUSTY DUKE
Party: Republican
Date of Birth: August 28, 1947
Campaign Web Site: www.rustyduke.com
Occupation & Employer: Senior Resident Superior Court Judge
Years Lived in North Carolina: 59 years, my entire life

1) 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 oppose public financing of judicial races and I believe nothing short of complete repeal would improve it. I believe that taxpayer-financed systems chill speech and hurt the democratic process. We should allow citizens to choose for themselves which candidate they want to give money to. A candidate who has no popular support will be unable to raise money. Allowing citizens to choose whom they will support financially ensures that only credible candidates are on the ballot. Proponents of public financing argue that candidates will no longer feel beholden to special interests under these systems. This is a false assumption. When organizations and individuals spend money on behalf of candidates, as opposed to providing contributions, candidates who would have felt beholden because of contributions are still going to feel beholden. Money simply shifts from contributions to independent expenditures and issue advocacy.

2) 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? Please explain.

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 follows the law as set forth in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Republican Party of Minn. V. White, 536 US 765 (2002). It is my view that this decision is a correct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

3) 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 have not commented on how I might rule in office; however, my judicial philosophy is well known. I believe that our individual rights are given to us by our Creator, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, and that government is instituted by us as citizens to protect those rights. As written, our U.S. Constitution and N.C. Constitution do a masterful job of protecting those rights. I am a Constitutionalist. I pledge that I will attempt to assign all civil cases to individual judges to oversee from start to finish. I pledge that I will attempt to establish a technological communication system for the courts that will accommodate e-filing for our courts and otherwise bring our court system modern management techniques.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

Frivolous lawsuits are not a big problem in North Carolina; however, I believe that all lawsuits should be assigned to individual judges to oversee from start to finish. This will do more than anything else to minimize frivolous lawsuits and cut litigation expenses for civil litigants.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

It has not been my experience nor the experience of most trial judges that there is a great problem of innocents being convicted of crimes; however, that is not to say that just one such conviction is not a great injustice to both the defendant and to the community where the guilty offender still roams free. There are many due process hurtles built into our criminal law and it is a judge's duty to carefully insure that all of those rights of the defendant, the victim and the community are guarded.

6) 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.

Under Structured Sentencing judges have plenty of discretion in the sentencing of convicted felons. I believe that this Structured Sentencing law, which we have had for a little over 10 years, has served the citizens of this state well.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

I cannot think of two laws with which I am uncomfortable personally. In my view of the law and its application by a judge, my personal beliefs about a law are irrelevant and should not be considered by me in the making of a decision or in applying the law to a given factual situation in a particular case.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

I do recuse myself regularly in cases involving a local hospital since my sister is a member of its board of trustees. Other cases come up from time to time and the decision to recuse myself is always considered when there is any appearance of a conflict.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

Yes, I do believe that there are too many "activist" judges "making law". I believe that North Carolina judges are generally restrained from "making law" by their knowledge that they are accountable for their decisions through periodic elections. An example of a state court decision that I think crossed the line is Nelson v. Freeland, 507 S.E.2d 882 (N.C. 1998). The Supreme Court of North Carolina eliminated the common law distinction between licensees and invitees in favor of a "reasonable person" standard for landowner liability. Choosing to modify or abolish the common law distinctions, the court adopted a standard of reasonable care for all lawful visitors, a change in North Carolina real property law that should have been left for the North Carolina General Assembly to consider after debate and discussion.


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SARAH PARKER
Party: Democrat; however, judicial races are nonpartisan
Date of Birth: August 23, 1942
Campaign Web Site: www.chiefjusticesarahparker.com
Occupation & Employer: Chief Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court; State of North Carolina
Years Lived in North Carolina: 64

1) 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 am not opposed to public financing for judicial races. Public financing is a measure toward enhancing judicial independence. I would, however, remove the minimum amount and contributor requirements for qualifying for public financing. The rationale that these minimum requirements somehow protect against a person who is not qualified for the office obtaining public financing is, in my opinion, flawed. These minimum requirements, coupled with the accounting requirements and the rules and limitations on in-kind contributions, are almost impracticable, and, in my judgment, undermine the ultimate goal of improving the independence of the judiciary by eliminating the need to raise money. I do not have a quarrel at this time with the maximum limitations of $500 per contribution and sixty times the filing fee. However, as the cost of running a statewide campaign increases with a growing population and with the increase in prices for the basics of a campaign such as paper, printing, postage, gasoline, hotel rooms, telephones, and equipment, these primary campaign maximums and also the public funding in the general election will need to be adjusted.

