Elections » Candidate Questionnaires

Durham County

2006 county and judicial races

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County Races
District AttorneyMike Nifong (Dem)
Lewis Cheek (Una)
Steve Monks (write-in)
Judicial Races
District Court Judge
District 14 (Chaney seat)Nancy E. Gordon
Anita Smith
District 14 (McKown seat)Ann McKown
Tracy Hicks Barley

County Races

District Attorney

mikenifong.jpg

MIKE NIFONG
Party: Democratic
Date of Birth: September 14, 1950
Campaign Web Site: MikeNifongDA.com
Occupation & Employer: District Attorney, 14th Prosecutorial District
Years Lived in Durham County: 26½

1. Why are you seeking the office of Durham District Attorney at this time?

I have spent my entire professional career in the Durham District Attorney's Office, beginning in October, 1978, when I volunteered to work without pay in return for the opportunity to gain courtroom experience, and continuing through the last year, during which I have been privileged to serve the citizens of Durham as their District Attorney following my appointment to that office by Governor Mike Easley. I have served under three different District Attorneys and have seen the office more than triple in size. I have also witnessed a substantial transformation in both the practice of law and the role of the District Attorney. I have been in the position to understand what our problems are, and to see which proposed solutions to those problems have been effective -- and which have not. Like my parents and grandparents, I have always been drawn to public service (my pre-law school jobs include a year of teaching school and three years of social work). I enjoy the work that I do as District Attorney, and I welcome the opportunity that it has given me to make a significant positive contribution to Durham.

Since 1979, I have also lived in Durham. My children were born here, and my son still attends the Durham Public Schools. I own a home here. In short, I am a fully invested member of this community, and I am strongly committed to making sure that, as a community, we make the right decisions for our future. I believe that I am the best candidate to make those decisions for the District Attorney's Office based on my widely-recognized ability; my unprecedented experience; my demonstrated leadership, judgment, and fairness; and my unquestioned integrity.

2. Describe your experiences that demonstrate your ability to be an effective District Attorney.

During the course of my 26½ years as an Assistant District Attorney, I appeared in every type of court proceeding in which the District Attorney's Office is involved. Between 1979 and 1999, I conducted more than 300 Superior Court jury trials, involving virtually every kind of case, including more than 60 homicide cases (4 of them capital cases). In all but two of these cases, I was the sole counsel for the State. This level of trial experience, which far exceeds that of any other person who has held or run for the office of Durham District Attorney, has given me unprecedented insight into not only what it takes to successfully present a case to a jury, but also what qualities I need to look for in the attorneys I hire and how I can best train them to be effective advocates.

Trying cases, of course, is a relatively small part of the job of the District Attorney. Most of that job is administrative in nature: hiring and training personnel, establishing policies that enable the office to deal more effectively with its increasing caseload, and working with other components of both the criminal justice system and the community at large to improve our response to Moreover, the District Attorney's Office staff has grown tremendously: from 6 attorneys and 4 support personnel when I joined the office in 1978, to 17 attorneys and 17 support personnel under my predecessor, and to 20 attorneys and 17 support personnel today, further increasing the administrative burden. During my time in the office, I served as Chief Assistant District Attorney under former District Attorneys Ron Stephens and Jim Hardin, a position in which I exercised supervisory authority over the other attorneys in the office on a daily basis and over the whole office during times when the District Attorney was unavailable.

For the last year, I have served as Durham District Attorney following my appointment to that position by Governor Mike Easley. During that year, I have effected significant changes in both personnel and office structure with a view toward making the office both more efficient and more flexible. Structurally, I have created a new Protection of the Family Unit to coordinate prosecution of domestic violence crimes and crimes committed against children, the elderly, and animals (because of the strong correlation between the commission of crimes against animals and crimes against children). I have also increased the scope of job duties for my Gang Prosecutor to emphasize both intervention with gang-involved youth to try to separate them from gang activity and more vigorous prosecution of those gang members who choose to persist in that activity. In terms of personnel, I have hired the most diverse staff in the history of the Durham District Attorney's Office, including our first Hispanic prosecutor (among attorneys, minority representation is up from 24% under my predecessor to 35%, and female representation is up from 53% to 60%; for the staff as a whole, minority representation is up from 34% to 41%, and female representation is up from 75% to 76%), reflecting my belief that the perception that justice has been done is at least partly a function of every person who comes before our system of justice being able to see himself or herself reflected in that system.

An effective District Attorney must also be respected both by the community and by the other components of the justice system. Over the course of my 27½ years in the Durham District Attorney's Office, I have earned the reputation as a person of outstanding legal ability, sound judgment, impeccable fairness, and unquestioned integrity. These same qualities have enabled me to establish effective working relationships with law enforcement agencies, local government authorities, and civic and community leaders.

3. What are your top two or three priorities for the Durham D.A.'s office?

My first priority is to maintain and nurture the current cooperative working relationship that exists among local law enforcement, city and county government, the business community, and the local court system (including the District Attorney's Office). That teamwork has served us well over the past year as we have coordinated our approaches to obtaining new programs and resources to benefit our overall approach to addressing the concerns of the community about crime and public safety.

A second priority is to continue my joint effort with the Durham Public Schools to lessen the opportunity for our youth to become involved in gang activity by keeping them in school. The first phase of that effort is already addressing the truancy issue by initiating involvement with the families of absent students at a time earlier than is mandated by statute in the hopes of solving attendance issues before significant educational opportunity has been lost. So far, those efforts have brought our attendance figures from the bottom of the pack to the middle. The second phase will address the out-of-school suspension issue with a view toward ending those suspensions in most cases while still satisfying the safety concerns presented by the underlying behavior.

A third priority is to continue the effort we began last October (with Duke Medical Center, the Center for Child & Family Health, the Department of Social Services, local law enforcement, and others) to acquire a fully accredited Child Advocacy Center for Durham. Such a center will enable us to address the needs of child victims of physical and sexual abuse in a manner that first deals with the medical needs of the child and minimizes the trauma inherent in preparing such cases for prosecution. The District Attorney's Office hosts the meetings of this group, and we are currently drafting the protocols that will govern the operations of our Center.

4. How do you plan to help to better manage the movement of cases through the system?

It should be mentioned at the outset that, while the District Attorney has statutory calendaring authority in criminal cases, the District Attorney's Office is but one of the three components of the criminal justice system that influence how quickly disposition of cases occurs (the other two are the judge and the defendant-attorney pairing). Moreover, the specific interests of those three components rarely converge completely. In particular, defendants who are not in pretrial custody often perceive that it is advantageous to wait as long as possible to enter pleas, in hopes that delay may result in evidence being lost or witnesses becoming unavailable. As a consequence, the District Attorney's Office often faces indifference or even outright resistance to our attempts to move cases through the system. It should also be noted that Durham has in place a Case Management System which governs the progression of cases through Superior Court; this system was established by agreement among the previous District Attorney, the local defense bar, and the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge.

That having been said, the District Attorney's Office can still exert substantial influence to reduce the amount of time that is required to dispose of a case. Among the issues that exacerbate this problem, and the policies that I have already put into place to accomplish this goal are the following:

  • There are too many unnecessary continuances in District Court. The policy of the District Court Judges has been to allow cases to be continued for up to 120 days at the request of either side. While there are a few cases that may require this much time, the vast majority of District Court cases can be disposed of much more quickly. It is my policy to oppose any continuance whenever the witnesses necessary to the disposition of the case are present in the courtroom. It is also my policy, whenever a defense attorney is unwilling to stipulate that a case will be for a guilty plea, to subpoena any necessary witnesses for the next court date so that we will be in a position to dispose of the case regardless of the plea at that time.

