North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge
Name as it appears on the ballot: Abe P. Jones
Campaign website: http://voteabejones.com
Phone number: 919-307-5475
Years lived in the state: 50 years
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.
I was a Superior Court judge for 17 years, I have about 10 years of experience as a private defense attorney, and I have about 7 years of prosecutorial experience. I was also a county commissioner in Wake County, where I represented all citizens and interests across party and socio-economic lines. I am a member of Martin Street Baptist Church, The Christian Legal Society, the Wake Mental Health Board, and The Justice Theatre Project. Additionally, I have been been teaching Trial Advocacy at UNC School of Law for several years.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve on Court of Appeals?
While there is an abundance of legal talent in our state, I believe it would be difficult to find a candidate with the combined depth and scope of my experience. Before the bench, I have served as both a prosecutor and defense attorney in criminal cases and represented both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases. Behind the bench, I presided over many cases as a long-standing Superior Court judge. While a truly unbiased legal perspective makes me uniquely prepared for this position, Fairness, honesty, intellectual capacity, a working knowledge of the law, and a strong work ethic are qualities that I value and possess.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
I am politically progressive with a few moderate leanings. While I am a strong advocate for law and order, I am also a fierce advocate for civil rights. These beliefs impact my judicial approach by allowing me to see each individual case as it relates to the law while also respecting the individual rights of those who come before me. To me, people are not “cogs in the system.” People deserve and have a right to equitable, justice-based prosecution. I want to be firm, but I also want to be fair and constantly keep checks and balances on implicit bias within our justice system.
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?
The most important qualities are a balanced temperament, high respect for the law, and the desire to research issues when answers are not obvious in the law as it is written. Our laws must constantly adapt to our ever-changing society, and due to these changes, one has to remain flexible in their perspective, but firm in their approach. I admire former chief justice, Henry Frye Jr. because he mentored many young lawyers and always had a thoughtful judicious approach to the way he handled cases. I also admire Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Stephen Bryer. When I took his Administrative Law class in law school, he taught me how to balance the legal details of a case while always keeping “the heart of the matter” in mind.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
Right now, I think there is a lack of trust between constituents and the elected officials and law enforcement they rely on. I want to improve that relationship by doing my job impartially. There are definite cracks in our justice system for several groups of people. I make it a point to be culturally competent, pay close attention to bias, and try my best to be both firm and fair. If elected, I would further INDY’s mission by staying informed of diverse perspectives and remaining loyal to the law at the same time. While it can sometimes be a difficult balance, it is not impossible. Continued legal education and the everyday work of a jurist should include becoming further educated about the challenges fellow North Carolinians are facing by the very people facing those problems. I want to use the law as a tool of order, bridging the differences and challenges we face as a community.
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?
For me, the three most crucial issues are excessive bail bonds, lack of speedy trials, and the fragile relationship between citizens and law enforcement. People are constitutionally entitled to a reasonable bond, and excessive bonds keep people unfairly locked up with no access to due process. Today in North Carolina, someone can be charged with a crime, not tried for that crime, and remain behind bars for several months up to over a year because they cannot afford their bond. When you cannot afford your bond, you cannot afford your liberty. Today in North Carolina, victims of crimes have to repeatedly relive the trauma of their experience every time their case is continued due to a lack of efficiency in the court system and a lack of speedy trials. Today in North Carolina, racial tensions and mistrust of law enforcement are at an all time high with very little state direction. The Court of Appeals relies on fair, impartial judgment, so these politically driven problems cannot logistically be solved by direct action from a judge from behind the bench while they are presiding over a particular case. That being said, I think judges can easily use their position and perspective from behind the bench to inform their advocacy when they take the robe off. That is something I plan to do if elected.
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?
Yes. The judicial system is supposed to be impartial and not dictated by political parties. I personally believe that judges should be selected through the use of a bipartisan committee familiar with the practice of law. Political beliefs certainly play a role in judicial perspectives because our views and experiences inform our perspective. That being said, the goal and the beauty of the law is that we can use the law and its varying interpretations as a system of checks and balances against our political views or legal bias. There is certainly an art to doing this effectively, and I think the experience of having several legal perspectives throughout one’s career should be required in qualifying for the Court of Appeals.