2) How do you view Canon 7 of the N.C. Judicial Code regarding the personal solicitation of campaign contributions, taking positions on issues and endorsing candidates for other offices? Please explain.

The fact that the Code of Judicial Conduct, in keeping with Constitutional law enunciated by the United States Supreme Court, states that a judicial candidate may engage in certain conduct does not mean that the candidate must engage in that conduct.

3) 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 have not made pledges, taken positions or otherwise commented on how I might rule in office. I have repeatedly stated that the only pledge or promise that I will make is that I will continue to the best of my ability to apply the law fairly and impartially to all, regardless of status, who come before the Court; that I will give to the duties of Chief Justice my utmost energy, ability, and integrity; and that I will continue to be a good steward of the public trust.

The primary issue facing the courts is sufficient funding for the judicial branch of government to assure that qualified people at all levels can be retained and that the court system can take advantage of technological advances to operate more efficiently in order to better serve the people without compromising the administration of justice.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

The answer to this question depends in large measure on how "frivolous" is defined. Almost all defendants in civil actions initially view the plaintiff's suit as frivolous. The Constitution of North Carolina provides that "all courts shall be open; every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law." Article I, Sec. 19, Constitution of North Carolina. Thus, with this Constitutional protection, little can be done to prevent a plaintiff from "filing" a frivolous lawsuit; but the judicious and appropriate application of the Rules of Civil Procedure and precedent can effect the expeditious disposition of a truly frivolous action. Judges can through seminars and continuing legal education encourage lawyers to take seriously their responsibilities as counselors at law, but yet remain mindful that some landmark cases were viewed as frivolous by some when first filed. Maintaining the delicate balance between "predictability" and "adaptability" of the law is a challenge for both bench and bar.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

The incarceration of an innocent person is deplorable. When innocent people are being convicted and incarcerated, the problem is a serious one. How prevalent the incidents of incarcerating innocent people are is a different question. A Commission to investigate whether innocent people are being incarcerated and to propose methods to eliminate the problem is worth the effort and money. Confidence in the rule of law is essential to a free and civil society, and nothing can do more to destroy confidence in the rule of law than the incarceration of innocent people.

Judges can be vigilant to assure that overzealous advocacy on either side does not skew the outcome of a criminal trial, and lawyers on both sides must zealously pursue their cause with integrity and within the law.

6) 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.

The Structured Sentencing Act provides for graduated sentences based on the seriousness of the crime and the recidivism of the defendant and contains provisions for judges to either enhance or reduce punishment within certain limits based on aggravating or mitigating factors. Although after Blakely v. Washington, 157 L. Ed. 2d 403 (2003), aggravating factors, except for a prior conviction, must be submitted to and found by the jury, the statute, in my view, provides judges with sufficient flexibility to deal fairly with almost all situations.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

My oath is to uphold the Constitution and laws of North Carolina not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. When my personal convictions conflict with the law as enacted by our General Assembly, I deal with the conflict by focusing on the facts and the law applicable to those facts in a particular case. The intensity of the review of the record and the law offsets one's personal biases. Furthermore, on the Supreme Court, a justice must have the concurrence of three other justices for his or her position to prevail. Hence, the entire process makes one's personal views virtually insignificant to the outcome of the case.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

Yes. Not long after I went onto the Court of Appeals, I recused in a driving while impaired case where the defendant had consulted with me as a lawyer about his case. When I became a member of the Supreme Court, I recused in those cases on which I had sat on the panel in the Court of Appeals.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

As a member of the Supreme Court, I do not think it appropriate to comment on this question. If I have a disagreement with other members of the Court or with a judge of a lower court, the time for me to express my views is in a concurring or dissenting opinion. The record speaks for itself.


Associate Justice

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ERIC LEVINSON
Party: Nonpartisan race/registered Republican
Date of Birth: 5-30-67
Campaign Web site: www.justicelevinson.org
Occupation & Employer: Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals
Years Lived in North Carolina: 39 (except college years)

1) 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 have chosen to particiate in the matching funds rules for the appellate judicial races.

We can never enhance public confidence in our courts when individuals perceive that others' contributions are a "quid pro quo" for desired results in trial courtrooms across this State and in our Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. To this end, the current legislation concerning public financing of contested appellate judicial races has led to a reductions in contributions from attorneys and political action committees. Interestingly, the current system requires candidates to "qualify" for public funds by first raising dollars from a certain number of donors at defined increments. While I understand that the current legislation had to take a number of competing interests and needs into account, many in the public will continue to be skeptical about the quality of the decisions we make as judges so long as judicial candidates must raise dollars.