  • Too many cases that could be disposed of in District Court have been sent to Superior Court (often by attorneys who are seeking to delay disposition of those cases). When felony cases are going to be disposed of by misdemeanor pleas, my policy dictates that those pleas should be entered in District Court at the earliest available time. It is a waste of time and effort to indict a case as a felony and then take a plea to a misdemeanor in Superior Court. It is also a waste of time and effort to repeatedly calendar cases once a disposition has been agreed upon.

  • Too many cases that are not really for trial have been placed on Superior Court trial calendars. A trial calendar should be just that: a list of cases that are actually for trial. When cases not ready for trial are placed on those calendars, or when pleas are negotiated after a case is calendared for trial, efficient use of resources (such as court time and jurors) is often compromised. My policy requires that no case be arraigned (the last step before placement on a trial calendar) unless the Assistant District Attorney handling the case has determined that all witnesses necessary for trial are actually available. My policy also does not allow plea negotiation in cases once they are calendared for trial without my approval. This encourages defendants who wish to dispose of their cases by plea do so earlier, rather than later, in the process.

    5. What is the biggest challenge to the administration of justice in Durham's court system?

    At this point, the biggest challenge is a lack of resources -- both personnel and facilities. The Durham County Judicial Building, which was practically obsolete by the time it opened in 1978, is bursting at the seams. Despite the constant reworking of that space and the opening of a judicial annex, there is simply insufficient room within the building to accommodate the number of cases that are scheduled to be heard on several days each week. This has led to the much remarked upon overcrowding of the existing courtrooms, creating safety and security risks for everyone present.

    Even if the facility problems could be quickly solved (which is not the case -- a new courthouse is not projected to be available before 2010 at the earliest), Durham has an insufficient number of courthouse personnel for the efficient administration of the system. At this time, there are barely enough judges -- and arguably there are not enough judges -- to cover the existing court schedule. And it is important to keep in mind that for every new judge that is added in Durham, it is also necessary to add other courtroom personnel to enable that judge to be able to function in a courtroom setting: Assistant District Attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders, courtroom clerks, and bailiffs.

    The personnel issue, in particular, is a failing of the N.C. Legislature to address our needs. Our city and county governments have done all they can to take up the slack, but it is not reasonable to expect that they can continue to do so, especially since the cost of a new court facility would be largely borne by them.

    6. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

    It is the job of the District Attorney to take only principled stands, regardless of the impact on his popularity or his prospects for re-election. Justice, which should be the ultimate goal of every decision made by the District Attorney, is exclusively the product of doing what is morally right, and neither political expediency nor tactical advantage must ever be a factor in that calculation. Moreover, doing the right thing is almost always the best decision in practical terms as well. When I first started prosecuting felony cases in 1979, I gave open-file discovery in all of my cases, despite the fact that doing so was neither a requirement of the discovery statutes of that time nor the practice of most other prosecutors. I did so not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because it promoted the more efficient resolution of cases by allowing defendants to more accurately gauge their prospects of success at trial. (Prior to open-file discovery, defendants often sought trials because they did not know whether the State had sufficient evidence to convict them. Most of the recent cases involving prosecutorial misconduct resulted from the failure of prosecutors to give defendants evidence to which they were entitled by statute or judicial decision, usually because they were seeking tactical advantage at trial.) Now, open-file discovery is essentially required in all criminal cases.

    My experience over the last 27½ years also suggests that virtually every decision that the District Attorney makes in a high-profile case is likely to engender some degree of controversy within the community, with some citizens applauding it and others denouncing it. The recent situation involving allegations against certain unnamed members of the Duke University lacrosse team is a good example of this: some members of the community have criticized me for unfairly prejudging a case they believe to be weak and rushing to charge someone without any evidence in order to gain an advantage in my campaign for District Attorney; others have criticized the very same actions on my part as a failure to charge in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt, again to gain a political advantage. Obviously, these two points of view cannot both be correct -- in fact, I would argue that neither is correct -- but the controversy demonstrates the folly of basing any of the decisions entrusted by law to the District Attorney on perceived political impacts.

    During my tenure in the Durham District Attorney's Office, I have never taken any action I believed to be unjust or failed to take any action I believed to be just for the purpose of enhancing my personal popularity, and I pledge not to do so in the future.

    7. What role does ideology play in the performance of this office?

    If by ideology you are referring to the candidate's political party identification or self-placement on the left-right continuum, the role it plays in the performance of the office should be "none at all."

    If, on the other hand, you are asking whether the ideology of the candidate with respect to what the role of the office should be is important to the performance of the office, then the answer would be that it is critically important. And in that regard, it seems to me that the only appropriate ideology for the District Attorney's Office is the principle that every person who comes before the criminal justice system is entitled to have the criminal laws fairly and impartially administered. Indeed, the oath that I took as District Attorney requires that I endeavor to do just that, and my record over the past 27½ years amply demonstrates my commitment to that principle. Voters should be very suspicious of any candidate for District Attorney whom they have reason to believe would show favoritism to any particular attorney or group of attorneys. The fair and impartial administration of justice requires a level playing field.


    stevemonks.jpg

    STEVE MONKS
    Party: Republican, but I am an unaffiliated write-in on the November 7th ballot.
    Date of Birth: February 1962
    Campaign Web Site: www.stevemonksfordurhamda.com
    Occupation & Employer: Attorney, The Monks Law Firm
    Years Lived in Durham County: 4 years, but my great, great, great, great grandfather, Rueben Brock was born in Hillsborough in 1757.

    1. Why are you seeking the office of Durham District Attorney at this time?

    I perceive our community has a crime problem and criminal justice issues that I believe require new leadership to solve and I am dissatisfied with the 2 other choices we have on the ballot.

    Our present DA has faithfully served us for many years but his handling of the Duke Lacrosse Rape case is completely inconsistent with someone with this experience. Under the microscope of the national media, his temperament has not served him, the DA's office, or the county well. If he is reelected, every action he takes, on this and all future cases will more than likely be scrutinized, possibly unfairly, resulting in possible continued negative publicity for the office and Durham's criminal justice system.

    The other choice, "Vote for Cheek-recall Nifong" does not appeal to me either for several reasons. First, Mr. Cheek has represented to Durham voters that if he is elected, he will not serve, which will then oblige the Governor to appoint our next DA. The Governor appointed Mr. Nifong to the DA job in 2005, and could very well reappoint him, or make another disappointing choice for Durham. Second, the right to vote for the candidate of your choice to represent you in a public office is one of the most important and fundamental rights we have. I question how pleased we will be with ourselves and how we will be perceived if we ask the Governor to intervene for us and select our DA. Third, I believe that an appointed DA, however competent or well meaning, will not feel the same sense of moral obligation to the people, as a DA who is elected by the people. I know that if I am elected DA, I will feel that sense of obligation and I will serve our community to the best of my ability.

