Name as it appears on ballot: Robert H. "Bob" Edmunds, Jr.
Date of Birth: April 17, 1949
Campaign web site: www.ReelectJusticeEdmunds.com
Occupation and employer: Justice, Supreme Court of North Carolina; State of North Carolina
Years lived in North Carolina: 51
1. What in your record as a judge, lawyer and/or public official, or other relevant positions, demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office. When speaking about your legal experience, please be specific about the nature of positions held, and whether you were hired, appointed or elected.
Because I have been on the bench for ten years, I have an established record as an elected judge and an elected Justice. My work is available in the published volumes of the Court of Appeals reporters and the Supreme Court of North Carolina reporters. This body of work demonstrates that I have been an effective judge and Justice.
Before being elected to the bench, I practiced both as a prosecutor and later as a criminal defense attorney. A review of the types of cases filed in the Supreme Court (this information is available on the Court's web site) reveals that criminal matters are by far the most common. My experience in the courtroom as a litigator allows me to review these cases effectively. I know from experience that some defendants are not guilty. I know from having defended death-penalty cases that the stakes in these cases really are life and death. As the only Justice on the Supreme Court with experience in all aspects of state and federal criminal law and state and federal criminal appeals, I have brought to the Court invaluable insights into the state's criminal justice system.
2. If you have experience as a judge, please cite at least one majority opinion, and one minority opinion, which you feel best demonstrate your understanding, and interpretation, of the law. If you have experience as a lawyer, please cite at least one case that you argued that demonstrates this understanding. (Please be specific; provide docket numbers, and—if necessary—include documents.) If you have other legal experience, please point to an article, opinion or other piece of writing that best demonstrates the same. Please indicate why you have chosen this particular opinion, case and/or piece of writing.
Majority opinion: Tillman v. Commercial Credit Loans, Inc. 362 N.C. 93, 655 S.E.2d 362 (2008). In this case, the issue was whether a contract was enforceable because it contained a clause that required mediation when a dispute arose between the parties. The parties to the contract had unequal bargaining power and the contract had been drafted by the party with greater power. The effect of the contract was that those with little power could not join together to bring a class action lawsuit against the defendant. The majority of the Supreme Court found that the contract was unconscionable and the mediation clause was unenforceable. However, the grounds on which the majority ruled were broad. Because I believe that the Court should write its opinions as narrowly as possible, I wrote a concurring opinion that was joined by Justice Martin. The concurring opinion reached the same result, but on grounds based on the law of North Carolina. This case demonstrates that I am mindful of the needs of the citizens of North Carolina, especially the powerless, but I also mindful of the importance of a consistent jurisprudence that all citizens can understand and rely on.
Minority opinion: State v. Haselden, 357 N.C. 1, 577 S.E.2d 594 (2003). In this capital case, the prosecutor essentially argued that the jurors should find the defendant guilty, pointing out that God could have rescued Jesus from the cross but instead let the legal process continue to the end. I believed that this argument was unfair and wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Orr, disapproving of the overuse of religious argument in a court of law. As a former prosecutor, I believe that defendants should be convicted only where the law and the evidence support a finding of guilt. Personal attacks on a defendant or an improper appeal to the Bible can prejudice a defendant's right to a fair trial.
3. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please explain.
I have recused myself where appropriate. By tradition, Justices of the Court do not reveal the reasons for recusal, but in every case the recusal was dictated by the Code of Judicial Conduct or the decision to recuse was made after consulting with the Judicial Standards Commission.
Where a potential conflict exists but the Justice does not believe it will affect his or her decision, the Code permits the Justice to reveal the problem through a disclosure of the potential disqualification. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3 (D). If the parties are willing to have the Justice hear the case, the Justice will continue to sit. Because I did not join the bench to avoid issues, I have employed this process on a number of occasions, as when I have held a small amount of stock in a company that has been a party to the litigation.
4. In the case of N.C. v. Frank Delano Washington, which came before the N.C. Court of Appeals, all charges against Washington were dropped because, the appellate court determined, Washington's right to a speedy trial was denied. What is your interpretation of a defendant's right to a speedy trial, and what are the implications of releasing a convicted felon, in an effort to preserve that right? Please provide your opinion of the case, and the role you see judges playing in preserving constitutional rights, versus preserving public safety.
Washington is a case that may come before the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that case or on the issues in the case.
5. This year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that enemy combatants held in the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have a right to file habeas corpus petitions under the federal court system. What is your opinion of Boumediene v. Bush? More generally, what is your opinion of granting constitutional rights to enemy combatants captured in the War on Terror?
