Dear Friends and Voters,
I attended a judicial forum sponsored by the NC-Agribusiness Council last night. Agri-business is clearly important to North Carolina and I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people. I thank the NC Agri-Business Council and the law firm of Hunton & Williams, which sponsored the event for inviting me.
Below are my remarks. Understand that the judicial candidates were only given two minutes to make a brief opening statement and one minute to answer the questions. It is difficult to constrain oneself to such time limits so my written remarks may be a bit longer.Opening Statement:
As some of you may know, I had surgery to remove a non-cancerous brain tumor last year. Unfortunately, the surgery left my face paralyzed. It has not affected me cognitively, but I am not as pretty as I once was. What you may not know is that the tumor has re-grown and I underwent radiation therapy last week. Modern medical technology is truly amazing and wonderful to allow me to be treated and stand before you. However as I am still recovering, you will forgive me for reading my statement to you.
I have grown up with the law and began early attending my father's trials, talking with his clients and working in his law office. I still remember snippets from his closing arguments in his more important cases. However, as I got older, I flirted with the idea of becoming a medical doctor. And so I majored in Chemistry with an emphasis in bio-chemistry and worked for a major pharmaceutical company in Europe for awhile. I ultimately realized that I did not want to work in medicine or in a laboratory and that my true calling was the law. I graduated from law school in the top third of my class and have been practicing for almost 19 years. I spent 12 years working for the trial and appellate courts. Although I worked for different judges, I was blessed that they recognized my writing talent. The judges' names are on the opinions, but the words and ideas are mine and some were even adopted by our state Supreme Court. I am proud of the work that I did. For the past 6 years, I have been engaged in private practice doing appeals in virtually all areas of the law. While I worked for the courts, I wrote over 500 opinions. I have handled cases that affect every insurance policy in the state. I have researched real estate law going back to early 1795. I know how judges think and act. I have reviewed numerous trial transcripts. It is a rarity today, but I have a very broad base of knowledge in many areas. I have the skills, knowledge and qualification to do the work and I want to put my talents to use for the citizens of this state. I have articulated in greater detail why I am running and it is at my website at www.rachelforjustice.com. I invite you to go and read there.
However, I want to briefly state why I am running. Our state is facing great challenges ahead. Our judicial system is on the verge of collapse. Our courts need funding and modernization to handle the ever-increasing caseload. Some of our laws and rules are archaic and they must be changed. Above all, we need to restore the concept of justice for all, not just for the rich and powerful. I wish to do something about this and that is why I am running for office.Agriculture Question
The American agricultural industry has learned from experience that it must be quick to evaluate, adapt to, and adopt new technologies in food and fiber production, processing and product distribution. Sometimes, the adoption of these technologies sparks debate among the public and scientific community. What are your thoughts on the use of genetically-engineered crops and livestock, and do you see any ethical limitations on the use of such technology?
The chemist in me values the need to engage in research. If we can breed livestock or crops that are more disease-resistant or drought-resistant, then I am in favor of such technology. However, the lawyer in me is trained to think of possible downsides. Genetic engineering may seem wonderful, but what are the undesirable outcomes? What if we learn in the future that certain genetic changes lead to disease or birth defects? We have seen the errors of rushing products to market, as in the case of Vioxx, for example. No one wants that result. Merely because we have the power to do something does not mean that we should do something, such as merging human and mouse cells in the hope of creating a new species or human cloning. We need to examine the research and the benefits to be derived from it. If it will lead to desirable and beneficial objectives, then we should pursue it, but we must think before we act.Business Question
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this country has always exported more agricultural products than we imported on an annual basis. It is increasingly clear, however, that the trade balance is shifting and in 2005, we exported only slightly more agricultural products than we imported - a ration of 52 to 48 percent. Some observers believe that the trend would be even more evident if it were not for our trade policies, which protect domestic agriculture. Others believe that our trade policies increase the costs, rather than the benefits, to the average American consumer. What are your views on U.S. trade barriers to goods from other countries, particularly with regard to our food supply?
This question is more appropriately directed to our federal and state legislators. However, as you have asked for my opinion, I offer it. In a purely capitalistic system, more choice and competition yields a lower price and that is of clear benefit to me as a consumer. We do not live in a perfect world and we do not have a purely capitalistic system. For years, our federal government sustained itself off of excise taxes and tariffs on goods. The US now has reduced tariffs and allowed "free" trade. But trade is not "free."
In some cases, this has led to foreign companies dumping low-cost goods in the US, goods which are heavily subsidized by those countries' governments. In other cases, US companies have gone overseas to reduce their labor/capital costs and escape heavy US regulation. At the same time, other countries have imposed trade barriers to US goods. We need to find a balance.
The US government should not be used as a tool to keep out foreign competition, but it should loosen the restrictions placed on US business so that it can fairly compete with foreign products. If foreign governments are going to subsidize industry or erect barriers to US trade, then tariffs should be imposed against the offending countries.Philosophical/Judicial Question
A term that we have all heard again and again in recent years is the term "accountability." We have accountability standards for our schools. We hear a great deal about corporate accountability. We even have, in this country, a Government Accountability Office with over 3200 employees.
If you were elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court, what accountability standards would you have for yourself, and what accountability standards do you think the citizens of North Carolina should apply to you as a sitting justice?
Winston Churchill said, "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Likewise, our election system is not perfect, but it is the best system we have. The current system of election allows voters to decide if a judge or justice is worthy to hold office and the voters can decide to elect or re-elect a candidate.
Incumbents still have an edge, as it is clear if a person is an incumbent on the ballot but perhaps this ought to be changed so that no incumbency is noted. There is censure by the Judicial Standards commission or removal or impeachment for more egregious conduct. This should apply to me or any other person elected as justice. Under a judicial appointment system, there is even less accountability than under our present system of election. Who gets to appoint individuals? What if they select an inappropriate person? There is no accountability to the voters for the decisions that are made by the unelected people who appoint.
That is why I am for the continued election of judges. However, voters need to make themselves more informed about choices and the candidates have to work harder to ensure that the voters can make an intelligent and educated choice.
Rachel Lea Hunter