There will inevitably be changes to the current legislation concerning the funding of appellate judicial races. This system is still very new, and those of us who participate learn, everyday, that the legislation has ambiguities and leaves many questions unanswered. The N.C. State Board of Elections has been attentive to questions concerning interest on deposits, in-kind contributions, and a multitude of other issues that have arisen. In short, there are a number of legislative modifications that can improve application of judicial funding legislation. I observe, too, that many North Carolina citizens have expressed a valid concern that their tax dollars may be used to support the individual candidacies of those they do not wish to support. Moreover, I note that, once a candidate declares his/her intention to participate in the matching funds program, contributions of no less than $10.00 may be accepted. I have met many North Carolinians who wanted to make a contribution of less than $10.00 to my campaign but could not. I hope the legislature will examine this limitation on the participation of individuals statewide who wish to express their support for an appellate court candidate. Finally, the General Assembly may wish to consider extending the time for candidates to "qualify" for funds. And because Cannon 7 now permits our candidates to personally solicit funds, extending the deadline to receive 350+ "qualifying contributions" may place less pressure on them to do so.

Ultimately, the General Assembly must determine how our judges and justices are selected, and those of us who wish to serve on the bench must respect and follow whatever system they adopt. Nonetheless, all members of the Judical Branch -- and particularly the members of the Supreme Court -- have an obligation to be involved in this ongoing, important discussion.

2) 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? Please explain.

I was first elected as a member of the judiciary in 1996, long before the Minnesota decision led to changes in the N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct. In all four of my campaigns for the judiciary (three former successful ones and the current race), I have not taken positions on issues or endorsed candidates for other offices. Like other North Carolinians, I want the selection of our judges to be as insulated from the influences of special interests as possible. Politics and agendas have no place in the courtroom, and all North Carolinians -- no matter their idealogical positions -- should understand that judges and justices must not bring any particular agendas to the bench. I am honored to have the support and endorsement of individuals of all idealogical backgrounds and leaders in both major political parties. These supporters understand that my only "agenda" as a jurist is to rule objectively based upon the law and the facts in any given case, and that they will inevitably be "disappointed" by one or more decisions. My record and reputation, I believe, demonstrate that I do not bring any agenda to this judiciary.

3) 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 have not made pledges or taken positions on issues. I have expressed my belief that our courts must ensure that our rights are protected; adjudicate disputes; punish the guilty; and vindicate the innocent. And I have stated that, while our judges and justices hold a special role in our society, we should necessarily respect the policy-making authorities of the General Assembly. Our Supreme Court must still ensure individual rights are protected, of course. To this end, all our justices must fulfill the responsibility of reviewing the constitutionality and validity of any legislative enactments when called upon to do so.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

In a large system of justice that has 3.2 million new case filings every year -- a large portion of which is civil -- there are inevitably going to be some suits that lack legal or factual merit. Many of these cases are brought against individuals and many against corporate entities.

Settlement values increase where our civil courts cannot keep pace with growing demands. Our courts have a responsibility to dismiss claims that lack factual or legal merit at early stages of litigation just as they have an obligation to resolve cases with merit as early as practicable. Our courts should reach dispositive motions as early in the litigation process as practicable. Where courts permit lengthy, unnecessary "voyages of discovery," the costs borne by litigants increase.

Our system of justice must afford some flexibility to individuals who seek to "test" new theories of civil recovery or suggest new, creative applications of existing legal principles. Our challenge as a judiciary is to encourage this process, which is an important part of a dynamic legal system, while identifying those matters that clearly lack any potential merit. I have prosecuted or presided over every major type of legal dispute heard in our State courts, and I work everyday to exercise the type of mature, independent judgment needed to fulfull this responsibility of the judiciary.

We have observed that a growing number of parties take an appeal of interlocutory orders before the civil dispute is finally resolved. This is particularly costly for all parties involved and delays finality. As appellate courts, it is our responsibility to be clear and unambiguous about when parties may take an interlocutory appeal, and sanction individual and/or institutional parties who take appeal when it is clear that they may not do so under our existing statutory and Court Rules concerning this subject.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

It is an important function of our courts to vindicate the innocent, just as it is an important function to punish the guilty. With a large system of justice and growing numbers of cases, our judges must take great care not only to ensure due process is protected -- that which helps to avoid the conviction of the innocent -- but to give much attention to arguments and petitions that assert actual innocence. The N.C. Innocence Commission represents a new and creative "extra-judicial" means to ensure that those individuals who are wrongly convicted can gain release and vindication. It is my hope that the Commission members and Superior Court judges -- and the members of the Supreme Court -- work together to make the Commission a meaningful, effective mechanism. It has been encouraging to observe many individuals work collectively on a goal no one can disagree with: freedom for the innocent.

