North Carolina District Court 10
Name as it appears on the ballot: Anna Elena Worley
Campaign website: www.WorleyforJudge.com
Years lived in the state: 27
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.
As a District Court Judge, I have worked to fairly and equitably apply the laws of North Carolina. I listen
carefully to the facts presented in court. I am a Family Law Specialist certified by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Specialization and a DRC-Certified Family Financial Mediator. Therefore, I have chosen to serve as a Family Court judge, where I feel I can be most effective. I sit three out of every four weeks in Family Court, hearing cases involving custody, child support, spousal support, division of property, and divorce. I have been able to use my expertise to guide me in how to provide families with resolution to their draining disputes. Finally, my mediator training leads me to try to ensure that before starting a hearing, parties have exhausted their options for alternative dispute resolution. I may even be able to suggest some possible compromises that they have not yet discussed. While it is my job to hear the evidence and enter an order to resolve their dispute, I remind parties that if they are able to reach an agreement, it can be their decision. My expertise enhances judicial economy.
During the fourth week of my rotation, I often sit in Domestic Violence Court. In order to more effectively adjudicate the complexities of cases involving domestic violence, in 2011, 2012 and 2015 I chose to attend intensive national classes on special issues in domestic violence. We spent hours doing exercises to increase awareness of victim and perpetrator behavior, judges’ roles in the community response to domestic violence, cultural issues in domestic violence, and enforcement of civil and criminal domestic violence orders.
As far as those times I sit in misdemeanor criminal court are concerned, I believe my background in family law gives me extra sensitivity to the impact of sentences on the defendants and their loved ones, increasing the fairness of my decisions. I understand that money that I could order be used for a fine might be better applied to supporting a child; or, that arranging affordable daycare so that required community service can be completed may be a serious difficulty.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a district court judge?
I have devoted myself to a district court practice since 1998, when I left corporate law and began practicing family law. I have experience in courtrooms around the State, and have observed practices that assist in the resolution of cases, as well as incidents that are counterproductive to the administration of justice. I have experience not only in domestic and juvenile issues, but also in misdemeanor court, traffic matters, driving while impaired cases, and general civil issues – in all varieties of cases that come before the district court, daily. I am prepared to serve in all capacities required by the district court.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
Judicial races are non-partisan races, and courtroom decisions are not based on personal beliefs, but on the law. Our founding fathers promised justice for all, and I have done what I can to maintain that promise. As I approach each case, I remember that the resolution of cases lies not in personal beliefs, but in the application of the laws to a litigant’s particular facts. A judge should not hold a litigant’s beliefs against him. When the choices of a litigant seem different from what one might have chosen for oneself, a judge must remember that the Bill of Rights protects all manner of philosophies, speech, and beliefs. Over the years, I have chosen to participate in groups and organizations that work to protect those with the least access to resources, the least access to education, and the least access to justice. I believe that our courts are not only responsible to the people, but responsible for providing a fair and balanced playing field to the people who are at highest risk.
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?
In addition to being knowledgeable, a judge must be willing to learn, and to consider issues from new perspectives. A judge must be curious and continue to study not only the laws, but the scientific and sociological information that comes up in their cases. Judges must be patient and fair. In family court, the parties both represent themselves in approximately half of the cases filed. As the judges hearing these cases, providing a less intimidating environment, so that litigants can present their facts without getting overwhelmed by courtroom traditions or rules; to allay the their nervousness at stress-inducing trials, is also important.
Impartiality does not mean that a judge should not, in her extra-professional capacity, support social issues. To that point, one of the judges before whom I practiced, that I most admired, was the late Jennifer Green. She worked tirelessly to bring attention to the plight of families suffering domestic violence. She found ways to innovate the processes of applying for protective orders. She connected providers of mental health care, law enforcement, and crisis housing to build a stronger Wake County response to victims in need. Education and prevention of domestic violence is an important issue to me, and she helped move our county forward.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
The District Court is the face of the entire court system. The majority of people who have any dealings with a court find themselves in court for either a traffic matter, or a domestic matter. True, the court has other vital civil and criminal functions, but if we cannot dispense these most basic services in a just manner, then the rest of the court’s services will be questioned by all parties. I endeavor to treat everyone patiently and courteously. I seek to find the balance in every case between protecting the public and a sentence that would be unduly punitive to a defendant. I am committed to giving everyone a fair hearing, respectfully listening to the evidence provided, and allowing everyone his say in court.
What do you think are the three most crucial issues facing the state’s judicial system at the moment? Explain how, if elected, you’d help remedy those issues. And how do you think district courts can play a role?
