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

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

Name: Jefferson Glenn Griffin

Party Affiliation: Republican

Website: www.jeffersongriffin.com

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

North Carolinians should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate for the job. I preside over civil and criminal courtrooms as a District Court Judge, I serve as an officer in the North Carolina Army National Guard – Judge Advocate General Corps, I worked as a prosecutor for five years in the Wake County District Attorney’s office, and I began my legal career in private practice representing defendants in criminal and civil cases. I have proven that I have the experience and the judicial temperament necessary to serve on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

I believe a good judge honors the rule of law, protects our Constitution, provides access to justice, promotes civic education, and maintains impartiality in our courts.

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

I will continue to balance being an independent judge and an elected official just as I have done as an elected District Court Judge in Wake County.

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 Constitution is a judge’s ultimate authority. The Constitution dictates the appropriate balance of power amongst the governmental branches.

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

Creating formal mentorship opportunities for new attorneys and providing more practical training opportunities for young lawyers could benefit the judicial system. Changes that strengthen the public’s confidence in the judicial system are always necessary. The confidence of our citizens in the judicial system is essential to our democracy.

How do you define injustice?

Injustice occurs when all are not treated equally under the law.

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

I will continue to serve Wake County, the state of North Carolina, and the United States of America just as I do in my current jobs. Whether in the courtroom or in the field, I never forget the oaths I swore to protect and defend the Constitution. The Constitution belongs to all of us.

*****

Name: Toby Hampson

Party affiliation: Democrat

Website: www.tobyhampsonforjudge.com

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

The characteristics of a good Court of Appeals Judge include the ability to think critically, reason soundly, write clearly, decide efficiently and, above all, to apply each of those characteristics with civility, impartiality, and independence.

The Court of Appeals is a unique Court in our judicial system in that it hears appeals taken by right from the trial courts of all 100 Counties as well as administrative agencies. It does not, generally, decide which cases it takes, and its role is to review trial judges’ decisions for errors of law – not to decide facts. The cases the Court of Appeals hears include practically every area of law impacting all North Carolinians including injured workers and their employers, those charged with crimes and those prosecuting them, parents and children, municipalities and their residents, government agencies and those trying to navigate them, consumers and businesses, those hurt by negligence and those defending against such claims. In a world of legal specialization, the Court is expected to be a specialist in practically every area of law while deciding a high volume of cases in a relatively short timeframe and applying specialized appellate procedure.

The unique workload of the Court of Appeals as the State’s intermediate appellate court requires appellate judges who possess the right experience.

I have the right experience. I served as a law clerk at the Court of Appeals for the Hon. K. Edward Greene, Hon. Wanda Bryant, and Hon. Robert (Bob) C. Hunter from 2002-2004. I entered private practice in 2004 where I have focused my practice on handling appellate matters in the Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court. Since 2007, my practice has been primarily an appellate practice with the Raleigh firm of Wyrick, Robbins, Yates & Ponton where I have had the opportunity to handle practically every type of case that comes before the Court of Appeals. My cases have included representing indigent parents in abuse and neglect cases, complex business cases, criminal defense appeals, products liability, personal injury, medical malpractice, fraud, real estate, municipal zoning matters, administrative agency appeals, will caveat actions, family law matters, and others. By way of illustration, the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court online docket sheets show me as counsel of record for 307 cases dating back to 2004 and Westlaw shows 280 decisions listing me as counsel of record (including motions, petitions, and decisions) in the North Carolina appellate courts – including approximately 185 published and unpublished opinions.

I am certified by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as an Appellate Specialist. I am a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Appellate Rules Committee, which helps provide recommendations for revisions and changes to the N.C. Rules of Appellate Procedure to the NC Supreme Court. I have a deep and abiding respect for the Court of Appeals and the judges who serve and have served. The Court needs judges who are qualified to address a broad variety of complex cases and issues and who possess appellate skills and experience to ably serve and do so in a manner that respects the independence, civility, and collegiality for which the Court has historically been known. If given the honor of serving on the Court, I would work each day to embody these characteristics.

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

It starts with the philosophy that an elected official is not elected to serve only those who voted for them or just to serve the political party or entity with whom they are affiliated. It is the duty and obligation of every elected official – whatever their office – to serve and act in the best interests of all their constituents – in this case, all North Carolinians.

From there, it flows that as an elected Court of Appeals judge, your service to North Carolina is for all the people of North Carolina. This is done by a faithful application of the law to each case which comes before you irrespective of who the parties may be or the interests they represent. It is this faithful application of precedent, legal principles and constitutional provisions through which, fundamentally, the judiciary maintains its independence and adheres to Canon 3(A) of the N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct which provides in part: “A judge should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.”

