Steven R. Storch | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Steven R. Storch 

N.C. District Court - McKown Seat/ 14th Judicial District

Full Legal Name: Steven Ronald Storch

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Steven R. Storch

Seat/ District: McKown Seat/14th Judicial District

Partisan Affiliation: Independent/Unafiliated

Date of Birth: March 9, 1965

Home Address: 8530 South Lowell Rd, Bahama, NC 27503

Mailing Address: Same.

Campaign Web Site: www.storch4judge.com

Occupation & Employer: Magistrate, Durham County

Bachelor's Degree Year & Institution: 1987, University of Buffalo

JD Year & School: 2003, North Carolina Central University School of Law

Other Degrees: Ph.D., 1997, University of Buffalo

Years lived in North Carolina: 20 years

Home Phone: 919-477-3160

Work Phone: 919-210-1656

Email: storchs@aol.com


1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Court? What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?

The most pressing problem is recidivism in our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, many of the same people commit a majority of the crimes in Durham. The only way to avoid this cycle is intervention.

For adults, there are programs like Drug Treatment Court that help people break their addictions and regain control over their lives. Eliminating the addiction stops the criminal activity necessary to support the addiction. And for teens, there are programs like Teen Court that try to keep kids from being lured into the criminal lifestyle.

These programs aren't perfect but they are a start. Therefore, I strongly advocate any kind of intervention, the earlier the better, to stop the revolving door between the courthouse and the streets.

2. What qualifies you to serve?

I am already an experienced member of the judiciary. As a magistrate judge in Durham, I share many of the duties and responsibilities of a district court judge so stepping up to a district court seat is a natural step up within the judicial system.

I am a seasoned Durham County prosecutor. Prior to being appointed as a magistrate, I was an assistant district attorney in Durham and have worked, on a daily basis, in a majority of the courts that I will preside over as a district court judge.

I am an experienced civil law attorney. As a general practitioner, I have broad experience in many areas of civil law, ranging from divorce and child custody, social security and disability law, to complex contract litigation.

And what sets me apart and above my opposition is that I have a Ph.D. in ethics and more than 14 years of university teaching experience prior to becoming an attorney. I've taught at some of North Carolina's finest colleges and universities including Appalachian State University, North Carolina State University, and North Carolina Central University.

Moreover, I am not accepting campaign donations. Judicial campaigns are funded primarily with cash contributions from local attorneys who then regularly appear in their candidate's courtroom after the election. This practice is allowed by current election rules but it is an insult to the concept of an independent and impartial judiciary.

3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?

I am an independent voter and thinker. Rather than have a political party or ideology determine which values I am supposed to adopt, I vote and try to live my life in full accordance with the principles I've gleaned from the major ethical works from the world's wisdom traditions, reaching from Plato and Aristotle through John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Kant and Hegel. And I am proud to say that I promise to draw from this wealth of knowledge in order to formulate judicial decisions that will be in full accord with the highest ethical principles as well as legal precedent.

Among these principles, the one I hold most dearly is the principle of objectivity, the ability to make decisions in accord with the facts, whatever they may be. Whether they create or allay fears, support or refute closely held beliefs, objectivity is inextricably tied to the pursuit of truth and holds truth as its goal. And that goal, the pursuit of truth, is what I will endeavor to carry out in the courtroom.

4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity? FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with?

N/A

5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority?

On June 9, 2009, the United State Supreme Court handed down a decision on Caperton v. Massey, a case involving a West Virginia Supreme Court Judge who refused to recuse himself despite receiving campaign donations from one of the parties appearing before him.

In Massey, an attorney, Brent Benjamin, was running for a Supreme Court Justice seat in West Virginia. Because contributions made to his campaign committee exceeded 3 million dollars, he was able to run an all-out mud slinging campaign against the then seated judge, Warren McGraw. What is important to note is that these contributions were made by the C.E.O. of A.T. Massey Coal Company.

A.T. Massey Coal Co. was subsequently involved in a law suit filed by Hugh Caperton, of Harman Mining. The jury found in favor of Caperton and awarded $50 million in damages.

The case was appealed and found itself inthe West Virginia Supreme Court, before, guess who? Judge Benjamin. Of course, Caperton petitioned to have judge Benjamin recuse himself from the case, given the large contributions made by A.T. Massey's C.E.O.. Benjamin declined and was ultimately part of the 3 to 2 majority that overturned the $50 million verdict.

Caperton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy called the appearance of conflict of interest so "extreme" that Benjamin's failure to recuse himself constituted a threat to the plaintiff's Constitutional right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also noted that "Not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a probability of bias that requires a judge's recusal, but this is an exceptional case. We conclude that there is a serious risk of actual bias—based on objective and reasonable perceptions—when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge's election campaign when the case was pending or imminent."

"The inquiry," Justice Kennedy wrote, "centers on the contribution's relative size in comparison to the total amount of money contributed to the campaign, the total amount spent in the election, and the apparent effect such contribution had on the outcome of the election."

