Dear Friends and Voters,
I was invited to attend the Judicial Candidates' Forum at the NC Bar Association. We were only allotted three minutes each to speak. And the spoken word differs from the written word. Here are my remarks, but I have taken the liberty of expanding upon them here.
First, I thanked the bar for inviting me. I then discussed my tumor and I explained that while the tumor has left the right side of my face paralyzed, the surgeons did not remove part of my brain but only the tumor itself. Thus, I am neither as irrational nor as crazy as claimed by some in the media, but can think, reason and write as well the rest of the attorneys. I just am not as attractive as I once was.
The rest of my speech was devoted to the reasons why I am running for office. They are as follows:
1. The President of the American Bar Association, Mr. Michael Greco, was also the keynote speaker. He spoke before the judicial candidates and, frankly, he had some very disturbing things to say. He first discussed the fact that almost forty percent (40%) of all citizens do not know about their rights under the US Constitution and the role of our separate branches of government. He also discussed the erosion of our civil liberties by our government. Particularly disturbing is the federal government's efforts to induce corporations and other parties to waive their attorney-client privileges. He also discussed the ABA's concerns regarding the domestic spying and the President's use of signing statements to disregard the legislation enacted by Congress. As a result of these concerns, he has created various task forces to address this issue.
These are the very same things that I have been saying for the past year. You can dismiss my remarks, but can the comments of the ABA President be so easily dismissed? I don't think you can and echo his sentiments that if we do not wake up, particularly those among us who are attorneys and who are supposed to be vigilant guardians of our Constitutional rights, then our rights might be lost and will be virtually impossible to regain.
I explained that I am running because I am aware of these issues and that I, too, am deeply concerned both for our country and our state. I am running because I want to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.
2. I am running because I have the research and writing abilities. I have drafted over five hundred opinions for the judges for whom I worked, both at the trial and appellate level. I have also done appeals since I have been in private practice. The writings do not have always bear my name, but the words and the research is mine and I would like to put my talents to work for the citizens of this state.
3. I am running because I have encountered various errors or conflicts in appellate decisions. Likewise, I have encountered cases in which I research an issue only to find there is very little or no caselaw on the subject. Our Supreme Court issues opinions in about a 1,000 cases per year. Others commented on the lack of decisional authority at the NC Bar Association meeting and expressed their request for more published decisions which would be of benefit to the bench and bar. I agree and would like to see more decisions, by both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, issued if I am elected. I also would like to have in place a mechanism for resolving conflicting decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
There is a difference between common law, which is based on judicial rulings, and statutory law, which is based on enactments of our legislature. I would not be a judicial activist and make up statutory law to suit my own whims. Rather, I would respect the separation of powers and the separate functions of each branch. When it comes to common law, however, I agree that the principles of stare decisis must be respected and judicial decisions should not lightly be overturned. However, judges have a duty to consider a change in circumstances or if a decision is just plain wrong. If so, the judiciary has an obligation to overturn such rulings and promulgate new caselaw. So for those decisions which fall within the common law, I would like to see our law modernized if is warranted.
4. I am running because I have noticed a trend in our appellate courts regarding enforcement of the appellate rules in that the courts have become much more strict; adherence to the rules is required. There is an interplay of being too lenient on one hand (why have rules if you are not going to enforce them?) and requiring complete obedience on the other. As a practitioner, I have dealt with those appellate rules and some are less than a model of clarity. If the court is moving away from leniency towards strict adherence, then it has an obligation to make the rules more clear so that all will know exactly what is required. If elected, I would like to be involved with a revision of those rules that are unclear so that we can give guidance to the bench and bar.
5. Earlier, Chief Justice Sarah Parker gave an annual report on the state of our courts. She noted that we are experiencing a population growth. With increased population comes increased demands on our courts, whether its more auto accidents, more divorces, more deaths and estates, more worker's compensation claims, more real estate disputes or more crime. Chief Justice Parker discussed that courts were able to hold their own, but in the past, we have seen a cut in funding as the chief justice was a member of one party while the legislature was of another party. While funding has been restored, funding has just been brought back to prior levels and will not address the growing demands.
I agree with Chief Justice Parker, but I would add that it is time to take politics and political parties out of our courts. The courts should be non-partisan places of justice for all. Its time to end the legislative gamesmanship that has been played. The legislature is mandated by our state Constitution to fund our courts and provide for the salaries of court personnel and judges and it is time for them to adequately fulfill their duty. If elected, I would work to make our courts independent.
6. We have some fine individuals that are prosecutors and they are committed to the administration of justice, not just getting a conviction. However, like every profession, we have a few bad apples. We have prosecutors who lie or misrepresent the truth. We have prosecutors who conceal or who do not turn over evidence. We have prosecutors running for election and seeking to use cases to gain positive publicity to assist their campaigns. And we have prosecutors trying their cases in the media. Prosecutors are supposed to be about justice and not just getting a conviction. I am running because the behavior of prosecutors who engage in this type of behavior is wrong. If elected, I would carefully examine the circumstances and would recommend the imposition of sanctions if appropriate.
7. And lastly, we have a two-tiered system of justice in this country. There is one brand of justice for the rich and powerful (Dick Cheney and Patrick Kennedy are recent examples). There is another if you are poor or African American or a member of some other minority. A system of justice that favors the rich and powerful cannot long survive and we need to restore justice to all people so that they can once again have confidence in our courts.
Thank you again for inviting me.
Rachel Lea Hunter