    2. Describe your experiences that demonstrate your ability to be an effective district attorney.

    Courtroom experience: I have practiced law for over 18 years. In that period of time I have tried over 200 cases ranging from minor traffic to very serious felonies and more than 50 by jury trial. The talented and experienced, Freda Black, a previous candidate for Durham DA, tried her last jury trial as an assistant DA against me and with two witnesses to the "alleged" crime, my client was acquitted. I believe I have the requisite trial skills. Due to my defense work over the years, I have great insight into how defense attorneys think and thus as a DA would be better able to anticipate their actions in court. Additionally, I have served as a Special Master, assisting Judges in court when asked, and I am a certificated mediator.

    Management experience: Prior to opening my five law offices in the Triangle Area, I was the managing partner of a mid-sized law firm. I managed 12 attorneys and 19 staff people; not significantly different than the number employed in our DA's office.

    Capable communicator and public servant: I speak Spanish and am very active in both the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers. I serve with local teen court programs, provide pro bono consultations at El Centro Hispano in Durham and El Centro Latino in Carrboro, and am the moderator of the legal issues forum for ncsingleparent.com. I have published articles regarding family law issues and been a continuing legal education instructor regarding family and traffic law issues. Basically, I enjoy public service and with my background and experience, I can think of few better ways to serve our community than serving as the District Attorney.

    3. What are your top two or three priorities for the Durham D.A.'s office?

    1. Address the gang problem. Perhaps the High Point model of drug/gang interdiction would work here. The High Point police began a program where they "brought in" known drug sellers and basically explained that they were being watched and that they were going to be arrested if they continued and prosecuted to the fullest. Illegal drug sales support gang's activities. If you stop the drug sales, you cripple the gangs.

    2. Do everything in my power to quicken the pace of resolving cases. We have a serious backlog problem. While cases stall "in-process" in our courts, many small time offenders "graduate" to bigger crimes because they have not been quickly taught a lesson that crime does not pay. Assuredness of punishment is as important, if not more important, than severity of punishment. If we get "small-timers" punished quickly, we will hopefully prevent some of them from becoming "big-timers".

    Many drug cases are delayed because of delays with the SBI in testing the drugs. We should be getting defendants, who have admitted guilt or are prepared to plead guilty to these felonies and who have not had a prior violence offense, to waive the testing issue and then quickly enter into a negotiated settlement with the State. Lastly, I would be interested in experimenting with having an Assistant District Attorney "ADA" at the jail 24/7 to initially review cases to ensure that erroneous cases are resolved immediately and serious cases do not "slip through the cracks".

    4. How do you plan to help to better manage the movement of cases through the system?

    Candidly, I am only familiar with the process from the perspective of a criminal defense attorney. Presently, I can only see the delays but won't have the perspective to fix it until I know exactly how the office operates. However, having managed several law offices, I would expect to find that there are ways to bring a fresh perspective to the issues and improve the management of the cases through the system.

    5. What is the biggest challenge to the administration of justice in Durham's court system?

    I believe the biggest challenge to the administration of justice in our court system is the lack of resources. We don't have the number of Judges or courts necessary to adequately attend to the case load that we must handle. And, we are hampered by the State's lack of available resources to assist us, for example in the quick testing of drugs. We have the two options that anyone has when faced with scarce resources; do the best we can and hope for additional funding, which is what we've done for years and in my opinion is not adequate or try new, innovative approaches to solve the problem with the resources available. Recently, a lack of resources was purported to be the reason for a reduction in the jail population, accomplished by the lowering of murderers' bond amounts. If that is so, the DA should have begun the chorus of requests/demands for additional funding, which I do not perceive has occurred to date. Regarding innovation, perhaps it would be a more efficient and effective use of our resources if first offenses are handled at night or via video monitor with the defendants at another location other than our present courthouse. In addition, as mentioned previously, I believe an ADA at the jail to review all new felony cases would improve efficiency and I am very interested in the reported success of the High Point model of drug/gang interdiction. With the approaching hiring of our new police chief, this is an ideal time to bring some fresh ideas to the DA's office and to our community's criminal justice system. I do not believe that someone who has worked exclusively in the DA's office is the person most capable of providing new, innovative approaches to the office.

    6. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

    I believe in harsh punishment for those who commit crimes against the vulnerable and defenseless; for example crimes against young people and the elderly. However, I am not an advocate of the death penalty. I believe that life is precious and the taking of life reprehensible whether it is by a person or the State. The DA, a human capable of making mistakes, makes the initial decision to seek the death penalty which history has shown can be arbitrarily and capriciously sought. Sometimes mistakes are made and thus, I object to the death penalty due to the possibility that an innocent person may be erroneously executed. Further, I do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. Drugged up murderers, I believe, rarely consider the consequences before they commit their heinous acts. Lastly, few people doubt that our criminal justice system suffers from a lack of resources. As a fiscal conservative, I believe that it is actually more expensive to try a capital case, reply to appeals, and to execute people than it is to convict them and send them to jail for life. Consider if you would, the notorious mass murderer from Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer, a person who deserved the death penalty if ever one did. After being determined sane, he was quickly tried and sent to jail for over 900 years, no lengthy appeals and we know what happened to him.

    Notwithstanding my serious reservations, I would and could support the death penalty for an undeniably evil person who committed a particularly heinous crime for which there was unquestionable proof of guilt.

    7. What role does ideology play in the performance of this office?

    People develop their personal ideology as they grow up and experience life. I came from a large, gregarious Irish-Catholic family. We were not wealthy but were comfortable. My father sometimes worked 2 or 3 jobs, including selling encyclopedias and cemetery lots, just to ensure we ate. I lived in a large city but the neighborhood we lived in made me feel like we lived in a small town. Lying, cheating and laziness were not tolerated. My father was a Korean War era veteran and we learned patriotism and devotion to country. Education and personal responsibility were required and I never heard a slur or disparaging comment uttered in my house against any racial, ethnic, or religious group or individual because of race, ethnicity or religion. This background formed the basis of my ideology.

    The District Attorney basically performs 3 different functions: 1) the DA tries cases, 2) the DA manages the office, and 3) the DA is the spokesperson for the criminal justice system in the community they serve.

    Competently trying cases and managing an office are products of education, experience and some natural ability. A person's ideology may impact what type of plea offer, if any, may be offered or what type of punishment may be sought. A person's ideology may also provide insight regarding identification and retention of highly-qualified employees. Ideology, I believe, plays less of a role when the DA functions as a spokesperson for the criminal justice system; as such, the DA needs to cautiously balance zealous prosecution of defendants with the ascertainment of justice to ensure the community is confident in their criminal justice system. This is probably the area that needs the greatest improvement with our DA's office today. I am very comfortable communicating with the public, the media, judges, and others in the legal field in order to serve well the people of Durham County as their District Attorney. I believe that I have the requisite trial skills and management experience to effectively perform the functions of the District Attorneys' office and I believe that my background and ideology that emanated from it will serve the community well if elected District Attorney of Durham County.


    Judicial Races
    District Court Judge

    District 14 (Chaney seat)

    NANCY E. GORDON
    Party: Non partisan
    Date of Birth: November 6, 1954
    Campaign Web Site: www.nancygordon4judge.com
    Occupation & Employer: Attorney employed by The Law Offices of Nancy E. Gordon, P.C.
    Years lived in Durham County: 25

    1. Why are you seeking the office of District Court Judge at this time?

    I have been a lawyer for 26 years. It has taken me this long to reach a point in my career where I believe that I have the depth of experience and qualification to serve our community as a District Court Judge.

