[Editor’s note: As part of our ongoing effort to inform North Carolinians about the state judiciary, Policy Watch is publishing a series of Q&A’s with the candidates seeking statewide judicial office this fall. Each of the 16 candidates (six who are contesting three Supreme Court seats and 10 who are contesting five seats on the Court of Appeals) was asked the same seven questions by former PW Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter Melissa Boughton. Candidates were not given instructions about the length of their responses, which have been edited only for grammar.
Regrettably, unlike in 2018 when all candidates responded to our inquiries, some did not provide answers this year. To help inform voters in these cases, we will provide links to the unresponsive candidate’s website as well as available information about any public debates in which both candidates for the race in question have participated, or are expected to participate.]
Installment No. 5 in the series focuses on the race for Seat No. 5 on the North Carolina Court of Appeals between Republican Fred Gore and Democrat Lora Cubbage.
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.
Candidates for Court of Appeals Seat 5:
Name: Lora Cubbage
Party affiliation: Democrat
What characteristics do you believe make a good judge, and why should North Carolinians vote for you (please include info about any courtroom and or trial court experience)?
The characteristics that make a good judge are that they are independent, impartial and competent. I believe I am the right choice at the right time for Seat 5 on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, because I have served on and off the bench in both the criminal and civil law arenas. My experience as an assistant district attorney as well as assistant attorney general granted me the opportunity to practice on both sides of the table for plaintiff/prosecuting witnesses and defense.
My civil experience includes my six years of practicing workers’ compensation law and arguing criminal and civil appeals to the Court of Appeals. My judicial experience has allowed me the opportunity to serve in EVERY trial court in the district and superior courts, criminal and civil including juvenile Abuse, Neglect and Dependency as well as Juvenile Delinquency. I have served on a 2.1 complex case as a specially appointed judge as well as a specially appointed judge on a three-judge superior court panel to determine the constitutionality of an issue. I understand the rule of law and the importance of being an independent and impartial jurist.
We need judges with my experience and background that is ready to handle the very important work done at the NC Court of Appeals.
How will you balance being an independent judge and an elected official?
Being an elected official is only how I acquire the seat at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Being an independent jurist is encompassed in the Oath of Office that I take as a vow to the service I am committed to. I don’t think one should have anything to do with the other. Our judiciary needs independent jurists to do the great work needed and entrusted to judges to do by the voters. We must commit to the work of justice which means to remain independent to regain the trust of our citizens in our judicial system.
How has COVID-19 changed your election campaigning if at all?
In this COVID-19 time, we have had to learn unconventional ways of campaigning and in some ways, it has been challenging for me because I am a people person who likes to get out and sit and talk with folks face-to-face and shake hands. However, digital campaigning has allowed more folks to be present at events than you may ordinarily get in one setting and they can join in from any part of the state. I believe it has opened up our creativity and a lot of the new ways of campaigning in COVID-19 will stay with us for years to come.
Do you believe systemic racism permeates our criminal justice system? If so, how do you plan to dismantle it to ensure equal access to justice for all North Carolinians under the law?
I believe that we do have a history of systemic racism in our judicial system from our election processes to judicial access, processes and outcomes. It is the ugly side of the history of our country and that is just simply the truth. However, I strongly believe that recommitting to the work of justice and ensuring that we no longer have two justice systems as our citizens firmly believe we do we can overcome some of the past mistakes. I intend to continue to ensure that each person that comes before me gets the benefits and guarantees allowed by our NC and US Constitutions. No matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from or what your religious beliefs or political beliefs are, you deserve equal protection of the laws, equal access to the justice system and impartiality.
How do you define injustice?
Justice is when citizens appear before me, litigants and counsel alike, who can walk away knowing that they were heard, treated with respect and treated fairly. The outcome may not be what they hoped for, but knowing the judge was listening, fair and impartial is what I have learned is most important to all citizens.
To what extent do you believe that a judge should or should not defer to actions of a legislature?
The legislature makes the laws and a judge interprets and applies the law. It is not the duty of a judge to make laws from the bench. With that said, when a law is challenged by a citizen and brought before the Court it is the duty of the Court to analyze and interpret that law, and make a decision based on the same. We have many laws put in place by the legislature and many which were challenged and ruled upon by the Court that allows me to be declared a citizen as a black person, allows me to vote, allowed me to go to a desegregated school and allowed me to run for public office. Therefore, I do believe that though the legislature makes law the citizens have a constitutional right to challenge that law and the Courts have a duty to hear and rule on those challenges.
What are the biggest changes you think North Carolina needs to make to its judicial system?
The biggest changes I feel need to be made in our judicial system include accessibility to our judicial system, fairness in sentencing, and implicit bias training for all judges and other personnel who come in constant contact with the public.
Name: Fred Gore
Party affiliation: Republican
Note: Gore did not respond to multiple emails over a two-week period asking for his participation in the Policy Watch voter guide Q&A.
Earlier this month, the two candidates appeared in a WUNC-TV segment that can be viewed by clicking here.