6) 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.

The Structured Sentencing Act has largely met three of its goals: to incarcerate violent offenders for longer durations of time; bring greater "truth in sentencing" to our criminal courtrooms; and enhance consistency across N.C. for similar criminal conduct. Before the passage of the SSA, which became effective for offenses occurring after October 1994, many sexual assault offenders were spending approximately 15% of their sentences in the Department of Corrections. Men who were sentenced to two years for Assault on a Female were serving two weeks in county detention facilities. Under the SSA, individuals sentenced to prison are not eligible for parole and must serve the minimum active sentences.

The current SSA affords trial court judges with some flexibility in sentencing. While there will inevitably be circumstances and facts supporting criminal convictions that demand more or less severe penalties, overall the SSA strikes a balance between competing goals of consistency and permitting presiding judges to craft sentences that comport with offenders' level of culpability. Of course, it remains the General Assembly's role to determine the punishments associated with particular offenses where the same does not violate prohibtions of cruel and unusual punishments.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

As a judge who has presided on the bench for ten years, I have inevitably entered rulings -- or sentenced persons to prison -- or terminated persons' parental rights -- or entered judgments against an individual or institution -- that I did not personally believe comported with justice. This is nonetheless my responsibility as a judge, and I accept the reality that my personal beliefs must cede to the even administration of law and justice. I know, too, that I cannot construct legislative mandates from the bench.

I have affirmed the convictions of numerous individuals who received very lengthy, undeserved prison terms. I did so because our sentencing statutes allowed the presiding trial judges to enter such sentences, and I was without the authority to undo them.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

I have consistenly maintained a list of attorneys and other individuals on a recusal list. This is a relatively short list, and includes attorneys with whom I have had a very close friendship for many years. I have recused myself from very few cases as a result. I have recused myself on these occasions not because I did not believe I could rule objectively, but because the public perception might be that I favored a particular side because of my close association with these persons. As I recall, I was asked once or twice in Family Court to recuse myself but refused to so so. The reasons, as I recall, concerned assertions that I had been involved in the litigation for a lengthy period and it might be helpful to have a different judge preside. I have not recused myself from a case because of either the subject matter of the dispute or because of either the difficulty or potential for public scrutiny involved.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

By my definition, an "activist" judge is someone who crafts a civil remedy the General Assembly has not enacted though empowered to do so; who takes remedial measures that are logical but not authorized by law; or who does not respect the legislative role of our coequal branch of government. I have worked with and reviewed the work of many North Carolina judges. Overall, North Carolina has a rich history of having members of the judiciary who do not bring their political beliefs into the courtroom.


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MARK D. MARTIN
Party: Republican
Date of Birth: 4-29-63
Campaign Web Site: www.justicemarkmartin.org
Occupation & Employer: Associate Justice, N.C. Supreme Court
Years Lived in North Carolina: Except for two years of federal government service, my entire adult life.

1) 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 Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from discussing the merits of litigation pending in a North Carolina state or federal court. A suit challenging the constitutionality of the North Carolina public funding statute for appellate judicial elections is currently pending in a United States District Court within the State of North Carolina. Accordingly, as required by the Code and out of respect for the federal court, I will decline comment on this question.

2) 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? Please explain.

Canon 7 permits judicial candidates to personally solicit campaign contributions or to entrust this task to a committee of responsible persons to solicit campaign contributions on their behalf. I have chosen the latter option. Regardless of whether Canon 7 permits judicial candidates to take positions on issues or to endorse other candidates, I have elected not to do so, as my 14 years of judicial service have reinforced my belief that this practice may impair the perception that courts administer fair and impartial justice in accord with the rule of law.

3) 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?

N/A

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

As no lawsuit is filed in the N.C. Supreme Court, our trial judges may be in a better position to evaluate this question. Sanctions are available, both in our trial and appellate courts, in the event litigants file or appeal cases in a frivolous manner.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

I have tried to review as much information as possible about the nature and extent of this problem. When a person is wrongfully convicted and spends time in prison for a crime he or she did not commit, I think that we as a society should be very concerned. The goal of any criminal justice system should be to convict the guilty and to exonerate the innocent. It is my belief that the overwhelming majority of judges offer themselves for public service because they believe in this salutary goal. When this does not occur for whatever reason, I think every North Carolinian can be proud of the fact that we now have a remedial mechanism in place.

6) 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.