    I began my legal career in tax law. After moving to Durham, I interned with two law firms where I worked in tax law and general civil law. I also interned with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc. In 1983, I hung out my shingle and started my own law practice. That was before we had a Public Defender's office in Durham. The first several years of my practice consisted of representing individuals in criminal and traffic cases, handling juvenile delinquency cases and representing parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children. Within a few years of undertaking my practice, I began to take on general civil and, particularly, family law cases. I discovered that my strength and interest was in helping families resolve the legal issues that arise when a relationship ends in the most dignified and efficient way possible. Since 1991, when I became a Board Certified Family Law Specialist, I have limited my practice, in large part, to family law and family-related cases. My practice has always been a district court practice.

    Over the years I've practiced law in Durham, it has been my observation that, even with the expansion in the number of judges, courtrooms and support staff, it has been a constant struggle for our district courts to work through the number of new cases filed annually and keep up with the back log. Our laws, statutory and particularly our civil jurisprudence, has constantly evolved and expanded and, in my view, it is a challenge for the bench to keep up. After 26 years of practice, including reading law, editing law newsletter publications, participating in several continuing legal education seminars each year, I have built up significant legal expertise and a bank of knowledge of law which will be a sound foundation to build on, make prompt decisions in technical civil cases, and to keep cases moving in our busy district courts. The jurisdiction of our District Court Judges is quite broad, encompassing criminal, civil and family law cases. My experience is the broadest of any candidate in my race and has more depth acquired over my long career. I've tried cases of all kinds and pride myself on my ability to assess a case and arrive at a reasonable outcome. As a seasoned lawyer, my depth of experience and legal scholarship will enable me to hear cases, sort through evidence and make reasoned decisions with more efficiency than any of my opponents.

    Durham's district courts face enormous challenges. If elected I am committed to tackle the logjam of criminal and civil cases. I am committed to stay current with evolving new statutory laws case law, to stay aware and informed about social challenges that impact our community and courtrooms and to continue my work to elevate the legal profession and support social justice and an end to violence in Durham.

    2. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

    On my wall in my office is a biblical quote: "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20). As an attorney, I take that obligation very seriously. I am proud to say that I am published and have spoken to lawyers about legal ethics. I am and have been a leader in the Durham County Bar Association, the North Carolina Bar Association, the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, the Durham/Orange Association of Women Attorneys and the national and state chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. I have lectured at our local law schools and have been a frequent presenter at continuing legal education seminars. Consistent with building a just community, I am an active participant and volunteer in many local organizations dedicated to racial and gender equality, ending violence in our community and animal rights. My involvement in all of these causes and organizations, are integral to building a just community in Durham. Public service is an extension of my involvement.

    As an elected official, a judge is a community role model; a judge also should strive to elevate the legal profession and act to advance the cause of justice in our courts and in our community. By continuing my historical and in depth involvement and participation in our bar associations and organizations such as the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham, Durham CAN, Women in Action, I can be a resource and bridge between the courthouse and community organizations dedicated to making Durham a better place to live for all of our citizens.

    3. How long to you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?

    Judges can, in the State of North Carolina, serve until age 72. I believe that service in district court should not be a "lifetime" job. It is not a job for lawyers seeking a secure salary and retirement. Perhaps more important, in my observation, judges who sit for many years can, over time, become removed from the practice of law. More importantly, by the nature of the restraint required to remain impartial, they can become isolated. That detachment can be detrimental to making the best decisions. That being said, a District Court Judge is elected for a 4 year term. At this point, my goal is to serve two terms, during which time I believe that I can contribute to making our district courts more effective and efficient. At that point, I would be 60 years old and I anticipate that at that point I will be ready for my next professional challenge.

    4. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Criminal Court, and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    In Durham County, we have several different district courts including criminal, domestic violence, general civil, community resource court, drug court, juvenile, traffic court and family court(s). In all of these courtrooms, a judge should lead.

    Criminal cases (misdemeanors only) are not tried to juries in district court-- the judge determines culpability and imposes punishment, probable cause and, before felonies are moved to Superior Court for trial, determines bonds. Even when a determination of guilt or culpability is made in District Court, an appeal from criminal court can be made to the superior court for trial de novo before a jury.

    As a result of my community involvement and my legal career, I am sensitive to the needs of crime victims. I volunteered as a crisis counselor for the Durham Coalition for Battered Women and I am active with the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham and the related organization Parents of Murdered Children. Additionally, through working with social justice organizations, like Durham CAN, I am sensitive to the heterogenous make-up of our community in terms of ethnic and racial diversity and the social variations and barriers imposed by poverty and educational deficiencies. On the other hand, I have represented individuals accused of crimes and I am cognizant of the need for a judge to consider constitutional protections afforded to people accused of crimes. My legal and life experience qualify me to make decisions which balance community safety, victim rights and the interests of the defendant.

    In large part, the dockets in our criminal and traffic courts are controlled by the District Attorney's office and, to a lesser degree, by the criminal defense lawyers (assistant public defenders and privately retained) and availability of law enforcement officers who are frequently required as witnesses in those cases. I have been involved in bench/bar work on case management and docket control issues in civil district court and I would use that experience in criminal court. As a new judge, I'd consult and work with our other District Court Judges to come up with one game plan for our district criminal courts so that everyone is working with the same goals in mind and so that there is consensus about how to make Criminal District Court more efficient. My primary goal is to keep cases moving forward, by organizing the calendar to dispose of short cases, plea bargains and motions quickly and set those cases on for trial once those matters are closed.

    No systemic changes can be implemented without a team effort by all of our District Court Judges-- we need everyone on the same page so that there is a uniform understanding from lawyers, the district attorney's office, the public defender's office and law enforcement about what is expected from term to term.

    Notably, even with the reported over-crowding in our criminal and traffic courts, these are the courtrooms where, statistically, our courts are moving through case backlogs. The misdemeanor cases backlog again when they are appealed to Superior Court (see CourTools statistics).

    This questionnaire doesn't ask about traffic court which is where our District Court Judges hear, among other cases, Driving While Impaired cases. I believe that DWIs are among the most important matters heard by our District Court bench. As we all know, people who drive under the influence are a danger to the entire community and they are very difficult to deter from recidivism. Our statutes prescribe terms of incarceration for various levels of DWI and, relatedly, for Driving While License Revoked. Unfortunately, incarceration is, at best, a short term solution to the problem. And, as we have more and more drivers on the road each year, this is a growing problem in our community. In working with families, I've educated myself about substance abuse issues; I hope to use that information to creatively work to keep habitual drunk drivers off our roads.

    5. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Civil Court and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    It is the purpose of a judge to provide leadership and to work to assure fair, timely, legally sound and just decisions in all cases, civil and criminal. Over 50% of the cases filed each year in Durham County District Court are civil or domestic relations cases. We have three areas of civil law practice which are resolved at the District Court level: family law cases, general civil cases and domestic violence cases. Our family court has Case Managers who, with the assistance of the judge assigned to each case, can manage family law cases through Family Court to make sure that resources are provided to families who need them and that the cases are set for hearing in a timely way and prompt decisions are made.

