Full Legal Name: Erin Mulligan Graber
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Erin Mulligan Graber
Party: Judicial races are nonpartisan.
Date of Birth: December 5, 1974
Campaign Web Site: www.graberforjudge.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney at Law, Graber Law Firm, PLLC
Years lived in Wake County: I have lived in Wake County since 1997 with the exception of the three years I attended law school in New Orleans (2000-2003).
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District 10 District Court? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
Population growth in Wake County has placed an ever-increasing strain on the resources of our court system. The number of litigants in civil court, and the increasing number of defendants in criminal court mean that cases are frequently delayed or continued and people with pressing issues must sometimes wait months to be heard. In addition to the sheer volume of cases in the courts, economic strain on our citizens is forcing more and more people to represent themselves because they are unable to afford to hire counsel. A judge needs to have patience and be respectful to every person who appears before them, but also needs to be able to efficiently manage the cases in his/her courtroom to afford litigants the opportunity to be heard.
Funding for the Court system was decreased in 2011. One of the biggest impacts of the cuts was the reduction in hourly rates paid to court-appointed attorneys who represent indigent defendants. The hourly rate was reduced from $75 per hour to $55 per hour. As a result many qualified attorneys who represented the indigent have been forced to stop accepting court-appointed work. This not only makes it difficult for the State to meet its Constitutionally mandated duty to provide representation to defendants who cannot afford an attorney, it also raises concerns about the quality of representation that indigent defendants receive. The courts have a duty to ensure that every defendant receives competent representation and a fair hearing.
Effective court programs that focus on rehabilitative efforts and basic personnel have also been cut due to budget constraints. In order to overcome some of the limitations created by cuts to court resources, Judges must be familiar with and rely on community resources and programs to help fill those gaps. Having worked in social services before I began practicing law and through my experiences as an attorney now, I am very familiar with community resources. Involvement of community groups in rehabilitative efforts and treatment for those who need it will also help to relieve some of the pressure on overcrowded court dockets by helping individuals to address many of the problems that brought them to court in the first place.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district court judge? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Before becoming a lawyer I had a substantial amount of training in psychology and worked as a crisis counselor and victim's advocate through Interact of Wake County for three years. I worked as part of a team in the domestic violence criminal courtroom in Wake County. I also taught a class for women who had been charged with a domestic violence offense.
As an attorney, I am appointed to represent those found not guilty by reason of insanity in their recommitment hearings. I also sat on the board of the STAND (Smart Teens Advocating for Non-Violent Dating) program for two years which assisted teens dealing with domestic violence and homelessness issues through a multi-agency collaborative approach. My law practice has focused on criminal defense, juvenile and family lawwhich are the largest percentage of cases that end up in district court. I am also a small business owner, a mother, and a wife. I understand how to prioritize, organize, and handle crisis. I have served in leadership roles as a board member in the Wake Women Attorneys, Wake County Academy of Criminal Trial Lawyers, and the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.
All of this experience has given me not just the legal experience that any Judge needs to apply the law, but the insight into the real dynamics of the problems that bring people into the courtroom in the first place. Having that insight is, I believe, essential in adjudicating cases that will have long-lasting impact on defendants, on victims, on families and on children. In March 2012, my peers selected me as their first choice for this judicial position through the Tenth Judicial District Bar vote. In 2011, I was named an "Emerging Legal Leader" by North Carolina Lawyer's Weekly, an award that exemplifies professional accomplishment and community involvement. My unique legal and life experiences demonstrate my ability to be an effective district court judge.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
A judge should be fair and impartial and never use their position to push their own political agenda. I believe fundamentally that every person is important and every case matters. This is exemplified through my commitment to indigent and pro-bono work. I have been representing those who cannot afford legal representation even before the public defender's office was created in Wake County. I also represent children in juvenile delinquency proceedings. I have been a volunteer attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina since 2004 volunteering my time and services to those leaving domestic violence situations and to others who have sought assistance through Legal Aid.