Applying that test, Justice Kennedy ruled for the Court that "Blankenship's significant and disproportionate influence—coupled with the temporal relationship between the election and the pending case—"' "offer a possible temptation to the average . . . judge to . . . lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true."' "On these extreme facts the probability of actual bias rises to an unconstitutional level."

District Court campaigns in Durham have historically spent tens of thousands of dollars, with some recent campaigns reaching more than thirty thousand dollars. This is a relatively small amount compared to the millions that are raised for statewide positions. But by comparison, contributions made by some local attorneys reach significant percentage of the total campaign budget. For example, in one recent campaign, the judicial candidate raised approximately ten thousand dollars. One local attorney contributed $750 to that campaign, which amounts to a substantial 7.5% contribution.

It is hard to believe that the judicial candidate won't remember that significant contribution when that attorney appears in that judge's courtroom after the election.

I have promised to not accept campaign contributions from anyone for exactly the reasons brought to light by Caperton v. Massey. This is the policy I have adopted at the outset of my campaign back in 2008, longbefore the ruling of the Supreme Court. Not because it merely avoids the appearance of impropriety but because it is the morally correct thing to do and the only way to preserve judicial fairness, integrity, and objectivity.

6. Do you feel that North Carolina's current system of judicial elections serves the state well? Are there other forms of selecting judges you feel would function better or worse than the current one?

The current system that applies to district and superior court judicial elections is an improvement over the partisan system that was in place prior to 2002, where judges ran on either the democratic or republican ticket, yet it is still far from ideal. Currently, judicial candidates are free to accept campaign donations from anyone, including attorneys who expect to appear in that judge's courtroom after the election. This smacks of cronyism and backroom politicking.

Some have justified this policy by claiming that because it is permitted under current law, therefore it is morally acceptable. But this is just an example of poor reasoning. Recent American history is replete with examples of actions that were perfectly legal but actions that we have since become enlightened to recognize as having been unethical all along. Laws mandating segregation and laws denying women the right to vote are two that come to mind.

The legal code has never been the moral foundation of a society. In fact, it's the other way around. Laws come about, in our democracy, as the result of the moral majority's effect on the legislature. Just recall the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon "I'm Just a Bill." The citizens express a need for a law, usually to curtail or restrict a behavior. The bill is drafted by local representatives, who then vote on the matter. If passed, that sentiment then becomes a law. Laws, in our legal system originate from us, from the general will of the people. And because we are fallible, capable of error, capable of harboring false beliefs, so too are we capable of enacting laws that turn out to be destructive to human freedom and dignity in the long run.

Just because something has been done in a certain way in the past, does not always justify its continued adoption. There is something terribly wrong with claiming that our judiciary must be independent and impartial yet allowing local attorneys and special interests to influence members of the judiciary by letting them contribute up to one thousand dollars to that candidate's campaign. My old logic professor in graduate school had a phrase for people who maintained contradictions like this but I can't repeat it here. Let's just call it a self-contradiction. And as another one of my intellectual mentors, Jean-Paul Sartre, argued so poignantly in one of his essays, Existentialism is a Humanism, "there is nothing more destructive than a lie that one tells to oneself." I refuse to live a lie by accepting campaign contributions from anyone who might appear in my courtroom. Although current election rules allow it, it's just something that honesty and integrity demand I refrain from doing.

7. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.

No.

8. Is there anything else you'd like to add about yourself or the issues that are important to you?

In addition to my academic and legal experience, I have a very strong work ethic. From my first year of undergraduate school in 1983 until joining the district attorney's office in 2007, I've had more than one full time job for most of that period.

I am supported by my colleagues in the legal profession and am highly regarded by members of our local law enforcement agencies. And I am a devoted husband and father with strong ties to the Durham community with years of volunteer work with local charities.

9. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I'd like to think that my values and principles are based upon universal truths that would be in full alignment with the voting public. And since district court isn't the forum where many morally controversial issues arise I don't anticipate being part of any widespread controversy.

As a district court judge, I would be obligated to and I promise to apply the law in civil and criminal matters as it has already been interpreted by the higher courts in North Carolina (Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court). This would leave virtually no room to create new law or legislate from the bench as any improper district court decision would be readily overturned on appeal.

10. On the District Court level, what improvements can be made in terms of the juvenile justice system? What are the weaknesses or constraints in the court's handling of juvenile offenders?

The answer to both of these questions is the profound lack of resources available to both the courthouse and juvenile justice staff to properly handle juvenile cases.

Only one district attorney is assigned to handle the massive caseload that makes it to courtroom. For a case to make it this far along, matters have already spiraled out of control. Before a youth is brought into the adjudication (court) stage, many other remedial measures are supposed to have been taken to get that young person back on track. Among the remedial resources that may be used are: 1) counseling intervention; 2) mental health services 3) alternative placement services; 4) substance abuse treatment; and 5) gang prevention and intervention programs.

Many of these services aren't state run but are contracted out to local providers. By the time the necessary referrals are made, paperwork is processed, and admittance is approved, the youth has been left out long enough that he or she is beyond the reach of the initial efforts of intervention and rehabilitation.

  • N.C. District Court - McKown Seat/ 14th Judicial District

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