  • Domestic violence cases (which are both criminal and civil) are frequently a matter of emergency and are often, initially, heard ex parte (without notice to the other side); if a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) is issued, usually there is a 10-day hearing often followed by a subsequent hearing on the merits several weeks out. Under our domestic violence statute a judge has enormous discretion to take actions including jailing the perpetrator for 48 hours, granting temporary custody to one party and awarding exclusive possession of a home; I've spoken on the topic of domestic violence and worked as a crisis counselor at the Durham Coalition for Battered Women. And I've represented men and women victims and perpetrators for many years. I'm familiar with the cycle of violence, how these cases arise and the kinds of things to look for when making decisions that have far-reaching impact on families in crisis. My work in this field will assist me in understanding the evidence and applying the law to make sure that victims of domestic violence and their children are safe. Personal safety in a home and family is a top priority.

  • General civil cases with damages under $10,000 are heard in our District Courts as are appeals from Small Claims Court. For many years our District Court has had a court-annexed arbitration program where these cases are, initially, diverted to hearings before a trained arbitrator. I have served as an Arbitrator since the inception of this program and have rendered decisions in cases ranging from personal injuries to money and contract disputes. The arbitration program has proven to be quite successful. In a one hour hearing, people, who frequently don't have lawyers, get their day in court and the problem is resolved successfully. If they are unhappy with the result, litigants can appeal and have the case resolved by a judge and/or jury. At this point in time a civil case filed in Durham can take as long as two years to come to trial. This is unacceptable and these cases, with all of the related requests for discovery information and delays, should be pro-actively managed by requiring lawyers to stick to deadlines, produce discovery and be ready to try their cases expeditiously. I would work closely with the Trial Court Administrator to see how I could help jury weeks productive. Frequent calendar break downs are an inefficient use of court time.

  • Family Court in Durham consists of juvenile, abuse/neglect and dependency cases, child support and domestic relations cases. This is my primary area of legal expertise and the place where I think I can use my background to make the courts most efficient and effective. I was the first Board Certified Family Law Specialist in Durham County (1991). I was the course planner for the very first seminar given by the NC Bar Association on juvenile law and abuse and neglect cases (Advocacy in Juvenile Court, January 1987) and I was one of the first "attorney trainers" to speak about the role of an attorney representing parents in DSS cases at our Guardian ad Litem training here in Durham. I am the immediate past president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and have long been an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association Family Law Section. As an expert in domestic relations law and an active member of the Durham County Bar, I have on several occasions and over many years, at the request of our District Court judges, served on the first bench/bar case management committee and several subsequent committees responsible for preparation of our local rules of court. My reputation in the bar for being organized, on time and a stickler for getting things done will serve me well on the bench.

    In addition to providing a fair hearing to all persons, the role of a family court judge is to be aware of the needs of families appearing in her courtroom, to make appropriate referrals to services and/or direct the case to the appropriate service-provider in our court system, to ensure a timely opportunity to be heard by an open-minded decision-maker and to render prompt decisions in cases. The Administrative Office of the Courts did a study in 2003 which determined that over 70% of the litigants with domestic relations cases indicated that they did not receive a prompt decision in their case. In order to render a prompt decision, a judge will be well-served to have a thorough background and understanding of the substantive law governing family law cases and related financial issues; that will shorten the time required to make prompt decisions. The decisions made in Family Court are critical to the functioning of our community. They are rarely appealed because of cost so the decisions are, for the most part, final; thousands of families each year are impacted by decisions made in Family Court. Without strong families, we will not have a strong citizenry; and there is a relationship between strong families and crime. As a judge I will make sure that the maximum financial resources due to each family (such as child support) are paid and received. In doing so, I will empower the primary care-taking parent to have more time to spend with and taking care of his/her family. I will make sure that kids have access to all of the adults who love them, support them and are in their family system. It is important that when there is a break down of the family system, children have access to both parents including the non-residential parent; this kind of access is best facilitated by prompt custody hearings and effective decisions. If the family is irretrievably broken, and parental rights are terminated, those decisions need to be made as rapidly as possible so that children have permanent placement to maximize their opportunities to get an education and grow up as productive citizens. I have visited foster home situation and group home placements for children; I understand the drastic nature of the decision to end a parent's rights and I will make those decisions in appropriate cases. In contrast to my opponents, I am uniquely qualified by the depth of my training, expertise and experience to serve the public in family court.

    6. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Criminal District Court?

    The following are specific priorities for Criminal District Court:

  • Cases with attorneys can be segregated and moved, perhaps, more quickly than those without. From the victim and community viewpoint, justice delayed is justice denied; that contrasts with the defendant's right to a speedy trial and, in some cases, her/his desire to defer punishment. Certainly cases where lawyers are present and ready should be resolved to minimize the number of people required in the courtroom. Additionally, consideration should be given to limiting the costs for court-appointed counsel for "waiting time."

  • I would use the information gathered by pre-trial screeners to determine bonds for defendants consistent with balancing public safety and assuring the appearance of the defendant at future court dates.

  • I plan to make it a priority to actively require law enforcement officers, defendants and lawyers to be on time and to keep their scheduled dates so that court starts on time and can keep moving.

  • I'd like to explore whether a judge could assist in setting up a scheduling system so that the assigned assistant district attorney and the defense lawyer could meet expeditiously to discuss unindicted felony cases. Perhaps this could work like a pre-trial conference in civil court. At this conference, the presence of clients would not be required and lawyers could use that time to negotiate. A scheduled conference time would ensure the availability of a lawyer from the district attorney's office to meet with defense counsel and would permit defense counsel to plan accordingly; that might limit waiting time which costs the state extra in cases with court appointed counsel. This kind of scheduling might limit the chaos that often results from lawyers having multiple cases in other courtrooms all at the same time, a problem which results in frequent delays. A set time to determine the projected course of this kind of case may avoid repeated continuances for a variety of reasons and, relatedly, would avoid the repeated appearance by these defendants only to have the case continued. I recognize that there is a tension between this kind of planning and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) mandates about concluding cases on their timelines. On the other hand, some exploration with that office and our judges might workout a compromise that would work for both the Durham County District Court and the AOC so that Durham isn't penalized when AOC looks to allocate scarce resources.

  • There should be actively scrutinized and planned schedules for law enforcement officers' court cases. Cases would also move more smoothly if there was a greater effort to make sure that law enforcement officers are in court at the beginning of the court session on their scheduled court dates. They should, of course, be released at the earliest time; on the other hand, it is my experience that cases get resolved faster when the lawyers, defendant and officer is present. When an officer gives notice of a vacation, that information should be transmitted to the scheduler so that those cases can be continued without requiring the presence of a defendant or his/her lawyer. If coordination is required it might be handled by a designated person in the district attorney's office who could work with a designated scheduler in the police department, highway patrol or sheriff's office.

    My organizational and management skills are suited to helping to implement creative efficiencies in Criminal District Court.

    7. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Civil District Court?

  • As of this writing, pre-trial conferences in civil cases are, in my view, of limited utility in keeping cases moving toward settlement or trial. My understanding of the intricacies of civil cases permits me to know what needs to be done to get a case ready for trial and to know when a case is languishing because of inattention of the parties or lawyers. In each case, I will have meaningful pre-trial conferences to determine whether the parties and/or their lawyers are making efforts to resolve the case and, if not, I will impose and enforce deadlines and ask what efforts they are taking to exchange the information which is required by each of them to ready the case for trial.

  • I will try to schedule "office hours,"outside (before or after) of regularly scheduled court time. In that way, I will make myself available to meet with lawyers to work to eliminate the interrupting scheduled hearings with "breaks."

