Full Legal Name: Steven Ronald Storch
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Steven Storch
Office Sought/District: District Court Judge, 14th District
Date of Birth: 03/09/1965
Occupation & Employer: NC Administrative Office of the Courts
Years lived in Durham: 20
Home Phone: 919-477-3160 Work Phone: 919-808-3210
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 issue is the lack of professionalism and competence from some of our Judges. In the most recent Judicial Performance Evaluation conducted by the North Carolina State Bar Association, three of our judges scored in the lowest 10th percentile, with two earning the absolute two lowest scores.
A judge should demonstrate the highest degree of legal skills, professionalism, impartiality and integrity and some of our judges consistently fail to demonstrate these skills. Poorly performing judges simply don't belong on the bench.
The same criteria will be applied to all judicial candidates in the second phase of the same evaluation that is currently underway. Although my results will not be available until after the publication of this questionnaire, I am certain that my results will be in the very good/excellent range, as I have a well established reputation for fairness and professional demeanor.
My priority is to restore integrity and impartiality to the District Court Bench.
2. What qualifies you to serve?
In addition to my experience as a civil attorney, I have served Durham as an Assistant Prosecutor and as a Magistrate. As a result, I have worked in a majority of our District Courts on a daily basis.
In 2012, I helped create and now preside over Durham’s newest Court, our Administrative Court, which handles a majority of Durham’s Criminal and Traffic Court cases. It is Durham’s most efficient court and I expect to bring that same high degree of professionalism and efficiency to the District Court bench.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
I tend toward a liberal perspective.
Being a first generation American (my parents were WWII concentration camp refugees) I am grateful for the social programs that were available for my parents so that they could start a new life in the U.S. They came to the U.S. with literally no resources. But, with the help of several charitable organizations, they were able to establish new lives for themselves.
I am also very mindful of the resources that were available to me as a child of a lower income family (excellent public schools, food stamps, and free school lunch) as well as a young adult (Regents Awards, TAP and Pell Grants enabled me to attend college). But for these social programs established by liberal democrats in the late forties through the sixties, I would not be where I am today.
Because of my firsthand experience, I strongly believe that federal and state governments do have a clear obligation to help those most in need and to provide equal opportunity for all citizens, especially for education, housing, and healthcare.
Judicially, I would tend toward a moderate/liberal perspective. I hold the U.S. Constitution to be a living document as our rich legal tradition demonstrates through those landmark cases that have enabled civil rights, privacy rights, and the separation of church and state.
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?
In a recent DWI sentencing, Judge Evans was informed by the District Attorney that the defendant was a repeat DWI offender for which the statutes require a minimum active jail sentence of 30 days up to a maximum of 2 years. Nevertheless, Judge Evans sentenced the defendant to only seven days in jail, and gave him work release to boot. This was this defendant's fifth DWI conviction. (13CR56475) in addition to a long string of Driving While Licensed Revoked charges. No additional written explanation for this significant deviation from the statutory minimum active sentence was provided.
Judge Evans also overuses, in my opinion, the power of contempt. This is reflected in one of her cases that was appealed before the North Carolina Court of Appeals where that Court found error in her judgment, sentencing a juvenile defendant who politely refused to answer a question that was both self-incriminating and would have put his safety in danger. (In the Matter of: E.M., 745 S.E.2d 374).
Letting repeat drunk drivers off easy and jailing a child for respectfully not divulging information that would label him a snitch in his own community is justice turned on its head. Juveniles need help, repeat offenders who have no regard for the safety of our community need to be incarcerated.
5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority?
National Federation of Independent Business v. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services where the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act. I agree with the majority since this is the first major step toward making healthcare available to every American citizen, a benefit that citizens of every other industrialized country already enjoy.
6. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.
7. 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.
Dismissing a case for a violation of due process: As a Magistrate, I deal with the application of the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments every day and I have a deep understanding of their application and the dire consequences when they are disregarded. These constitutional provisions grant every one of us the right to be free from unwarranted searches, stops, and other improper government interference. Where evidence has been obtained in violation of these rights, I will not hesitate to grant motions to suppress evidence even if it jeopardizes the State’s criminal prosecution.
8. 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?
Broadening the age range so that more young defendants can qualify as juveniles, rather than as adults, especially for non-violent offenses. Right now, many 16 year olds are treated as adults and are routed through the adult criminal courts instead of the juvenile justice system, which has many more resources and options available.
9. What do think the priorities should be for Durham law enforcement?
The priorities of any law enforcement agency should be to create and maintain a safe community. More rigorous screening of candidates, extended supervision during field training of newer officers, and more collaborative community involvement would go a long way in avoiding some of the recent troubles that have come to light.
10. What additional resources would you like to see implemented for defendants? Is there a need for more diversion courts or sentencing services?
The re-funding of our Drug Treatment Courts would be a major step in the right direction. Drug Treatment Court was one of our most successful programs. By providing qualified individuals treatment rather than incarceration alone, it greatly reduced the number of drug related crimes and dramatically improved the lives of its participants.
11. Many people complain that the criminal justice system is clogged with defendants suffering from mental illnesses. How would you like to see this problem addressed?
This is not just a complaint but a fact that I observe. There is a shameful shortage of mental health services in our community. Those most in need of help can't get the necessary medical services and as a result are being diverted through the criminal justice system.
A Mental Health Court would be one option that would help since the Court would have the authority to order treatment through our Criminal Justice Resource Center, which has much better resources at its disposal than the Durham County Jail.
Of course the best option is to make mental health resources more readily available so that those who need treatment receive it.
I would be willing lobby for both of these options to any appropriate legislative or funding body and volunteer to preside over a new Mental Health Court.
12. Durham Public School suspensions are on the rise, and many people worry about the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Can anything be done to remedy the problem on the judicial side of things?
A more common-sense approach to applying school rules would eliminate most of these cases. But are often students criminally charged rather than dealing with school code violations internally.
Where internal resolution isn’t appropriate, then these cases should be routed through our Teen-Court program or sent to mandatory mediation, as opposed to being scheduled in our Criminal Courts. This would give the student a chance to avoid a criminal record that will permanently damage his or her future education and employment opportunities.
13. Persistent domestic violence calls-for-service have befuddled law enforcement, women’s advocates and criminal justice officials across the state. What role can you play to help the situation?
Current policy, which I agree with, is to treat domestic calls seriously and require a full investigation. There are good reasons for this extra investigatory step. First, it prevents unfounded complaints from clogging the court system. Second, it allows law enforcement to seek out all the appropriate criminal charges through the magistrate's office and then follow through with the prosecutor.
The alternative, i.e., not responding to repeat callers, would inevitably lead to tragic consequences.
As a District Court Judge I will take these cases very seriously, strictly apply the law, and make use of the full gamut of legal protections and outside resources to all victims of domestic abuse.