The Maggie T. Of North Carolina Politics
Dear Friends and Voters:
I have been meaning to share my thoughts and observations about the recent candidates' forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, but I have been busy hitting the campaign trail this week. The forum provided me with the opportunity to once more meet the other judicial candidates. As I am a candidate and a voter, I would encourage those of you who missed the forum to review it and our prior forum before the North Carolina Defense Attorneys' Association.
Oddly enough, some of the Democratic candidates running for the Supreme Court have been infinitely more pleasant to me than that tiny fraction of the members of the Republican Executive Committee leadership and their cronies. One candidate found my website and candidacy to be the most "entertaining." I am glad that we Republicans are providing amusement to our Democratic brethren.
The candidates are also sympathetic and cannot understand why the Republicans are beating up on that poor woman. No judicial candidate could make such personal attacks under our election laws and certainly the candidate ought to instruct others not to make such charges on his or her behalf. However, such is not to be. The dumb and dumber gang continues to inflict wounds on itself, as witnessed by the recent debate debacle in the attorney general's race. I do not view myself as a poor woman victim, though. I intend to hang tough. I use the former Prime Minister of England, Lady Margaret Thatcher, as my example.
On to the questions. I have noticed that most, if not all, of the judicial candidates have jumped on the "judicial activist" bandwagon. While it is heartening that they have recognized the importance of this issue, you, as voters, should ask yourselves whether the candidate really means what he or she says. If they are already a sitting judge, then look at the candidates' decisions and decide for yourselves whether they have fairly applied the law or whether they are engaging in what I have defined as judicial activism.
For those who are not currently sitting on the bench, I offer a few thoughts. One of the candidates has adopted the label of "conservative." That, to me, is putting forth an activist agenda. As I explained in response to an inquiry, "judicial activism" is a buzzword in the mind of the voter that is frequently associated with "liberal" judges. But it is by no means confined to our friends on the left. Activists can be found on the right. In fact, those of the conservative bent have been making a concerted effort to appoint those of a like mind to the bench.
However, if a judicial candidate comes forward to proclaim that they are a conservative, what, in essence, are they saying? That they will promote a conservative agenda? If they are adamantly anti-abortion or against gay marriage, how can they promise to fairly and impartially decide a case involving those issues?
I am raising these questions so that you, the voter, can think about them and decide for yourselves. As I have said repeatedly, I have no agenda. I have personal views, but as a judge, I am expected to put them aside. They are not important. I will fairly and impartially apply the law to each case, without regard to such considerations. You should think about that too.
The same candidate also mentioned the seizure of drug dealers' property. I have dealt with these forfeiture laws in the past. I have no qualms about enforcing the law against some drug kingpin who has been convicted and where the government can demonstrate a nexus between the property sought to be confiscated and the drug trafficking. But some overzealous prosecutors have not stopped there. Some prosecutors are using the laws to confiscate property BEFORE an individual is even convicted. I have heard of police taking money from individuals who have been stopped, even if there is no drug evidence.
The laws have also been extended to other cases. Drunk driving is an example. In some states, cars were being confiscated by drunk drivers. It is all well and good to keep drunk drivers off our highways. However, does it change your opinion when the government wants to seize the family car that may be used by the wife for family transportation purposes and her husband had the misfortune to use it one night and had too much to drink? What are we to say the wife in such a case?
This is the same candidate who not only wants to keep injured plaintiffs out of court, but who also boasted about engaging our state in wasteful litigation against our state government and shutting down business operations. In the words of a Democratic opponent, "that's scary!" I can't disagree. It should be scary and frightening to all of you that someone who thinks its okay to seize property, to put people out of business and to keep injured people out of court, is someone who might be elected to the bench. But it is for you, the voter, to decide.
However, activism is not limited to those on the right. We have an example of activism on the left. One of the candidates has discussed the moratorium on the death penalty. In fact, it was one of the questions put to us as candidates. North Carolina has enacted the death penalty and the US Supreme Court has held that it is constitutional, provided that certain circumstances and procedures are met. It is not for a judge to decide whether such a law is proper or not. Our job, no matter how personally distasteful, is to apply and enforce the law. If the voters feel differently, then it is for the citizens, the governor or the legislature to impose a moratorium or to revise the law.