  • I will review court files ahead of time so that I'm familiar with the issues of the cases. In complex cases, I will work with lawyers to eliminate as many evidentiary issues as possible on a pre-trial basis so that I can be familiar with the exhibits and evidence as the hearing or trial happens. With that preparation, trials will proceed more efficiently, my rulings and decisions will be more informed.

  • In civil domestic violence cases and family law cases, I will render a judgment from the bench in open court which contains, at a minimum, the requisite findings to 1) support the court order and 2) to make clear to the lawyers and the parties how I reached my decision. At present, this is not a common practice in many district courts around the state. It is my belief that this would ameliorate some of the confusion, anger and controversy that often happen when the lawyers are left to prepare an order without guidance from the bench.

    I've worked more than 40 hours per week to build a successful legal practice and, in addition to working as an attorney, since early in my career, I've volunteered over one hundred hours each year in the service of various bar association activities, and I've been an active participant in my synagogue and several social justice organizations. I know what hard work is and what public service can and should demand. I am organized, have good reasoning and listening skills and I am decisive. These are all attributes we should look for in a district court judge.

    8. What role does ideology play in the performance of this office?

    A judge should not express a political ideology. We expect our judges to make impartial decisions based on evidence and the law. Judges should not make decisions based on a personal political belief or agenda. A judge should, by personal and professional conduct demonstrate the highest level of honorable behavior; I have, by my actions as a citizen of Durham, my participation in bar activities and social justice organizations demonstrated that I am a principled and honorable lawyer and individual. As an elected public official, a demonstration of ethical conduct and sound, fair decision-making are the only role that "ideology" plays in being a judge.


    ANN MCKOWN
    Party: Democrat
    Date of Birth: July 16, 1949
    Campaign Web Site: www.JudgeAnnMcKown.com
    Occupation & Employer: District Court Judge, 14th Judicial District (Durham County); State of North Carolina
    Years Lived in Durham County: 29

    1. Why are you seeking the office of District Court Judge at this time?

    I am the incumbent and have held this position since I first was appointed and then elected and re-elected. Thus, I am seeking to retain the seat I presently hold.

    Service as a District Court Judge is the hardest and most challenging work of my career, but is rewarding in so many ways that it would be impossible to list all of them. For me, every day presents a new opportunity, and a new challenge, to serve the people of our community. Most people who have business with the courts conduct their business in District Court. My colleagues and I decide important issues that affect the lives of Durham citizens, such as who gets custody of a child, what happens to a juvenile who has run afoul of the law, and how marital estates are divided when people divorce. In addition, most criminal and traffic charges are disposed of in this court. Working in District Court gives me the opportunity to make a difference in our community and in the lives of our neighbors.

    I am running to keep this position because I believe my knowledge, skills, experience, and temperament are well suited for this important role as a public servant, and I am the most qualified candidate for this office. I have served eight and a half years on the bench and have decided more than 50,000 cases as a judge. When cases I have decided are appealed, my decisions typically are affirmed. I was honored to be the Durham County bar's nominee for judge in 1997, to be appointed to that position in 1998, and to be retained each time I have run for re-election since then. I think that one of the reasons I was nominated and appointed was the breadth of my experience as a practicing attorney, which has been invaluable to me as a judge. For twenty years before becoming a judge, I practiced as an attorney handling a wide variety of criminal and civil cases. I was the first female to be a Durham County prosecutor, and I also have defended criminal cases. I have represented both fathers and mothers in Family Court. I represented plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases, where the rights and incomes of our county's citizens were at stake. No-one else running for my seat has such broad experience in all areas of the law that would come before a District Court Judge, and none of them has any judicial experience whatsoever. Quite simply, I believe that I can do the best job for our city and county of anyone who seeks this position.

    2. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

    I applaud the Independent's mission, and agree with the principle that our community and our courts should be just--both fair and unbiased. In my twenty years as a practicing attorney, I represented people from all walks of life, all religions, all genders, and all races. I have worked both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in civil court, and have represented husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers, in family matters. My goal in every case was to see justice done, and I represented my clients zealously, regardless of the circumstances that had brought them to my office. My colleagues respected that approach, and I believe it is one of the reasons I first was appointed as a judge and is a large part of the reason why I have continued to be elected. As a judge, I treat everyone who comes into my court fairly and with dignity and respect regardless of their race, gender, or socio-economic background.

    No judge can promise that his or her service will ensure a just community. Justice requires participation from everyone. At the same time, I have used my position as a judge to help promote justice within our community, and certainly intend to continue doing so if re-elected.

    As a judge, I work with families and young people on a daily basis. Young people are our community's future. My goal is to recognize the early signs of trouble, and intervene in ways that connect our kids and their families with community services. For example, I started a school-based intervention program for at-risk kids called Truancy Court. When a Durham County youth stops attending classes on a regular basis, he or she--with a parent or guardian--is required to attend a weekly session with a district court judge, a school social worker, and other school personnel. The Durham County Truancy Court program won a national award from the American Bar Association in recognition of its value and our leadership.

    That work, as well as my approach to deciding cases, and other areas of leadership, have resulted in my being selected to serve on the Education Committee of the North Carolina Conference of District Court Judges. There, my colleagues and I decide how new and continuing judges across North Carolina will be educated, both in the law and in the philosophy of how to decide cases. It is a blessed opportunity to instill in others the principles of equality and justice that I hold dear. I intend to continue that work if re-elected.

    I have lived and worked in Durham for almost 30 years. From my earliest years as a new lawyer and new assistant district attorney, I became aware of the lack of resources and support for victims of crime and violence. I developed services and helped found programs to help battered women and rape victims--programs that still are at work in our community. My service continued with Habitat for Humanity, where I worked with families making transitions to permanent housing. Those who are interested can learn more about my background of community service by visiting the website my campaign has established, at www.JudgeAnnMcKown.com. As my background shows, I have invested in our community and our principles of justice for many decades. I will continue to do so if re-elected.

    3. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?

    I plan to serve throughout the term and to continue serving as long as I am elected to this office. Judges are not required to retire until they are seventy-two years old. I am in my fifties.

    4. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Criminal Court, and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    There are separate courts, or courthouses, for criminal, civil, family court, and juvenile cases, so let me start by giving some background on District Court in general. District Court judges are the primary point of contact between the citizens of Durham County (and those who pass through our borders) and the court. District Court judges decide all civil cases where the amount in dispute doesn't exceed $10,000. With consent of those involved, we can decide cases of any amount. We decide all domestic matters--from divorce, to child custody and child support, to distribution of marital property (regardless of the amount involved--even if it is a multi-million dollar estate). We decide all misdemeanor cases as well as traffic cases, and we hold preliminary hearings to decide whether someone will be required to stand trial for an alleged felony. We also have exclusive jurisdiction to decide juvenile matters.

    District Court judges almost invariably sit without a jury; serving the function of both jury (fact finder) and judge. In criminal and juvenile court, we sit without a jury. In civil cases, some cases are tried to a jury and some just before the judge. In all cases, the judge must decide the legal aspects of the case. Where there is no jury, the judge decides the facts as well.