Traditionally, trial judges in virtually every jurisdiction were afforded broad discretion to adjust criminal sentences up or down. In fact, when I served as a superior court judge from 1992 to 1994, North Carolina still used a sentencing system of this nature. Mandatory sentencing laws, as well as structured sentencing guidelines, have limited sentencing discretion. I believe an argument can be made that trial judges and juries should possess a greater measure of discretion to increase or decrease sentences, but only where such deviations are clearly supported by the facts of the case. The ultimate goal of ensuring uniform sentencing regardless of the defendant's race, gender or other proscribed factor can be reduced to the following: same facts, same punishment.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

Judges take an oath (or affirm) that they will apply and follow state law, even when they may personally disagree with it. During my 14 years of judicial service, I do not recall ever feeling uncomfortable in carrying out this duty of judicial office.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

The North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to recuse themselves from hearing cases in a number of situations. A party may file a motion requesting the recusal of a justice, or a justice may recuse on his or her own motion. Virtually every supreme court justice has recused himself or herself from considering or deciding a case at some point, including me. For example, when I was installed as a member of the N.C. Supreme Court in January 1999, I recused in cases in which I had participated previously as a member of the N.C. Court of Appeals -- where I served from December 1994 to January 1999.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

I do not believe that there are too many activist judges in North Carolina who are making law to suit their personal and political beliefs.


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ROBIN HUDSON
Party: Democrat
Date of Birth: 2/20/52
Campaign Web Site: www.RobinHudson.org
Occupation & Employer: Judge, North Carolina Court of Appeals; State of North Carolina
Years Lived in North Carolina: 40

1) 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 the public financing of judicial races, primarily because it has helped address the concern about the public's perception that raising money in large quantities threatens the independence of the judiciary. The current system is fundamentally sound, although I am sure that as we go through additional election cycles there will be some fine-tuning of the system. There should be more certainty about the availability of funds earlier in the election cycle so that those who are deciding whether to opt in to the system will not face the prospect that the fund will not be adequate to fully fund all participants.

2) 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? Please explain.

While the law and the Canons may allow judges to discuss substantive matters of law and assert their positions on political issues, I do not believe we should do so. There is simply no legitimate purpose for stating political views when the very role of the judge is to decide cases based on the law and not on a personal agenda. I have no personal or political agenda as a judge on the Court of Appeals, and I would have no such agenda as a justice on the Supreme Court. Stating personal views in order to get votes would be hypocritical. It concerns me greatly that the public's confidence in our system of laws may be undermined when judges campaign on hot button issues.

Endorsing non-judicial candidates may be seen as tacit endorsement of their political positions, and could be viewed as a judge using his or her position to promote or legitimate the positions taken by that candidate. For that reason, this is another area where I believe the exercise of discretion is called for, and I choose not to undermine the neutrality of my position by making public endorsements of legislative candidates.

Although it is not something I enjoy, I do not think it is inappropriate for judges to solicit campaign contributions. Canon 7 used to prohibit such solicitations, but the result was simply that a judge had to use a surrogate to solicit contributions. It was simply a fiction that this method somehow kept judges from having to raise money. Under the campaign finance system, the requirement to have 350 contributions actually helps candidates reach out to supporters. Helping a candidate qualify is an important and concrete show of support that many are happy to make. Since the amount any individual can contribute is limited, the concern about money influencing a judge's decision is diminished, and public confidence is increased.

3) 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 have not made any such pledges or made any promises about how I might rule. My only agenda is to remain fair and impartial, and to work hard.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

In North Carolina, we do not have the problems that you sometimes hear about from other states. Our rules and our trial courts have generally been efficient in disposing of meritless claims, while protecting access to the courts. North Carolina lawyers are governed by ethical standards that deter frivolous lawsuit and they and their clients face sanctions if they bring frivolous lawsuits. Judges can help set the ethical tone for the Bar, and in North Carolina our ethical standards have been very high.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

Having handled hundreds of criminal cases as a lawyer, and having decided hundreds of criminal appeals, I understand the many difficulties involved in ensuring justice in criminal matters. It is a significant problem when people are in prison for crimes they did not commit -- for that person and for the public because the perpetrator has not been caught. Judges can improve the system by making sure that every party abides by the rules established for trying cases fairly. When it comes to sending someone to prison, as well as protecting the victims of crime, it is critical that all efforts are made to ensure a fair process, so that when the case is over we know we "got it right." However, as a backstop, the Innocence Commission is an important commitment to getting it right.

6) 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.

