Q&A with state Court of Appeals candidates – the Arrowood seat

Q&A with state Court of Appeals candidates – the Arrowood seat

As part of an ongoing effort to inform North Carolinians about the upcoming judicial elections, Policy Watch is publishing a Q&A with each person running for a statewide judicial office. Each of the 11 candidates was asked the same six questions, and their answers will appear throughout the week alongside those of their challengers.

North Carolinians will get to decide in November who will fill the next three spots on the state Court of Appeals. Two current judges are retiring from the court: Judge Ann Marie Calabria and Judge Rick Elmore – both have served since 2002. The third seat is a vacancy created by former Judge Doug McCullough and filled by current Judge John Arrowood. He was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper and will be the incumbent in that upcoming race.

The court is currently made up of 15 judges who review trial court proceedings for errors of law or legal procedure. They decide only questions of law, not questions of fact, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. The role of the court is to decide if the trial court correctly applied the law, or if there was prejudicial error in the conduct of the trial.

*A note about the Q&As: Candidates were not given instructions about the length of their responses, and they have only been edited for grammar.

Candidates for the Arrowood Court of Appeals seat:

Name: John S. Arrowood

Party affiliation: Democrat

Website: www.keepjudgearrowood.org

What characteristics do you believe make a good judge, and why should North Carolinians vote for you?

I believe that a good judge should possess the qualities of independence, integrity, a commitment to render justice fairly and without favoritism to any party or the State, a commitment to equal justice under the law and the legal and real life experience to execute the other qualities.

I am asking the voters of North Carolina to vote for me because I have a proven record as a fair and impartial judge. I believe that my experience as a Court of Appeals law clerk and staff attorney, over 26 years in private practice, representing both individuals and businesses in complex civil, employment and administrative matters when combined with my experience as a Superior Court judge and now as a Court of Appeals judge make me uniquely qualified for this position. I also have a record of over 180 opinions, concurrences and dissents from which the voters can see the type of judge I am.

I have an extensive record of civic and community involvement. While in private practice, I served six years on the North Carolina Banking Commission, six years as a director for the North Carolina Railroad, four years on the North Carolina Arts Council and two years on the North Carolina Rules Review Commission. In Charlotte, where I have resided since 1989, I have served on the Board of Trustees for the Mint Museum of Art, the Board of Directors for the Charlotte Urban Ministry Center (which assists our homeless neighbors), the Vestry of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the Choir School at St. Peter’s.

How will you balance being an independent judge and an elected official?

Article IV of the North Carolina Constitution establishes the General Courts of Justice as an independent co-ordinate branch of government and protects its power and jurisdiction from usurpation by other branches of government. The Constitution also establishes eight year terms for the appellate branch of government which serves to insulate those appellate judges from the day to day political fray. On the other hand, judges must run for election and currently those elections are partisan races.

As a judge I took an oath to administer justice without favoritism to any party or to the State, consistent with the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of North Carolina. That oath requires me to administer justice fairly without regard to political pressures. I believe that if people review my work they will find I have done this in my job.

Who is a judge responsible to, or what is their ultimate authority, and how do you view the appropriate balance of power amongst the governmental branches?

A judge is ultimately answerable to the people at the ballot box. A Judge’s authority is defined by the North Carolina Constitution not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.

The appropriate balance of powers between governmental branches is governed by the provisions of the Constitution of the respective bodies. In the federal system that is the United States Constitution and in North Carolina it is the North Carolina State Constitution. Because these are situations that arise with some regularity in the appellate courts of our state, I believe it would be inappropriate under Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for me to make any further comment with regard to this issue.

What are the biggest changes you think North Carolina needs to make to its judicial system?

Our Court system needs to have the resources to move our technology into the modern age with e-filing. Our judicial system also needs to have the resources necessary to implement innovative programs such as “drug courts,” juvenile diversion programs and other state-of-the-art programs that work in jurisdictions where local governments are able to fund them but are not available statewide.

We need to make sure that there are sufficient funds to pay both prosecutors and indigent defense counsel to ensure that our criminal justice system works efficiently and fairly both for victims and the accused.

Furthermore, it is critical that our system be allowed to work independently without intimidation or the threat of interference by other branches of government.

How do you define injustice?

Injustice occurs when someone is treated differently under our legal system because of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or national origin. Now we also see injustice occur because folks are unable to afford the legal assistance necessary to protect their legal rights in the civil arena.

How will you work to ensure equal access to justice for all?

When I was in private practice I provided pro-bono services thru the Legal Aid. Now that I am a judge I contribute to legal services organizations that provide resources to those organizations providing civil legal assistance to individuals who cannot afford civil attorneys.

I think it is critical, consistent with the guidance of Canon 4 of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, that we as judges advocate for the Bar to provide pro bono legal services (as is currently being done by the Chief Justice’s Commission of Professionalism) and that we advocate for the continued funding for legal services organizations that provide vital representation in civil cases for folks who are unable to hire attorneys to protect their rights.

At the Court of Appeals, the Court, working with the Appellate Practice Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, recently adopted a program that allows for pro bono representation in certain appellate cases. This is one concrete area we have worked on to assist in equal access to justice.