    Unlike federal court district judges or North Carolina appellate judges, North Carolina district court judges have to do everything ourselves, from legal research to preparing our orders. We don't have law clerks, research assistants, or even administrative assistants. We don't specialize in a particular type of law. We preside over family courts (domestic law and juvenile law), civil, and criminal courts. Because we have no backup assistance, it is particularly important that district court judges have a good, broad background of knowledge and experience in the law. It also is important that we acknowledge we don't know everything, and that we be willing to do the work to learn the law when new issues arise.

    I believe that it is my duty to be on time and treat the people who appear before me with dignity and respect. It is important to process cases as quickly as possible, but on the other hand, it is important to allow litigants to be heard so that they leave the court knowing that they were treated fairly. Some candidates suggest that they would issue decisions with unusual rapidity--even that they always would rule from the bench. I disagree. Where the law is unclear, it is important to do sufficient research to ensure that the decisions I make are justified and will be affirmed if appealed. Appeals are expensive; it is better to be right the first time. My record on appeal bears this out, and despite the care that I take with each case, I maintain essentially no backlog of undecided cases. (Right now, in fact, I think there are only two cases that I have heard but have not yet issued my final ruling. Thus, my approach is to move rapidly but carefully--"judicially" in the best meaning of that term.

    I work to be calm and patient with those who come before me, even when they themselves are disruptive. There have been countless litigants, attorneys, witnesses, and others who have participated in my court--I have presided over more than 50,000 cases. The eight years that I have spent on the bench have helped me develop the important qualities a judge needs in order to serve in this demanding environment.

    As a result of my experience trying and deciding these 50,000 cases as well as my twenty years of experience as an attorney (first as assistant district attorney, then in private practice) before I ever became a judge, my experience far exceeds that of my opponents.

    Durham District Courts are under more pressure than ever because of inadequate funding and resources for the judicial branch of government. Those who do not understand that the Legislature controls funding for clerk and judicial positions sometimes blame judges for overcrowding both of the courthouse itself and of the courtrooms and court dockets. In Durham, the problem does not lie with the judges. According to the National Center for State Courts, North Carolina ranks 39th in per capita judicial branch expenditures and ranks 48th in per capita judicial employees. In contrast, North Carolina ranks 6th in the number of felony filings and 9th in the total number judicial filings. Without more resources it is difficult, at best, to give each case the time and attention it deserves. Last year, my colleagues and I handled almost 60,000 cases in Durham County District Court under work conditions that can best be described as entirely inadequate.

    One consequence of under-funding, I have learned in my years on the bench, is that in criminal court, judges all too often have to make decisions about negotiated pleas without enough information about either the defendant or the facts of the case. I continue to believe that this is a disservice to the people of Durham and will continue to lobby for more resources for criminal court. On the bright side, the County Commissioners (who must authorize changes to the physical building--the courthouse itself) recently approved moving forward with plans for and construction of a new Durham County courthouse.

    My experience in the court system as a judge, my experience as an attorney before I became a judge, and my experience in our community, all combine to give a breadth of experience that serves all of us well and that is unmatched by any of my opponents.

    5. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Civil Court, and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    My function in civil court is the same as in criminal court, and I refer you to my response to the preceding question. My judicial philosophy is simple. I believe that every person who comes before the court deserves a thoughtful and careful analysis of the facts and a just and fair application of the law. I have spent the majority of my time in civil court since becoming a judge in 1998. In my twenty years of law practice before becoming a judge, I represented people from all walks of life in civil court.

    6. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Criminal District Court?

    Much of what I would say in response to this question has already been said above. I constantly work with my colleagues in an effort to improve the administration of justice in all our courts. The work I did to bring Truancy Court to Durham is an example of one of these innovations, and I continue to look for ways to use our court system not just to punish wrong-doers but to deter future crime. I have worked and continue to work with the county on substance abuse problems, and currently chair the Substance Abuse Committee of the Durham County Criminal Justice Partnership Board. Substance abuse is behind much of the crime in Durham; helping offenders get off drugs and alcohol, and stay off them, ultimately will help all of us.

    As mentioned above, the judicial system as a whole is underfunded; although it is the "third branch" of government, it receives only 3% of the state's budget to fund the operation of the courts and pay for our staff. Separately, we are dependent on County resources for the courthouse itself. The result of underfunding is apparent both in our facilities and in the number of judges and support staff that we have to deal with the burgeoning numbers of cases. I have been involved for several years in the effort to secure better support and facilities--a struggle that has not been a priority for either of my opponents even though other lawyers and members of the public have helped substantially. One very significant example of lack of resources that affects criminal court is the state of our courthouse. It is too small, and its inadequacy becomes particularly apparent when we are dealing with criminal and traffic cases. There simply is not enough room in the courthouse to hold those who must appear before us. I have been active in pushing for new facilities, and I am glad to say that the County Commissioners are working to ensure that the new courthouse--that already is being designed--has the type of facilities that we need to handle our growing population.

    In other work to improve the administration of justice in criminal cases, I continue efforts to streamline the process in the courtroom itself, so that members of the public can get their cases heard as rapidly as possible, minimizing the time they need to take off from work. My experience in the Court--during which time I and my colleagues have tried numerous different case management techniques--has shown me which ones work and which do not. My work on the District Court Conference's Education Committee lets me know what other judges around the state and the country are trying, as well. Again, these types of experiences are something none of the other candidates possess, and are helpful.

    7. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Civil District Court?

    I don't want to repeat myself, and so I refer you to my earlier responses for most of what I would say in response to this question. My eight and a half years on the bench and my twenty years of practice as a lawyer have provided me a wealth of experience from which I can see the shortcomings in the system and can be--and am being--an effective advocate for improving the administration of justice in Durham's District Court. I constantly work to improve not only my own knowledge, but also those of other judges, on new laws affecting our work as the Legislature passes them. My leadership in this area is apparent from my service on the state's Education Committee for District Court Judges. My community service--both past and present--ensure that I am aware of the changing demographics of Durham, and the new needs that presents for translators and other court services. My emphasis not merely on speed of decision but also on quality of decisions helps reduce the numbers of appeals and the uncertainty and disruption that can occur if a judge makes a mistake in--for example--deciding who should have custody of a child.

    8. What role does ideology play in the performance of this office?

    For the most part, ideology should play no role in the performance of any judicial office. A judge should decide the cases before her based on the law and how it applies to the particular facts of that case.

    In practice, no-one can prevent his or her past experiences from affecting his or her interpretation of facts. A wise judge recognizes this and strives to overcome any bias that might result. Ideology, in my opinion, is particularly dangerous when it suggests that one group is better than another--whether that group is racial, religious, or otherwise. I personally strive to recognize any potential biases and to ensure that my decisions are untainted by that type of ideology.

    My personal ideology--and one that I think is valuable to a judge--is the ideology of equal justice for all under the law. A look at my record of community service shows I have demonstrated my adherence to that principle. The broad range of colleagues and friends who have endorsed me (some of whom can be seen at www.JudgeAnnMcKown.com) shows convincingly that my support crosses racial, gender, and religious boundaries--and it does so because my ideology, and my role as a judge, is unaffected by such distinctions.