Whether or not to have mandatory sentencing is a legislative issue, and is therefore a matter for the General Assembly. It does concern me when the legislative branch devalues the importance of judicial discretion. There has been something of a trend toward divesting judges of authority and placing more control in the legislative branch. Until it reaches a point of violating the separation of powers, however, this is a policy matter that is for the legislature.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

My personal views on particular laws have nothing to do with my rulings on cases, as I have taken an oath to uphold the laws and the Constitutions of North Carolina and the United States.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

I have recused myself, and will recuse myself, for example, in cases where I or my law firm handled the case when I was an attorney, and where my family or personal relationship with one of the lawyers or the law firms in the case warranted recusal.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

I oppose judicial activism, which I view as making outcome-oriented decisions, or making decisions in order to promote a personal or political agenda, as opposed to making decisions based on the dictates of the law. I have no agenda and have not taken positions on issues. Judges should not legislate from the bench -- I view my job as applying the law as written, not making law.

On the whole, I think that most judges try very hard to be fair, and not to impose their views on cases that come before them. Sometimes judges are labeled "activist" when all they are doing is enforcing the Constitution or laws. People sometimes believe erroneously that a judge is being an activist because he or she rules that the legislative or executive branch has overstepped its authority, or when a judge rules that a law is unconstitutional. In proper cases, that is exactly the role a judge is supposed to play -- as a check on the other branches of government.


NC Court of Appeals

Judge

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ROBERT C. 'BOB' HUNTER
Party: Democrat, however, non-partisan race
Date of Birth: January 14,1944
Campaign Web Site: www.JudgeBobHunter.com
Occupation & Employer: Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals, State of North Carolina
Years Lived in North Carolina: all my life

1) 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 support and am participating in the Judicial Campaign Finance Program because it promotes judicial independence. The system works well because it keeps PAC money and large contributors out of judicial races and helps ensure that no one can buy a seat on our state appellate courts. At the same time, qualifying for the program is not an easy process. Candidates are charged with the responsibility of proving that they have support through the demanding qualification process. In order to prove that a campaign is viable, the candidate must raise 'qualifying contributions' in small dollar amounts from a multitude of individuals. Once qualified, the candidate pledges to cease raising money and is financed by the state fund. I have no recommend changes at this time.

2) 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? Please explain.

The N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct attempts to strike a balance between an independent judiciary and the public's need for information when charged with electing judges. While I agree that there is a constitutional right to free speech, I do not think that individuals who run for judicial office serve the public by pushing a political agenda. I would not want to come before a judge who has a personal, political agenda and is using the bench as a means to further that agenda. So I refrain from commenting on political topics. When discussing my qualifications for re-election with the voters I talk about my experience both on the bench and as an attorney and legislator. I talk about my commitment to fairness and the rule of law.

3) 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?

It has been my long standing position that I do not comment on issues that may come before me in court. Though the United States Constitution may guarantee my right to speak freely on political topics, I do not think that my personal political feelings are what the voters want to hear. Voters want to know if I will decide cases fairly, if I will work diligently and adjudicate cases on their merits and according to law.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

If a lawsuit is frivolous it should be dismissed at the trail court. As a Judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals, it is not for me to decide which cases come before me. Everyone has the right to one appeal. If the appeal is frivolous it should be dismissed. The process for appeal is set by statute and therefore must be left to the legislature.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

Appellate courts are designed primarily to correct procedural errors that occur at the trial level. The N.C. Innocence Commission was designed to review convictions based on issues of fact as determined by a jury where there is substantial that the defendant was innocent. One conviction of an innocent person is unacceptable.

6) 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.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are passed by the legislature. Trial courts sentence convicted defendants under these sentencing laws. Appellate courts only determine if the trial judge correctly applied the mandatory sentencing law.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

My personal beliefs are not a part of my consideration in deciding cases. As a judge on the state appellate court I am bound by precedent of our court and the N.C. Supreme Court.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

Yes. Most every judge at one time or another, including me, has exercised recusal. It happens rarely, but it does occur when a judge might have a close relationship with one of the parties in a case, or a lawyer representing one of the parties.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

I spent nine terms in the state legislature. I feel strongly that the role of the legislative branch is to make laws and our job on the judiciary is to interpret and apply the law to individual cases. My personal and political beliefs are not a part of how I decide cases.


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LINDA STEPHENS
Party: Democrat
Date of Birth: 11/13/1950
Campaign Web Site: www.judgelinda.org
Occupation & Employer: Judge, State of North Carolina
Years Lived in North Carolina: 32 years

1) 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 appellate judicial races. I believe it is important for the public to have confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, and public financing has helped to further that end. Although the Non-Partisan Judicial Voter Guide is an important source of public information about appellate races, there is still room for more efforts to be made to educate the public about the role of the judiciary and the qualifications of the candidates.

2) 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? Please explain.

