Leto Copeley | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Leto Copeley

N.C. Court of Appeals

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Full Legal Name: Leto Copeley

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Leto Copeley

Seat Sought: NC Court of Appeals

Partisan Affiliation: N/A (non-partisan race)

Date of Birth: June 27, 1954

Home Address: 100 Vireo Lane, Hillsborough, NC 27278

Mailing Address (if different from home): Post Office Box 1061, Hillsborough, NC 27278

Campaign Web Site: www.letoforjudge.com

Occupation & Employer: attorney, Patterson Harkavy LLP

Bachelor's Degree Year & Institution: 1980, Hunter College

JD Year & School: 1983, Harvard Law School

Other Degrees:

Years lived in North Carolina: 27

Home Phone: 919-643-2925

Work Phone: 919-942-5200

Email: lcopeley@gmail.com


1. What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?

A judicial candidate should not approach the job with a personal or political agenda. As a judge I would hear all sides with an open mind and would decide each case on its merits. I am confident that no reader wants to know that their case won't be given a fair hearing because the judge has decided the outcome before even opening the file.

That being said, I am running because I believe very strongly that our courts need judges who are hard working, who will examine all the facts, and who will apply the law consistently and with care. The decisions of the judges on the Court of Appeals have the potential to affect nearly every aspect of our lives, and that is why it is so important that the judges who serve there have the proper background and legal experience for the job.

2. What qualifies you to serve?

During my 27 years as a North Carolina lawyer, I have represented many hundreds of clients in the areas of law that are handled by the Court of Appeals. I have been in the private practice of law for most of my career, and since 1996 I have been a partner with Patterson Harkavy LLP, with offices in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. During my career I have mostly represented working people, in cases such as workers' compensation, employment discrimination, civil litigation, and in family, juvenile and domestic violence cases. Just after law school, I served as a law clerk to a federal judge, James B. McMillan in Charlotte, and followed that service with two years of work for Legal Services of Southern Piedmont.

I have had cases at the trial and appellate levels of state and federal court and before administrative agencies. I am pleased to have been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since 2005 and as one of the Top 50 Female Lawyers in North Carolina Super Lawyers Magazine, 2006-09. I have served as President of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, 1998-99 and on the Board of Directors of Legal Aid of North Carolina, 2002-07. It is my honor to be endorsed by former Court of Appeals, trial, and military judges, and by lawyers who have represented the other side in my cases.

My professional experience qualifies me to serve as a judge, but in addition, my life experience and community involvement have taught me the values of hard work and respect for others that are necessary for effective service as an appellate judge. Shortly after I graduated from high school, I was wholly self-supporting for a number of years in which I worked in an auto parts plant, cleaning houses and waiting on tables, among other jobs, while also putting myself through college. I am married and am very involved in my church, where I serve as the sign language interpreter for a deaf member of our congregation.

3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?

When I decided to run for this office, I realized that while I have every right to my personal political opinions, it would be impermissible for me to bring those views to bear on cases I would hear should I be elected. A lawyer with a political agenda should run for the legislature and not for judge. Our system of justice treats everyone equally before the law, meaning that each party involved in the case has the right to have that case decided by the judge with an open mind, free from outside influences. My approach would be to adhere to this principle.

4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity? FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with?

In keeping with my pledge not to take positions on issues that might come before me I would prefer to discuss the contribution I believe I will make to the Court, rather than errors that may have been made by the incumbent. It is my hope that given my history of hard work and attention to detail, I will be able to join those members of the Court who have been recognized for their thorough and clear opinions, which guide lawyers and the public. In my travels around the state, I meet many lawyers who tell me that they appreciate judges who take the time to examine all the facts of a case and who explain the reasons for their decisions in a transparent manner. Legal decisions from this court should be easy to understand and follow, and I commit to producing that kind of decision.

5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority? What is the role of that court in setting precedent for North Carolina's appellate courts?

During this campaign, I have found that voters are very concerned about the potential impact of the recent Citizens United decision, which held that government could not set special limits on corporate spending in elections. That opinion is now precedent which the public, including our state's courts, must follow. I think the Court's decision was important in causing public discussion, from all points of view, of the role played by money in elections. One part of the decision that hasn't been given as much attention is the Court's upholding of a legal provision requiring disclosure of the funding sources for campaign ads. Openness and transparency are essential to democratic elections. I look forward to seeing whether and how the public and legislatures respond to the decision in the coming years.

The decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting the U.S. Constitution are precedent that the North Carolina Courts are bound to follow. The North Carolina appellate courts are free to interpret the North Carolina constitution, within the constraints of precedent, which judges on the Court of Appeals are in turn bound to follow.

6. Do you feel that North Carolina's current system of judicial elections serves the state well? Are there other forms of selecting judges you feel would function better or worse than the current one?

My campaign is participating in North Carolina's system of partial public financing of appellate judicial elections. Under this system, the candidate must raise contributions from at least 350 registered North Carolina voters in amounts of no more than $500, all before the primary election. A certain amount of additional funding is then provided after the primary, and the campaign cannot raise or spend any more than a limit set by statute. No cash contributions are allowed. I am pleased to be able to participate in this program and believe that it is preferable to the former system, in which the candidate could raise an unlimited amount and the maximum contribution was $4,000. I believe that the public financing system reduces the potential for improper influence, and allows a large group of voters to participate in helping to get the candidate elected. The North Carolina Constitution provides for the election of judges, and any amendment to the Constitution would have to start with the legislature, with approval by the voters.

7. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.

No.

8. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

A judge should be prepared to apply the law as written by the legislature, as it is set forth in the state and federal constitutions, and as it is defined by judicial precedent, no matter how the decision might hurt his or her popularity. The judge, now deceased, for whom I served as a clerk after law school made desegregation decisions in the 1960s that caused him to have to leave his home, go into hiding with his wife, and be surrounded by federal marshals day and night, while he was burned in effigy. Fortunately, those dangerous times are part of the past, but I will never forget Judge McMillan's discussions about having struggled to make the right decision. He is rightly remembered with admiration and fondness by all who appeared before him, and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work for him.

I do not approach this election with any agenda other than to work hard and to be impartial. I will always carry with me Judge McMillan's teachings, to examine thoroughly all the facts of a case, to listen to every legal argument made by each party, no matter how high or how low their standing in the community, and to remember the federal constitutional principle that powers not delegated to the government by the constitution and laws are reserved to the people.

9. Do you favor or oppose applying a plain error review to all alleged errors in capital cases? Do you favor or oppose mandating appellate review in post-conviction capital cases to help avoid arbitrariness in review of post-conviction capital cases by superior court judges? Please explain

The Court of Appeals does not hear capital murder cases. These cases are appealed directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court, so if elected I would not decide such cases.

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