    TRACY HICKS BARLEY
    Party: Democrat
    Date of Birth: August 4, 1961
    Occupation & Employer: Self-Employed Attorney, Tracy Hicks Barley & Associates, PA
    Years Lived in Durham: 13 years

    1. Why are you seeking the office of District Court Judge at this time?

    I am seeking the office of District Court Judge at this time for two primary reasons; first, with the retirement of the Honorable Richard Chaney, the Durham Bench will be without its most experienced Juvenile Court Judge. At a time when Durham County is facing a crisis among its juveniles, we need a Judge who not only understands the law and procedures of Juvenile Court but who is also aware of and understands the needs of juveniles and their families. I have practiced in Juvenile Court on a weekly basis for the last 13 years. My commitment to juveniles and juvenile justice related issues is unquestioned. Neither of my opponents have this consistent experience. The incumbent is a Certified Juvenile Court Judge but in eight years in office, she served only briefly in Juvenile Court during her first term. My other opponent practiced in Juvenile Court briefly over ten years ago as a prosecutor. I am the most experienced of all the candidates for District Court Judge in this area of the law. I can begin serving immediately in Juvenile Court and any other courtroom in District Court.

    Second, it is absolutely crucial that we have a judge who can accurately apply the law in every case, maintain the balance between the volume of cases and fair trials and issue timely decisions. I am that candidate. The incumbent has not been able to achieve this balance; courtrooms over which she presides are inefficient because of lack of timeliness in decisions. Her decisions are frequently delayed, sometimes for months. We need a judge who is willing and able to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions from the bench without fear of appeal, public disapproval or political backlash.

    2. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

    My election to office will help further the Independent's mission to build a just community because I am a person who respects others and I believe that as citizens we have a stake in the lives of every other citizen. I believe in the right to a fair trial and that defendants are innocent until proven guilty; I will render impartial decisions to every defendant regardless of race or socio-economic status. I respect the constitutional right to privacy and the right of women to choose regardless of my personal philosophy; I have been trained by the American Civil Liberties Union to represent minors in Judicial Bypass Proceedings in North Carolina. I have represented many teenage girls in these proceedings because other lawyers refused to. I recognize and respect the changing face of the family; I will support non-traditional custodial arrangements and foster families that are in the best interest of the child. Children deserve the financial support of both parents and this financial support helps create stable homes and neighborhoods; I will apply the law fairly but vigorously in child support actions. Domestic violence plagues our community with male and female victims; I will not minimize the impact of domestic violence on male victims nor will I be dismissive of the claims of female victims of domestic violence. The environment should be protected; our Community Life Court should be expanded and fully utilized to bring awareness to our environment and the importance it plays in our community life.

    Over the last 13 years, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children in gangs. I have seen more children committing crimes because they lack parental supervision. I have seen more children growing up in homes without either parent or where the parents are unemployed, uneducated and substance addicted. These kinds of cases all require special skill and special commitment. An effective District Court Judge must be committed to addressing the needs of an increasing number of families that are in crisis. If these issues are not addressed we will continue to see a negative impact on our public schools and our communities. I have worked tirelessly with hundreds of families in locating resources to help meet the most basic needs to help create a sense of dignity and self worth. I will bring that same compassion to the bench. I believe that justice must always be tempered with mercy.

    3. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?

    If elected, I will serve in this position as long as I am making a difference in the lives of the people who appear before me and in the community. I canl make a difference by (1) respecting the roles and time of all lawyers and law enforcement personnel in the judicial process, (2) insuring that all citizens are afforded fundamental due process, (3) protecting those people who are most likely to be victimized, (4) imposing fair and just sanctions on criminal defendants, and (5) making sure our schools are safe places where children can learn without fear.

    4. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Criminal Court, and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    The function of a District Court Judge in Criminal Court is to preside over trials as a neutral finder of fact. A District Court Judge is required to know the law, apply the law and hold the State of North Carolina to its high burden of proof and insure that the innocent are not wrongly convicted. A District Court Judge is required to impose appropriate sanctions upon a criminal defendant who is convicted; those sanctions should always be just and must absolutely balance the need to protect the community, the severity of the crime and should consider the individual defendant's circumstances as found in the facts of the case.

    I am the best candidate to perform these functions. I have been in practice for 13 years and have represented defendants in Juvenile Delinquency Court, Adult Criminal Court, Federal Court and Capital Post Conviction Litigation. I am in a unique position among all candidates because I have witnessed a client put to death by the State; I understand fully the causal connection between a child neglected and abused by a substance addicted parent who then becomes a delinquent, is placed in foster care, separated from his siblings and later commits the ultimate offense. I know the future that awaits a child whose needs are not met early on. In light of this experience, I am more attuned to the representation afforded juveniles, parents and adult criminal defendants.

    Each of my criminal clients had a story and a family; if elected, I want to hear the defendants' stories in order to mete out justice that is appropriate under the particular circumstances. I have not served as a prosecutor; but as a citizen, I want my family to live in a community where my family and neighbors are safe and enjoy sense of freedom to move about without fear. If elected, I will always impose sanctions and punishment that will protect our community but that will not unconstitutionally infringe on the defendant's right to liberty.

    5. What is the judicial function of a District Court Judge in Civil Court, and what specifically about your qualifications make you the best candidate to perform this function?

    The function of a District Court Judge in Civil Court is to be a neutral fact finder in private cases and matters between individuals, agencies and organizations. These include, domestic cases, cases where injunctive relief is sought, personal injury and other cases where money damages are sought. The judge must hold each party to its burden of proof and apply the law to the facts of the case. The judge, sitting with a jury, must make evidentiary rulings that instruct the parties and the jury without prejudicing the jury against either party. The judge, sitting without a jury, must make a ruling and decide an award of damages, grant restraining orders or make decision that impact a family's composition.

    I am the best candidate for the position. As a general practitioner, I have handled hundreds of domestic cases, personal injury cases and cases seeking injunctive relief. Not all of these have been in District Court. I have the breadth of substantive knowledge to serve as a judge immediately and because I have tried many, many cases I also am extremely knowledgeable of the procedural rules that govern civil matters. I also have the temperament to encourage settlement of some cases without trial, especially domestic cases. The judicial system that we have is not equipped to handle a large percentage of trials. Therefore, I believe a judge must have the wisdom, insight and temperament to recognize the feasibility of resolving cases without trials and be creative in fashioning solutions for families in domestic cases.

    6. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Criminal District Court?

    I believe that one of my greatest assets is my ability to multi-task and make decisions. I can improve the administration of justice in Criminal District Court by creating a courtroom environment where all the parties know in advance that cases will resolved promptly when called, bonds will be fairly set for all defendants, defendants will be presumed innocent and citizens will not be kept in court and out of work any longer than absolutely necessary.

    7. What specifically about your qualifications do you think will enable you to improve the administration of justice in Civil District Court?

    I believe that my years of experience practicing in family court and my thorough knowledge of our Local Family Court Rules and Local Rules of Court will enable me to improve the administration of justice in Civil District Court. Currently, the Durham County Family Court operates as a model for the State and it functions well when decisions are rendered promptly. As a Judge in Family Court and in general Civil, I will always hold lawyers and litigants accountable for the time guidelines imposed by the Family Court Rules and the Rules of Civil Procedure absent compelling circumstances. Where appropriate, more cases will be referred to mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.

    8. What role does ideology play in the performance of this office?

    I believe that my personal ideology should not play a role in the performance of this office. As a lawyer and if elected, a judge, I am sworn to uphold the law notwithstanding my personal ideology. One's ideology, if known, can create the perception of bias or partiality. It is important that the public believes that it can receive a fair and impartial hearing regardless of a judge's ideology.

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