The United States Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment requires that judges and judicial candidates be permitted a certain amount of freedom to discuss legal issues and other matters. Our North Carolina Supreme Court has adopted rules that permit us wide latitude. However, just because something is permitted does not mean that it is a wise thing to do.

In my view, campaigning for judge by giving your opinions in advance is wrong. It means one of two things: either you intend to vote a particular way regardless of the law and facts related to a particular case, or you don't intend to, but you want to lead voters into thinking that you will so that they will vote for you.

It takes some real appreciation and respect for our system of government to understand what judges do and why it matters that judges not only are impartial, but that we never give anyone reason to believe that we have a political agenda. For the same reasons, I do not believe it is wise to endorse non-judicial candidates.

Simply put, judges should show good judgment and should safeguard the integrity of the judicial system.

3) 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 have not made such pledges.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

Article I, Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution provides that: "All courts shall be open . . . and right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial or delay." I have defended lawsuits as a lawyer that at the time seemed frivolous to me, but I do not believe that lawyers in North Carolina regularly bring frivolous lawsuits. Our system has several methods of disposing of matters that do not have merit. There are also means available for judges to sanction parties who bring frivolous lawsuits. A judge's role is to use the tools that the rules provide to address specific frivolous claims without unduly hindering parties' access to the courts.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

As we have seen in the media in recent years, there have been innocent people incarcerated in North Carolina. The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission is a positive step to address the concern about such situations. Putting any innocent people in prison is of course a significant concern. Our job as appellate judges is to carefully scrutinize the conduct of criminal trials, but it is also important for us to continually evaluate whether the procedures of our judicial system yield just results, not just whether the formal procedures were followed.

6) 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.

The structured sentencing laws currently set minimum and maximum sentences within a sentencing grid that does give trial judges some limited discretion in selecting an appropriate sentence for a particular defendant, taking into account any prior criminal convictions. I believe that trial judges should have some latitude in sentencing to ensure that the sentence imposed is appropriate for the particular defendant and the circumstances of the offense. However, this current system also ensures that there will be substantial uniformity in sentencing so that a sentence will not depend entirely upon the predisposition or preferences of the sentencing judge. I believe the current system works reasonably well and is fair to the defendant, to the victims of crime and to the public.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

As discussed above, I do not believe judges should express their personal opinions on legal questions. Some of those who do so couch their statements as reflecting only their "personal belief," when the context is of course political. For the same reasons noted in response to question 2, I believe it is contrary to my role as a judge to assert my views in the course of campaigning for office.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

My husband and my brother-in-law are superior court judges. I do not hear cases in which they have presided. I do not hear cases where a party to the lawsuit is represented or has been represented by my former law firm. As an attorney I practiced in a large firm with many clients, which raised the potential for conflicts of interests. The firm had procedures in place to discover those conflicts and to advise clients when we could not be involved in matters that posed such conflicts.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

I do not think judicial activism is a serious problem in North Carolina. There is a long tradition of common law in North Carolina, and the law does evolve. On occasion, that may mean revisiting precedent, but such instances are rare and our courts have traditionally approached such change very cautiously.


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DONNA STROUD
Party: Republican
Date of Birth: June 28, 1964
Campaign Web site: www.JudgeStroud.com
Occupation & Employer: District Court Judge, State of North Carolina
Years Lived in North Carolina: All my life

1) 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 have very mixed feelings about the public financing of judicial races. I am participating in the public financing fund, but unfortunately public financing has not achieved its idealistic goals. The current system which just started in 2004 will certainly need some changes as we gain more experience with the process. Some of the restrictions imposed by the law appear to be unconstitutional, and in fact there is currently a lawsuit challenging the public financing law on many constitutional grounds. The extremely complicated reporting requirements of the law have also had a chilling effect on the free speech rights of many people who are afraid of running afoul of the law. The originally intended funding for the program, from a voluntary tax check-off, has not been sufficient, so now tax money and mandatory payments from all licensed attorneys in North Carolina are providing the funding for the program.

Election of judges, particularly at the statewide level for the appellate courts, poses problems which do not affect other elected offices. The tremendous cost of running a state-wide campaign can make candidates in these races particularly vulnerable to interest groups or individuals who may seek to influence them through financial support of their campaigns. Judges, unlike elected legislators and members of the executive branch, are not supposed to be influenced in their decisions by interest groups or even by public opinion--they are to enforce the law fairly and impartially. The new public funding of elections does help to minimize this potential problem by requiring a large number of smaller contributions to candidates, thus demonstrating broad support for the candidate, but without disproportionate support from any one donor, in order to qualify for the public funding.

