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Candidate for N.C. Supreme Court Justice

Suzanne Reynolds 

Candidate for N.C. Supreme Court Justice

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Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Suzanne Reynolds

Date of Birth: 07/05/49

Campaign Web Site: www.suzannereynolds.org

Occupation & Employer: Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law

Years lived in North Carolina: 59



1. What in your record as a judge, lawyer and/or public official, or other relevant positions, demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office. When speaking about your legal experience, please be specific about the nature of positions held, and whether you were hired, appointed or elected.

The work of the state's highest appellate court is to clarify and explain the law in a way that makes it accessible to every lawyer in the state and, in turn to every citizen of the state. In essence, the opinions of a state's Supreme Court should teach the law. For 27 years, I have been teaching and writing about the law. State and federal courts around the country have drawn on law professors for at least some of their appellate judges. The expertise of law professors, particularly those who have maintained strong ties to the profession, makes them particularly well-qualified for the work of appellate judges. I have that expertise to offer.

From my experience as a law professor, I bring a tradition of academic integrity and an expertise in writing about the law in a way that also teaches the law.

As the author of a popular treatise on family law used by lawyers and judges, I have analyzed thousands of appellate opinions and I write about them in a way that my readers count on to be accurate and clear. As someone committed to justice, I have involved myself in law reform and have worked with legislators and groups of lawyers and concerned citizens in drafting legislation, much of which dealt with family law, a topic of increasing significance for the North Carolina Supreme Court. In particular, I worked to modernize the law of both alimony and of adoption, and co-founded a domestic violence program that received national recognition by the ABA for providing legal assistance to the poor.

2. If you have experience as a judge, please cite at least one majority opinion, and one minority opinion, which you feel best demonstrate your understanding, and interpretation, of the law. If you have experience as a lawyer, please cite at least one case that you argued that demonstrates this understanding. (Please be specific; provide docket numbers, and—if necessary—include documents.) If you have other legal experience, please point to an article, opinion or other piece of writing that best demonstrates the same. Please indicate why you have chosen this particular opinion, case and/or piece of writing.

My multi-volume treatise on family law and one of more recent law review articles both demonstrate my understanding of the law and my ability to write about it effectively. The treatise, Lee's North Carolina Family Law, covers the broad range of topics that comprise family law in 3 volumes that are the state's authoritative commentary on the topic. Lawyers regularly rely on this work and cite it to the district courts. Moreover, both appellate courts regularly cite my treatise in support of their decisions in family law cases. A shorter, more recent work illustrates a very different kind of scholarship. In Suzanne Reynolds, Ralph Peeples, and Catherine Harris, Back to the Future: An Empirical Study of Child Custody Outcomes, 85 N.C. L. Rev. 1629 (2007), I was the primary author of a piece on an empirical study of custody cases. As the country continues to experiment with the best practices for high conflict custody cases, we offered this work to help bars and legislatures assess the experience with mandatory mediation of custody disputes. I offer these two works as very different kinds of writing that reflect someone actively engaged both in scholarship and the profession.

3. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please explain.

In one of the courses I teach, Professional Responsibility, I spend several weeks each semester on the topic of conflicts. In my class, I regularly refer to the conflicts in employment cases handled by Hoppy Elliot, my husband, when he brings a claim against Wake Forest University. As I point out to the students, before Hoppy accepts such a client he lets them know of my employment and proceeds only with client consent. The only other conflict I face in my life as a law professor arises from my informal consultations with lawyers about their cases. On several occasions, I have had to refuse to consult with a lawyer because I recognized that opposing counsel had already asked for my advice.

4. In the case of N.C. v. Frank Delano Washington, which came before the N.C. Court of Appeals, all charges against Washington were dropped because, the appellate court determined, Washington's right to a speedy trial was denied. What is your interpretation of a defendant's right to a speedy trial, and what are the implications of releasing a convicted felon, in an effort to preserve that right? Please provide your opinion of the case, and the role you see judges playing in preserving constitutional rights, versus preserving public safety.

As a judge, my obligation to the administration of justice and my appreciation for the proper role of the judge would require that I apply the relevant law, the federal and state constitutions and the statutes of North Carolina. While the consequences associated with criminal cases should not be minimized, a judge should apply the law, even if it resulted in an unpopular outcome. The provisions of the constitutions and criminal procedure statutes should reflect a proper balancing of individual civil liberties and the public safety. A tilt to one side or the other jeopardizes both.

I have taken a pledge, which the North Carolina Bar Association asked all candidates to take, in which I pledged not to comment on issues that might become the subject of litigation. Consequently, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment further.

5. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that enemy combatants held in the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have a right to file habeas corpus petitions under the federal court system. What is your opinion of Boumediene v. Bush? More generally, what is your opinion of granting constitutional rights to enemy combatants captured in the War on Terror?

Because the Issues in Boumediene v. Bush are not likely to become the subject of litigation before the NC Supreme Court, I feel at liberty to comment on the case. The majority strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of civil liberties and security.

6. One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. counties—including Alamance, Johnston and Wake—have employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your opinion of these counties' handling of this program? Critics say that sheriff's departments in these counties are arresting non-citizens for petty offenses in order to enter them into federal deportation hearings, while local law enforcement agencies insist they are following the rule of law. As someone who, if elected, will interpret the law, what is your legal assessment of these arguments? More generally, can there be discretion in deciding when to apply the rule of law?

Please see my response to question 12 below.

7. In Kimbrough v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for the possession of crack cocaine were unconstitutional. What is your opinion of this ruling, and on mandatory minimum sentencing laws in general? Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Finally, do you feel that state judges can ever apply discretion in interpreting cases differently than federal guidelines mandate? Please provide examples.

Please see my response to question 12 below.

8. Does the North Carolina constitution afford more rights than the federal constitution, or the same?

Case law from our courts has been clear that the North Carolina Constitution may be interpreted more broadly than the U.S. Constitution. In the protection of whistle blowers from retaliatory termination of employment, for example, the North Carolina Constitution has been interpreted to provide more protection than the federal Constitution. Moreover, the North Carolina Constitution provides protection for certain rights more specifically than does the federal constitution (e.g. a free public education), but the determination about whether provisions of the North Carolina Constitution provide broader protections than similar provisions of the U.S. Constitution must be made on a case-by-case basis.

9. Do you think that drug courts and mental-health courts have a place in the North Carolina judicial system? What is your opinion on "alternative sentencing" and restorative justice? Have you ever issued judgments, or advocated for judgments, that emphasize a mutual resolution between victims and defendants, and/or judgments that emphasize treatment over punishment? Please be specific.

I believe that drug courts and mental-health courts do have a place in the North Carolina judicial system. In civil courts, as the numbers of pro se litigants increase, alternative courts may address the unequal access to justice in the traditional courts. In criminal courts, these alternatives may provide help in addressing the root causes of the behavior that leads to arrest. For an article I co-authored that supported the use of mandatory mediation, see Suzanne Reynolds, Ralph Peeples, and Catherine Harris, Back to the Future: An Empirical Study of Child Custody Outcomes, 85 N.C. L. Rev. 1629 (2007).

10. What is your interpretation of the purpose of bail?

My daughter, an assistant public defender in Wake County, reports that it is sometimes necessary to remind trial judges that bail is not a means of punishment, but is meant to ensure that a defendant appears in court on his or her assigned court date.

11. Do you favor or oppose applying a plain error review to all alleged errors in capital cases? Do you favor or oppose mandating appellate review in post-conviction capital cases to help avoid arbitrariness in review of post-conviction capital cases by superior court judges? Please explain.

I favor giving courts the power to review for plain error in capital cases, and I favor the policy of mandatory post-conviction review. Although we have made improvements to our justice system with the advent of open file discovery, better preparation for lawyers handling capital cases, and the creation of the Innocence Commission, we must provide all available safeguards when the consequences of getting it wrong are so dire.

12. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? In particular, 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? What changes would you make to the current system? Please explain.

I favor public financing of judicial races. Instead of pouring money into judicial elections, I believe that we should spend more money on public education about these races. I believe that we should continue to study a merit selection system, realizing that all systems have their strengths and weaknesses. I do not believe that Canon 7 of the N.C. Judicial Code of Conduct currently strikes the right balance on soliciting campaign contributions, taking positions on issues, and endorsing candidates for offices. Until I have more information on the experience of other states, however, I could not propose specific changes.

13. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

The role of our Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution and laws of North Carolina and to review the work of the lower courts to ensure that the law is being applied appropriately. Justice requires an active and courageous judiciary that is willing to take on difficult cases and make tough decisions. I believe that our Supreme Court must do more to clarify and articulate the law. The Court granted 4% of the petitions for review of lower court cases last year, compared with 14% in 1998. The Court issued approximately 4.5 signed opinions per justice last year, compared with 115 per Court of Appeals judge. If elected, I will have the courage to take on difficult cases and will be dedicated to writing opinions that clarify the law.

  • Candidate for N.C. Supreme Court Justice

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