As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in a 2010 NPR interview: “The founders realized there has to be someplace where being right is more important than being popular or powerful, and where fairness trumps strength. And in our country, that place is supposed to be the courtroom.” I am committed to doing right and to be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism. Through these overarching principles, if elected, I will serve all North Carolinians as a Judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

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, like all constitutional officers, is responsible to the people. Judicial power in North Carolina is granted by the North Carolina Constitution. The preamble to the State Constitution expressly provides it was ordained and established by “the people of the State of North Carolina.” This responsibility to, and authority derived from, the people is further preserved and protected by the Constitutional mandate in Article IV, Sec. 16 that state court judges be elected by the “qualified voters.”

Each of the three branches of government have a separate, distinct and co-equal role to play. However, the role of the judiciary is different from the law-making and executive roles of the other two branches. The judiciary serves the people of North Carolina by interpreting and applying the laws and reviewing the constitutionality of those laws when a constitutional challenge is properly made. As our State Supreme Court recently noted in a high-profile separation of powers case, striking the balance of power amongst governmental branches is “a delicate exercise in constitutional interpretation.” Cooper v. Berger, 370 N.C. 392, 809 S.E.2d 98, 107 (2018). Under our constitutional system of government, the people have vested the judicial branch with the enormous responsibility to conduct that “delicate exercise” in the litigation which comes before our courts.

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

The biggest changes needed to our judicial system all relate to closing the access gap and removing financial, physical and technological impediments to accessing our court system to meet the state constitutional mandate that “right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay.” Modernizing our judicial system will increase efficiency, which in turn will create greater accessibility to justice.

First, a comprehensive electronic case management system should be implemented to (A) track cases, flag delays, and improve scheduling of Court dates and times; (B) ensure proper allocation of staffing and resources; and (C) provide for electronic filing of pleadings and remote access to dockets and court calendars.

Second, providing alternate avenues for citizens to address minor or routine issues. This may include self-help automated kiosks or payment stations, or staffed assistance centers to provide basic forms and materials or again, providing secured portals for litigants to access their cases. This would have the dual benefit of increasing access to the Courts and decreasing the administrative burden on our Clerks’ offices.

Third, increase physical accessibility to courthouses by (A) ensuring every Courthouse has adequate funding to ensure it is fully accessible to those with disabilities or with limited mobility or can simply handle the day-to-day courthouse traffic to prevent delays and missed appearances; and (B) by providing for alternative methods of appearing for minor matters other than physically appearing in Court through the use of technology to permit video-conferencing or other remote appearances.

Fourth, modernizing the criminal justice system to provide for specialized treatment courts, diversion programs for youthful offenders, and to properly fund indigent defense programs.

These ideas are not novel or new. In fact, they are generally laid out in the March 2017 Final Report of the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Justice commissioned by the Chief Justice of North Carolina. Hopefully, these modernizations will be implemented in the near future.

How do you define injustice?

The guiding principle of our judicial system is engraved on the United States Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.” Injustice is when we deprive a person or groups of persons of fair and impartial justice under the law. Injustice is when we fail to allow a person or persons access to justice at all or when we delay their access so it amounts to a denial of justice. Injustice is when a person is denied justice not on the merits of their position but upon some arbitrary and capricious factor or characteristic such as who they are, where they come from, or how much they have. Injustice is constitutional rights being trampled without checks and balances. It is the lack of an independent judiciary committed to giving everyone their day in court in a fair and just manner.

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

Most directly, I will endeavor to perform my work on the Court of Appeals efficiently. The first step in helping to ensure equal access to justice for all is simply get the work done in a timely manner so cases do not languish, leaving parties in a state of uncertainty as to their rights or their next steps.

I will endeavor to treat all parties with respect, civility and fairness in rendering decisions governed by the law treating their arguments with seriousness and providing rationale for my decision.

More broadly, I would join the bi-partisan efforts of our judiciary at all levels to advocate for proper funding for the administration of justice, support of programs to improve access to justice, and to work to preserve the independence of the judiciary consistent with Canon 4 of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct.

*****

Name: Sandra Alice Ray

Party affiliation: Republican

Website: www.sandraaliceray.com

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

There are several characteristics that make a good judge. The most important, in my opinion, would be knowledge of the law, judicial temperament, impartiality, ability to efficiently manage your courtroom and docket, patience, courage, willingness to listen to all parties and aspects of the case, and finally common sense.

The people of North Carolina should vote for me because I am the most qualified person for this position. I have 27 years legal experience, including 14 years of judicial experience. I have more judicial experience than all other candidates who have filed for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat combined.