Also, the current public financing system does not do anything to address the same problems facing judges and judicial candidates at the trial court level, as the Public Financing applies only to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

2) 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? Please explain.

The interaction of the changes to the Judicial Code of Conduct along with the strict limitations and requirements of the Public Campaign Financing law can be very complex. Under the Code, the rules were arguably relaxed in some ways, but under the Public Financing law, the rules were strengthened. I do not believe that the change in Canon 7 as to taking positions on issues is really a substantive change. Judges and judicial candidates have the constitutional right to freedom of speech, which is tempered by the obligations of judicial office to be fair and impartial on all issues. The only "agenda" or "platform" a judicial candidate can or should have for his campaign is the fair, impartial, and efficient administration of justice. Although judges and judicial candidates may state their personal beliefs on issues, they still must rule in accord with the law, regardless of personal beliefs. In my opinion, any candidate who states how he or she would rule on a particular issue or type of case has violated the obligation to be fair and impartial.

3) 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 have not made any pledges, taken positions, or commented on how I might rule. My only pledge is to continue to be a fair, impartial and efficient judge, who follows the law and who does not seek to create new law. It would be improper to comment on how I might rule in any matter, as all rulings must be based only on the facts and law in the particular case.

4) How big a problem are frivolous lawsuits? What can you do as a judge to minimize the filing or appeal of frivolous lawsuits in your court?

The vast majority of lawsuits are not frivolous, although certainly there are a few. As a judge, when appropriate in a particular case, I can and do apply and enforce the laws which we already have, such as Rule 11 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss any such cases which come before me or to sanction parties or attorneys who bring such lawsuits. There are other statutes as well as rules of court which permit the judge to deal with frivolous lawsuits, and I enforce these laws and rules whenever appropriate, to eliminate the frivolous cases, which brings the additional benefit of discouraging others who may consider bringing such cases.

5) The establishment of the N.C. Innocence Commission and other actions have recently been taken to minimize the risk of incarcerating innocent people. Is the problem of innocents convicted of crimes as significant as these actions would seem to indicate? What, if anything, can you do as a judge to improve the system in this regard?

The conviction of even one person of a crime which he or she did not commit is unacceptable. A wrongful conviction greatly harms the wrongfully convicted person and his or her family and it also harms the public by leaving the actual criminal free to commit more crimes. As it has become apparent recently that some people have been wrongly convicted, it is certainly a significant problem. The criminal justice system must take advantage of recent advances in scientific methods available to aid in identifying a person who committed a crime or in exonerating an innocent person. As a judge, I can stay informed as to developments in this area and will ensure fair trials by addressing problem areas which have been identified as increasing the risks of wrongful conviction.

I have also had the advantage of experience representing both those accused of crimes as well as victims of crimes in my 16 years of practice prior to becoming a judge, which gives me a more balanced view, seeing both sides of the issues in criminal cases. Balance is essential to the fair administration of justice.

6) 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.

A primary purpose of mandatory minimum sentencing laws is to ensure that all people who are convicted of a particular crime are treated fairly, such that one person will not receive a substantially harsher or lighter sentence that another person for essentially the same crime, while considering the person's prior record of criminal convictions. However, our laws do have some flexibility built into the sentencing requirements in most situations, and we do need that flexibility. The judge must be able to consider the merits of each individual case in sentencing. Some crimes do have sentencing requirements that I would consider too restrictive, although for the most part judges do have sufficient flexibility.

7) Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with that conflict?

I have no difficulty dealing with this type of conflict and I do it on a daily basis. The law controls, whether I agree with it or not. I prefer not to identify any particular law with which I am most uncomfortable personally, as I am a Judge and I would not want to have any appearance of partiality in a case that may come before me involving a particular law.

8) Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please describe the case.

I have recused myself from a few cases in which I or another attorney in my former law firm had previously represented one of the parties (before I became a Judge) and cases in which I have a personal relationship with or knowledge of a party that could give rise to an appearance of impropriety. Beyond that there is really no "case" to describe, nor would it be appropriate for me as a judge to describe a particular case.

9) Do you think that there are too many "activist" judges "making law" to suit their personal and political beliefs? If so, give an example of a state court decision you feel crossed the line. If not, give an example of a state court ruling you felt was fair but may have been construed as ignoring precedent or otherwise crossing the line.

The problem of activist judges has not been as great in North Carolina in recent years as it has in some other states, although certainly activism appears to be increasing all over the United States. When judges do cross the line of judicial activism, they nullify the will of the people as expressed in laws passed by their duly elected legislators and destroy the checks and balances built into our system of government. I will not give an example of a particular case, as it is possible that the same factual or legal issues could possibly come before me in the future.

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