Under the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution of the United States, I am bound by the opinions of the United States Supreme Court.
6. One of the most controversial issues in this election year is illegal immigration. Recently, several N.C. counties—including Alamance, Johnston and Wake—have employed the 287(g) program, which streamlines local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. What is your opinion of these counties' handling of this program? Critics say that sheriff's departments in these counties are arresting non-citizens for petty offenses in order to enter them into federal deportation hearings, while local law enforcement agencies insist they are following the rule of law. As someone who, if elected, will interpret the law, what is your legal assessment of these arguments? More generally, can there be discretion in deciding when to apply the rule of law?
As with question 4, this question addresses issues that may come before the Supreme Court of North Carolina.
7. In Kimbrough v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for the possession of crack cocaine were unconstitutional. What is your opinion of this ruling, and on mandatory minimum sentencing laws in general? Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Finally, do you feel that state judges can ever apply discretion in interpreting cases differently than federal guidelines mandate? Please provide examples.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina is bound by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Issues involving appropriate sentences for particular offenses are for the General Assembly. If the sentencing scheme passed by the General Assembly is constitutional, the courts are obligated to enforce it. Those who disagree with the sentencing scheme should run for the General Assembly, not for the judiciary.
8. Does the North Carolina constitution afford more rights than the federal constitution, or the same?
The Constitution of North Carolina can afford rights and protections in addition to those found in the Constitution of the United States. For example, in State v. Carter, 322 N.C. 709, 370 S.E.2d 553 (1988), the Supreme Court of North Carolina found that the state's constitution does not allow a "good faith exception" that permits admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure. The United States Supreme Court has recognized such an exception under the federal constitution.
9. Do you think that drug courts and mental-health courts have a place in the North Carolina judicial system? What is your opinion on "alternative sentencing" and restorative justice? Have you ever issued judgments, or advocated for judgments, that emphasize a mutual resolution between victims and defendants, and/or judgments that emphasize treatment over punishment? Please be specific.
Drug courts, mental health courts, and other problem-solving courts have shown themselves to be effective and useful. Where authorized by law, alternative sentencing and restorative justice are also important tools in the judicial toolbox.
10. What is your interpretation of the purpose of bail?
The purposes of bail are set out in North Carolina General Statute 15A-531, et. seq. The Constitution of North Carolina states in Article I Section 27 that excessive bail is prohibited.
11. 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.
Different standards of review are applied to different alleged errors committed at the trial level. Due in large part to my work on the North Carolina Bar Association's Appellate Rules Committee, appeal briefs in North Carolina cases must now alert the reviewing court to the appropriate standard of review. Different standards of review are applied to different types of alleged error; plain error is one of several standards of review.
Capital cases are tried by the trial division and, if the defendant received a death sentence, the direct appeal is heard in the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court finds no error, the process of post-conviction review begins. On post-conviction review, the hearing is held in superior court with new attorneys representing the defendant. If the trial court finds no prejudicial error in post-conviction review, the case is again reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. This post-conviction appellate review allows the attorneys to raise any issues of arbitrariness in the lower court's post-conviction review.
12. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? In particular, how do you view Canon 7 of the N.C. Judicial Code of Conduct regarding the personal solicitation of campaign contributions, taking positions on issues and endorsing candidates for other offices? What changes would you make to the current system? Please explain.
The General Assembly, popularly elected by the people of North Carolina, has mandated public financing for statewide judicial races. I have run successfully under the old system and am running for reelection under the new system. Because I have faith in the voters' ability to choose the better, more qualified candidate, I am comfortable with either system.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina amended the Code of Judicial Conduct to conform to the requirements set out by the United States Supreme Court in Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002). Because I believe that the public should have confidence that their judges and Justices are impartial, I have continued to decline to address issues or cases that may come before the Court. I have also declined to endorse other candidates for judicial office.
13. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
In ten years on the bench, I have established a record as a fair and impartial judge and Justice. As a result, I have bipartisan support across the State. During that time, both on and off the bench, I have worked with the bar and the public to ensure access to the courts. Specifically, I have been a member of the North Carolina Bar Association's Appellate Rules Committee since 1994. That Committee has worked consistently to make the rules more accessible and easy to apply, both for attorneys and for pro-se litigants. During my tenure as a Justice, the Supreme Court has accepted cases involving pro se litigants and heard those pro se litigants arguing on their own behalf, some successfully. I have joined opinions ensuring that the press had access to public documents. I am a member of the Chief Justice's Commission on Actual Innocence. In sum, my record demonstrates a devotion to the rule of law and a commitment to justice for all.