*****

Name: Andrew Heath

Party affiliation: Republican

Website: www.heathforjustice.com

What characteristics do you believe make a good judge, and why should North Carolinians vote for you?

Respect for the law, impartiality, fairness, experience, and commitment to public service make a good judge. North Carolinians should vote for me because I have shown that I am an impartial judge who is fair and patient with everyone who appears before me. North Carolinians should also feel good voting for me because I have the type and quality of legal experience that voters should demand of their judges. I have presided over Superior Court jury trials ranging from murder to medical malpractice in 31 counties across the state. As a lawyer, I represented the full spectrum of clients ranging from indigent criminal defendants to large businesses that are household names. As the head of a state agency and as the State Budget Director, I worked with leaders of both parties to move North Carolina forward. I am a family man who values education, and I respect our law and Constitution.

How will you balance being an independent judge and an elected official?

The consistent with my principles, I strive to be a good husband, father, public servant, Superior Court judge and Court of Appeals candidate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Earning the endorsement of former North Carolina State Ethics Commission Chairman (and former NC Supreme Court Justice) George Wainwright Jr. is strong evidence that I have been able to strike a balance between being an independent judge and also being a candidate for elected office. I will continue to do so on the Court of Appeals. Three sources of authority guide my conduct. First, the Constitution mandates that judicial candidates run in public elections. Second, North Carolina law dictates that Court of Appeals candidates attach their political affiliation to their names on the ballot. Third, the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Taking all of this into consideration, I’m working hard to balance running a successful state-wide, campaign while remaining impartial and independent. I will continue to conduct myself (in court, on the campaign trail, and elsewhere) in such a way that would not call into question my judicial independence or impartiality.

Who is a judge responsible to, or what is their ultimate authority, and how do you view the appropriate balance of power amongst the governmental branches?

The Preamble to the North Carolina Constitution begins with, “We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God… ordain and establish this Constitution.” Judges are responsible to the Constitution, the law, the parties in the cases before them, and to the public at large.

Article I, Section 6 of the North Carolina Constitution addresses separation of powers, and mandates that the legislative, executive and the judiciary “shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.” Article II governs the legislative branch, Article III governs the executive branch, and Article IV governs the judicial branch. Because the balance of power among North Carolina government is litigated in the courts from time to time, it would be inappropriate for me as a Judge and as a candidate for Court of Appeals to publish my personal views as to the appropriate balance of power amongst the governmental branches. In determining such issues, I would follow the Constitution and the law.

What are the biggest changes you think North Carolina needs to make to its judicial system?

The North Carolina Judicial system needs to continue to embrace technology to make our courts more efficient so that parties in lawsuits can avoid lengthy and costly delays. After all, justice delayed is justice denied. I served for about three years as the Chairman of the NC Industrial Commission, which is essentially a state-wide court system that has jurisdiction over disputes in workplace injury cases. When I was first appointed, I asked my team to analyze data from the previous five years, and we determined that on average it took over 400 days to issue a decision in workers’ compensation cases. Given that the Empire State Building was built in only 410 days, we set about to find efficiencies to speed up the process without sacrificing the quality of decisions. One of the major improvements we made was to implement electronic filing of forms and documents associated with the 75,000 claims filed each year. For similar reasons, the federal courts have implemented an electronic filing system. Technological advances will allow our state trial courts to achieve higher efficiency and reduce the time it takes to render rulings and resolve disputes.

How do you define injustice?

Simply put, injustice is unfairness. Everyone has experienced injustice or unfairness to one degree or another, and injustice in the courts cannot be tolerated. The stakes are too high. When people come to court, it may be the most important time of their life. Their liberty, their life savings, their reputation, or the custody of their children may be at stake. Judges must have the patience to listen completely to all parties and fully consider their arguments. Judges must have knowledge of the law, and they must possess a discerning spirit and a willingness to go through the intellectual rigors required to make a just decision. Anything less produces unjust results.

How will you work to ensure equal access to justice for all?

A big component of access to justice is access to quality legal representation. As a Superior Court Judge, I make sure that everyone charged with a crime who appears before me is given access to legal representation even if they can’t afford to hire their own attorney. North Carolina Public Defenders are full-time, state-paid attorneys who provide representation to indigent criminal defendants.

Additionally, private attorneys can be appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants and they are reimbursed by the taxpayers through the NC office of Indigent Defense Services. On the civil side, Legal Aid of North Carolina provides free legal services to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice, and members of the North Carolina Bar Association provide free legal advice through various pro bono programs. I fully support these programs. I have personally represented indigent criminal defendants through the Office of Indigent Defense Services, and when I served as the State Budget Director, our state budget included an additional one-time $3.5 million investment to the Office of Indigent Defense Services to help alleviate some of the debt the organization had incurred from prior years. I’ve also participated in pro bono programs such organizing the “Ask A Lawyer Day” program in New Hanover County. As a Court of Appeals Judge, I will continue to support these causes and ensure equal access to justice for everyone.