John M. Tyson | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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John M. Tyson 

Candidate for N.C. Court of Appeals

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Name as it appears on the ballot: John M. Tyson
Date of Birth: July 14, 1953
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: Judge, North Carolina Court of Appeals
Years lived in North Carolina: Lifetime Resident

1. If you have made pledges, taken positions or otherwise commented on how you might rule in office, what are your top three priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?

First, I impartially and fairly interpret and apply the law. I am not a judicial activist and do not legislate from the bench. Second, I protect our families from dangerous criminals. Third, my judicial oath requires me to uphold the rights of victims and parents, as protected by our United States and North Carolina Constitutions. Please visit for further information.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have ruled on over 2,500 appeals and written over 800 opinions with 98.5% affirmed or left undisturbed. While court policy allows 90 days for opinions to be filed, I average 39 days, using taxpayer’s time and resources judiciously. Since my election in 2000, I have continued to teach continuing legal education seminars and Real Property Planning at Campbell University School of Law. In May 2004, I earned a Masters in Judicial Process (LL.M.) from the University of Virginia School of Law and also earned the designation of Board Certified Specialist by the North Carolina State Bar. A judge must keep up to date on the changing body of law. Please visit for a detailed review of my judicial record.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how do your political and legal philosophies show in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

Judges must be independent of the Legislative or Executive Branches and remain objective in their decisions. My record is stated above. All of my decisions are based upon the law, not my personal opinion or beliefs. I am elected by and am accountable to the People of North Carolina. My judicial philosophy is listed at

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

My record demonstrates Justice for All and mentoring disadvantaged youth through programs. My chambers offers numerous internships to law students regardless of race or gender thoughtout the year. These individuals have opportunities to improve their legal research, writing, and advocacy skills and become better attorneys. I frequently speak to high school classes and civic groups about the role of the courts. My record of community involvement is listed at

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I base all of my decisions on a fair and impartial application of the law as written. If the law requires a new trial due to error, I do not hesitate to grant a new trial.

6. What is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in setting precedent for North Carolina's appellate courts?

The United States Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the meaning and application of the United States Constitution. The North Carolina Supreme Court interprets the North Carolina Constitution and reviews all death penalty and utility rate cases. The North Carolina Supreme Court also reviews opinions of the North Carolina Court of Appeals at their discretion, or by direct appeal from a dissent in the Court of Appeals. All judges are bound by the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional decisions. Court of Appeals judges are also bound by prior precedents of the Court of Appeals and by the North Carolina Supreme Court’s opinions interpreting the North Carolina Constitution and laws. When I have disagreed with the other members of the Court on an issue and written a dissenting opinion, the North Carolina Supreme Court has adopted my dissenting opinions 36 times in 6 years. See for more information on my judicial record.

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

I participate in the Public Judicial Campaign Financing Fund. The funding levels provided are insufficient to run a meaningful statewide election. Severe under funding limits the ability of judges to identify themselves and communicate their records to the voters. More latitude in funding must be given to incumbent judges with excellent records who are faced with unqualified challengers.

8. 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.

My contributions to qualify for the judicial campaign fund were raised through a campaign committee from a broad cross-section of voters across North Carolina. I support a judge’s ability to address issues, without promising how they would rule on a specific case. Without party identification on the ballot, voters are only left to guess the gender of the candidates by their names. Judges must be able to inform voters of their records to enable the voters to make informed decisions.

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

Yes. If I am aware that an attorney who has an appeal being heard before me made a substantial contribution to my campaign, I recuse myself from participating in the hearing and decision of the appeal. I also recuse myself from hearing appeals by attorneys who have represented me or my family in business or personal matters.

10. Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with those conflicts?

Making judicial elections “non-partisan” was a political decision that increases the cost of judicial elections and causes judges to take more time away from their judicial duties to campaign. As a judge, I took an oath to “support, maintain, and defend,” the North Carolina Constitution, consistent with the United States Constitution. I do not allow my personal or political beliefs to violate that oath. Career criminals who continue to attack innocent victims must be kept out of society to protect our families from harm. My record that shows I review the facts and law applicable to each case and render fair and impartial decisions. See

11. 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 current statutes were in response to longer sentences for career criminals who continue to commit crimes. A killer of a family of three, with numerous prior convictions, should not walk out of court with no jail time and be free to continue to their life of crime. Dismissals of three Driving While Intoxicated cases for the same attorney on the same day perverts the judicial oath and leaves victims feeling helpless. These cases show an abuse of judicial discretion. The minimum and maximum length of sentences for crimes are a legislative mandate the courts are obligated to enforce.

12. 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.

This is an issue for the North Carolina Supreme Court to decide, because it has exclusive review over death penalty cases and the Rules of Appellate Procedure. The establishment of the Actual Innocence Commission is a means to address this issue for those individuals who were wrongfully convicted. No one wants to see a person in prison for a crime they did not commit.

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