Name as it appears on the ballot: Richard Diet
Campaign website: DietzforCourt.com
Years lived in the state: 12
Please tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be effective, fair, and impartial on the bench? These might include career or community service—please be specific.
The theme of my campaign to keep my seat on the Court of Appeals has been my impartiality and independence from politics. Through a long career as an appellate lawyer, arguing cases everywhere from our State courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, I’ve seen what good judges must do to be effective. The most important role of a Court of Appeals judge is to reach a just result and then convey that ruling in a thoughtful opinion that is easy for the public—not just lawyers—to read and understand.
In addition, as a former First Amendment lawyer and long-time advocate of free speech, I understand the importance of dialogue. I have written articles and op-eds addressing the importance of the “marketplace of ideas.” I encourage everyone—judges, lawyers, and anyone engaged in civil discourse—to listen first and keep an open mind. If we are willing to talk as a society, good ideas will rise to the top and we will peacefully resolve many difficult social and political issues facing our State.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve on Court of Appeals?
Experience and independence. As the only Court of Appeals judge who is a board certified specialist in appeals, I bring unique insight to the Court that no other judge or candidate can provide. Before joining the Court of Appeals, I was a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, one of our State’s largest law firms, where I handled complex issues and appeals in virtually every area of law that comes before the Court: constitutional law, civil rights law, criminal law, family law, business law, and administrative law. I have personally argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and my work on the Court of Appeals and in private practice earned me numerous awards and honors including being named one of our State’s “Leaders in the Law” by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly and one of the State’s “Legal Elite” by Business North Carolina magazine.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
I subscribe to the values that define our nation and that have driven so many of our great leaders, from George Washington to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: freedom, faith, and equality. As a Court of Appeals judge, I set aside my personal beliefs and policy views and honor the oath I took to uphold the law and defend the rights of those who come before the courts.
What do you believe are the three most important qualities a judge must have to be an effective jurist? Which judges, past or present, do you most admire? Why?
Experience, independence from politics, and a deep understanding of the law. I admire great appellate jurists like Judge Learned Hand, who was skeptical of politicians and charted his own course as a legal thinker. Judge Hand once described himself as “a conservative among liberals and a liberal among conservatives.” I’m proud to have a long list of bipartisan endorsements that reflect my own spirit of judicial independence. The Court of Appeals needs judges like me, who have broad experience in all areas of State law and don’t feel compelled to align themselves with politics and political parties to run their campaigns.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
Many North Carolinians are losing faith in our justice system. We need more Court of Appeals judges like me—who have experience representing ordinary citizens struggling to make sense of the legal system. Too many judicial candidates have experienced our justice system only through the lens of government service or while wearing the robe. There is no replacement for the experience of representing real clients, sitting beside real people and hearing their views of the system.
Before joining the Court of Appeals, I devoted thousands of hours to free legal work for those who could not afford counsel, some years spending the equivalent of one day each week representing low-income families or indigent defendants who could not afford counsel. Understanding the system from the perspective of those most at risk of being deprived of access to justice is vital to ensuring that our decisions as Court of Appeals judges reflect the challenges that people face in our courts.
What do you think are the three most crucial issues facing the state’s judicial system at this moment? Explain how, if elected, you’d help remedy those issues.
And how do you think the Court of Appeals can do to address those issues?
Affordability of legal counsel, criminal justice reform, and politicization of the court system.
With respect to affordability and access to justice, I have been working on solutions for a number of years. As a member of the Bar Association’s Appellate Rules Committee, which drafts the rules governing our State’s appellate courts, and as a member of the North Carolina Courts Commission, I explored ways to provide better access to the appellate courts. For example, I support efforts to offer a pro bono appointment system at our State Court of Appeals similar to those offered by federal appeals courts, which provide an opportunity for litigants with potentially meritorious civil appeals to connect with lawyers offering to represent them at no cost.
With respect to criminal justice reform, many of the approaches that could address problems with mass incarceration, or the need for better rehabilitation programs for offenders, require legislative solutions. But as a Court of Appeals judge, I tackle some of the underlying issues, such as educating my court staff about implicit bias, and in the court opinions that I author, I acknowledge and address arguments raised by defendants concerning the perceived failures of the justice system.
With respect to the politicization of the court system, as explained below, I am committed to avoiding partisan politics in my campaign and will continue encouraging other judges and candidates to do the same. When the public sees judges acting like politicians, it undermines their confidence in the court system.
Do you think the judicial system is becoming too politicized? Explain. If elected, how would you address any perceptions that politics play a role in judicial decisions?
Before joining the Court of Appeals, I devoted a large portion of my legal career to appeals and studying the appellate court system, and I have long been an advocate for exploring better means of selecting appellate judges. I have seen the negative effects of political campaigns by judges—most distressingly, the growing sense among the public that judges are deeply partisan, as many politicians are today, and make political decisions, not legal ones.
To combat this trend, in my campaign to keep my seat on the Court of Appeals I rejected many common campaign tactics that appear partisan. My focus on judicial independence from politics earned me endorsements from a bipartisan field of former Supreme Court justices, past presidents of the Bar Association and State Bar, and other leaders in the legal profession. In my next term on the Court of Appeals, I will continue to emphasize that judges should avoid partisanship and political campaign tactics that harm the esteem of the courts.