I found a cartoon once that featured a man behind one of the visitor desks in jail talking with his attorneys. The attorneys, all well dressed in suits asked, "Just how much justice can you afford?" We have a two-tiered system of justice. People who can afford good attorneys do well. People who can't, don't.
Also, I worked on a DNA case. The victim was so sure that it was the defendant. The evidence supported the conviction. But the case was remanded for DNA testing. It was the right thing to do. DNA testing showed the man didn't do it. However, he spent four years of his life in jail. That wasn't a death penalty case, but what if it had been?
That case, and some others, taught me an important lesson. Sometimes victims are mistaken. Sometimes the police aren't honest. And sometimes the prosecutor wants to make a name for him or herself. I am aware of all of that and I will not be a rubber stamp for the police and prosecution any more than I would be for the defense.
In my personal view, a sentence of death should be legal, but rare. It should only be applied where the circumstances for it have been met. It often has been said that it is better than a dozen guilty men go free than to have an innocent man convicted. If we are putting someone to death, we ought to make sure that the person has been afforded a fair trial, that their rights have not been violated and that the evidence establishes their guilt. It does not serve justice to execute someone who didn't do the crime.
One of the candidates talks about integrity. Is it honest to talk about experience with death penalty cases but not tell the voter that the candidate is promoting the death penalty moratorium? If elected, can this candidate fairly and impartially apply the law in a death penalty case given the candidate's death penalty stance? In my opinion, this is also judicial activism. But you, the voter, will have to decide.
In chatting with the candidates, members of my campaign staff also learned some unpleasant things about what is happening in the Democratic camp. For those of who have been displeased by my own battle with the North Carolina Republican leadership, rest assured that things are not rosy on the Democratic side of the aisle either. It is just that they have not engaged in the type of open warfare that I have been forced to do. One of the Democratic candidates told of a temper tantrum of sorts thrown by a particular candidate when that person previously served. During the incident, the then judge tore up a stack of opinions. The judge also engaged in retaliatory and vengeful actions against the person's poor law clerk as they were both vying for the same employment. People have suggested that I lack the proper temperament to be a judge for responding to an attack. However, you should ask yourselves whether the conduct I described is the kind of temperament that you want in a judge?
The same candidate I mentioned has also engaged in a quiet whispering campaign and is playing the race card among the Democratic constituents and party.
Lady Justice, a frequent symbol associated with the law, is blindfolded. The idea behind this is that the law is colorblind. Color of skin, gender or age does not and should not matter in deciding a case. Nor should it matter in a candidate. Those who are of a mind to discriminate based on skin color, ethnicity, gender or age, are free to do so. However, a judge's skin color or ethnicity should not be playing a part in the judge's decision making. I may be on the opposite side of the fence politically, I may disagree with a candidate's decision in a case or the legal reasoning employed, but I will not suggest that you should or should not vote for someone based on the color of their skin. That is not American. That is just plain wrong. And you should not let such factors dictate your vote in this race. You should go out and vote for the candidate whom you think will do the best job.
Other than the activism and death penalty issues, the candidates discussed judicial funding as a topic of concern. I agree that funding is an issue. But there are larger concerns impacting on the need for funding. There is a quote from a poet that "good fences make good neighbors." There was a time in America that disputes were settled in a peaceable manner without the need to go to court. However, in today's society, everyone watches the lawyer shows and thinks that everything is a matter for litigation. It is not.
Being rudely treated by a business may be discrimination. But it also may be just bad business. If its bad business practices, your money is green. Use it elsewhere. My point is that if we are truly injured in a legal sense, the courts are open. You can and should have your day in court. But if it is something minor or trivial, sometimes the answer is another means of resolving the problem. And sometimes there just isn't a solution. Learn a lesson and move on.
Other problems arise from our laws. We, as a country, have been enacting tougher and stricter drug laws. I am not advocating drug use or legitimization. But our Congress and our legislature ought to take a closer look at these things. Is the drug war really effective? How is putting some youth in jail or a person stricken with cancer who uses marijuana for pain or other medicinal purposes helping? Clogging our courts and our prison system is not the answer. Judges cannot solve these problems. Only our citizens and our elected representatives can.
Rachel Lea Hunter
Candidate for NC Supreme Court Associate Justice