The people of the 5th district have voted me into office four times. I am the only candidate in this North Carolina Court of Appeals race for Judge Ann Calabria’s seat, who is not endorsed by a political party. My campaign is a campaign for the people by the people, and I want to be endorsed by the voters. I am the only candidate that has been endorsed by the North Carolina Troopers Association. I have also been endorsed by both of the Sheriffs in the 5th judicial district, one Democrat and one Republican, both clerks of Superior Courts in my district, and many elected officials both current and retired, from both the Democrat and Republican [parties]. My campaign is humbled and proud of the bipartisan support we have.

My experience, both legal and judicial, the characteristics that are mentioned above, and my bipartisan support make me the best choice and most qualified candidate for this North Carolina Court of Appeals seat.

I also have extensive experience with civic and community service work. I was the first female Chairman of the USS Battleship North Carolina Commission, member of the Cape Fear Museum Board for over seven years, New Hanover County Commission for Women, Board of Trustees for five years, member of Wilmington Rotary for seven years and a Past President, member of the Airlie Garden Board of Directors for over five years and the Vice President for two of those years, President of the Lower Cape Fear Republican Women, was appointed to the New Hanover County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council [from] 2003 [to] 2004, appointed to the New Hanover County Criminal Justice Partnership Board [from] 2003 [to] 2004, elected by fellow attorneys to the Fifth Judicial District Board of Trustees [from] 2008 [to] 2009, President of the Fifth Judicial District Board of Trustees [from] 2007 [to] 2008, and more.

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

I have been an elected official as well as a District Court Judge for 14 years. I have more judicial experience than all other North Carolina Court of Appeals candidates combined. Being elected and having to run for election has never been a factor in any decision I’ve made as a District Court Judge. Judicial candidates are required to follow the Judicial Code of Ethics while running as a candidate and while serving as a judicial official. The rules for running for election are very specific as to what a judicial candidate can and cannot do. Once elected, judicial officials are required to not only follow the Judicial Code of Conduct but to also follow our oath of office. Our oath of office requires us to uphold our North Carolina and United States Constitutions. Having more judicial experience then every other candidate combined makes me uniquely qualified and prepared to continue to make sure my role as a judge is not confused with my role as an elected official.

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 responsible to the people who come before them in their court, to the voters and citizens of the State of North Carolina and to the citizens of the United States. A judge is responsible for the people. A judge’s duty is to ensure justice to the people. Their ultimate authority is on matters of law, evidence, and courtroom decorum.

One of the fundamental principles of the United States Constitution is the balance and separation of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government. Throughout history there has been conflict among our branches of government with each one, depending on our time in history, seeming to be superior to the other. I believe the appropriate power amongst the government is one where we continue to make sure each branch of government charged with the exercise of one power does not exercise either of the others except as permitted by our Constitution because as the father of our Constitution, James Madison said, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

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

The biggest changes that I think need to be made to the North Carolina judicial system are funding and technology, and you can’t have one without the other. I think we need to work to eventually have e-filing throughout the state, because it would make it easier to access and retrieve information. It would also go a long way to ensuring equal access to justice for all. One of the hardest working groups of people in our court system are our clerks. Until we have each of our clerks of Superior Court offices in all 100 counties fully staffed, our judicial system will never be fixed. They are the backbone of each courthouse and our judicial system.

How do you define injustice?

Webster dictionary defines injustice as the absence of justice: violation of right or of the rights of another. Civil injustice would be the unlawful violation of civil rights. My definition of the worst injustice that could occur to anyone is to be wrongly convicted of a crime they did not commit.

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

I have 27 years legal experience, including 14 years judicial experience, more judicial experience then all other candidates for the North Carolina Court of Appeals combined. As a District Court judge, I’ve made sure for the past 14 years that anyone coming into my courtroom has the tools to advocate for themselves. Whether by appointing an attorney to them, getting them to our clerks or magistrates to help them get the resources they need or something as fundamental as simply understanding what is being said by having an interpreter in the courtroom when available or calling [the Administrative Office of the Courts] to allow them to speak to an interpreter. This experience will allow me to hit the ground running working with others across the state to ensure everyone has equal access to justice by working with the programs that are already in place and advocating for new programs that are needed. My first step would be to continue to work with people, on a statewide level, ensuring our technology continues to improve, and by educating and helping the people on how to use it to their benefit. Providing necessary and beneficial technology, making sure our courts are fully staffed to help anyone who comes in or calls, supporting our attorneys who provide Pro Bono services across the state, and funding our attorneys, especially in our criminal courts, to be able to best represent their clients will continue to put our state on the right path of ensuring equal access to justice for all.