The trial courts are overextended. Population growth in many areas of the State has outstripped the resources of the courts. Although North Carolina is now the ninth largest state by population, we have the third lowest spending for our judicial system. We have too few courtrooms, clerks and judges to meet the needs of our population, causing delays and continuances. One of the three Constitutional branches of North Carolina government, the court system is only a little over 2% of the State budget. To prevent abuses, costs and fines are not used to fund our system, and should not be. But, unless the legislature provides for growth, backlogs will get worse, and justice will not be achieved.
Similarly, indigent litigants do not have sufficient resources available to them. We are lucky in Wake County to have a strong group of Public Defenders. They are underpaid and overworked. Their lists of appointed clients demand more hours of services than they can comfortably prepare to offer in the days leading to trial. To counterbalance the power of the State, and its paid prosecutors, we must do better at providing protection of the rights of those who cannot afford to pay for attorneys.
Finally, there are several issues for which litigants have a right to an interpreter if English is not their primary language. Interpreters are available not only to criminal defendants whose freedom might be in jeopardy, but also to those litigants who have a Constitutional right such as child custody at issue. We have few interpreters available at the State’s expense. For some languages, the courts only certified interpreters are available only by telephone. Trying to make sure that we have interpreters available for hearings that might take several hours or days, requires weeks or months of preplanning. The judicial system is making strides, but our non-English-speaking population is growing quickly. We need to identify and qualify competent interpreters more quickly than we do now.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district you’re running in?
While the District Court faces several issues every day, I continue to feel strongly that the families of Wake County deserve a judiciary that remembers that children feel the effects of our courts’ decisions, even when they are not parties to an action. In our juvenile courts, dealing with abuse, neglect and dependency, and in custody and child support matters, the rulings that are made today, affect our county’s citizenry for years to come. In addressing children’s issues, I strive to ensure that children whose families are involved in domestic violence have only safe, non-abusive interactions with their parents. I believe that it is important to make sure that children have stability, including having caregivers that they can depend upon to provide for their basic needs and emotional development. The court must be prepared to react with meaningful hearings when emergency situations arise, whether a crisis presented by the acts of the child or his custodians.
Do you think the judicial system is becoming too politicized? Explain.
Some of our judicial races will, for the first time in years, return to placing a party affiliations after candidates’ names this year. Nonetheless, district court candidates continue to run as non-partisan candidates. When elected, judges should apply the law without regard to who the parties are, or who propagated the law. So, while our State Constitution provides for judges to be elected, the judiciary should refrain from extreme or inflammatory statements and politicization of issues. It is inappropriate for judges to decide controversies based on any sort of partisan, extra-evidentiary considerations.
Some district courts are beginning to implement misdemeanor diversion program for young and/or first-time offenders. What are your thoughts on such programs?
I strongly support the implementation of misdemeanor diversion programs, particularly for our school-aged children. North Carolina is one of only two states that charges 16 year olds as adults in our criminal justice system. So, if a child gets into a fight at school, he may create a permanent criminal record if the school resource officer or other law enforcement is notified. That record will impact future school opportunities, job offers, perhaps even housing options. So, if there is a way to address behavior that fellow students and teachers should not have to tolerate, without permanently stigmatizing the youngster, that is highly preferable. A one-time misdemeanor event, should not permanently criminalize a person, particularly a child.
Bails are often issued to ensure that someone suspected of a crime shows up to court. But in some cases the bail amount is so high that the accused―especially those with lower incomes―cannot afford it and thus will remain behind bars without being convicted. How can district courts work to ensure a fair bail system for everyone?
Judges must carefully weigh the abilities of a defendant against the safety of the community. To promote fairness in bonds, judges should carefully consider the means of the defendant, her ties to the community, her connection to her home, and her employment. Similarly, the nature of the alleged offense should be of significant import. If a defendant is unlikely to appear without a bond, a reasonable bond should be imposed that will ensure appearance. But the same $10 that one person can spend on discretionary items such as entertainment, might be what another has to use to feed her family for the day. Knowing which it is, should affect the amount of the bond.
What are your thoughts on implementing mental-health treatment courts across the state?
The number of people who come into contact with the justice system because of their mental health, is staggering. We were informed earlier this year that the Wake County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the State. That is unacceptable. Jails are not prepared to provide therapeutic treatment. Certainly, defendants should be screened to insure that they were not an ongoing danger to themselves or others, before entering into such a program. But, if we can develop courts that allow defendants to receive proper treatment within the community, while monitoring their progress toward completing an appropriate sentence or diversion program, such courts should be implemented.