My commitment to pro-bono work was featured in an article on the front page of North Carolina Lawyer's Weekly in September 2011 in an article titled "Re-defining pro bono". This article highlighted the 250 hours of volunteer legal services I provided to a young man to assist him in his fight for his child. I was also named to the Pro-Bono Honor Roll through the North Carolina Bar Association. I will take this same foundational belief to the bench with me that every person matters and every case is important.
4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I do not believe that a Judge should consider popularity or the effect that a decision will have on his or her next election campaign when making a decision in any case. This is not the job of a judge. I will apply the law to the facts of each case and issue rulings according to the law. While I'm sure that my decisions will not always be popular, they will always be a faithful application of the laws of our State to the case before me.
5. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
A strong judiciary is the foundation of a just community and part of having a strong judiciary is giving every litigant who appears in our Courts a full and fair hearing, treating them with respect, and treating every person the same regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. In addition to making sure that every person who appears in Court has the opportunity to present his or her case, the decisions that I make as a Judge must be thoughtful and take into consideration the impact it will have not just on the litigants but on their children and the community as a whole. It is this—listening to both sides, allowing everyone to have their day in Court, and making thoughtful decisions in every case—that fosters respect for our Courts and Judges and builds a strong judiciary and a just community. As a Judge, I will endeavor to make sure that everyone who appears before me will leave the courtroom knowing that they were afforded an opportunity to be heard, were treated with respect and courtesy, and were able to present their case to a fair and impartial judge.
6. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long will you be able to serve?
I am willing and able to serve as long as our citizens will have me serve. Each term of a district court judge is four years and they must be re-elected at the end of each term by the citizens.
7. North Carolina prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. (Thirteen-year-old juveniles who are charged with felonies can also be prosecuted as adults, if transferred from juvenile court.) A bill to raise the juvenile jurisdiction age to 18 is expected to be considered in the 2012 legislative session. Do you support the age increase? Please explain why or why not.
I have been regularly representing juveniles in juvenile delinquency court for several years and I've seen firsthand the results of treating children as adults in our criminal justice system. I have represented a 13-year-old who was tried as an adult. I also represented a 15-year-old who was not tried as an adult and through education and rehabilitation has since become a productive member of society. I have also represented someone who was just 4 days past their 16th birthday which under our current law automatically he is in the adult system and will have his case on his record for the rest of his life. With a criminal conviction on their record even at a young age this is a barrier to employment and other opportunities. I currently sit on the juvenile board of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.
North Carolina is the only state in the United States that automatically treats a 16 year old as an adult for purposes of criminal court. There is strong evidence, however, that juveniles do not think like adults. They are more susceptible to peer pressure and less likely to think about the long term affects of their actions. The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered a juvenile case from North Carolina (J.D.B. vs. North Carolina) and they have declared that a juvenile's age must be considered when making an objective determination as to whether or not a juvenile was in custody for purposes of Miranda. Additionally in 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States held it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18 (Roper vs. Simmons). Previously their rulings were only applicable to those 16 or under. While the previous statements may have been legal speak in nature, the net effect is the country is moving ahead and we as a state are lagging behind in our treatment of our youth.
Our current system and the proposed legislation both have provisions to ensure that the serious juvenile offenders are held accountable and the public is protected. Accordingly, I support the "raise the age" legislation. If and until that legislation passes, as a judge I will uphold the law and the juvenile code as it is currently written.
8. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
As discussed in the previous question, I have a lot of experience in juvenile court and I have also served as a Guardian ad Litem to juveniles. I have firsthand experience in watching young people being given a chance to make better choices, get help and education to learn how to find alternative choices, and watched them be successful in their lives. I am also active in juvenile organizations, including having served two years on the board of the STAND program helping juveniles deal with domestic violence and homelessness issues and encouraging non-violent dating relationships.
The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitative not punitive in nature. The resources must be present to fund juvenile court to assist them in their goal. Education and early intervention are vital.
Those juveniles who have been adjudicated of a felony are prohibited from participating in after-school sports programs in Wake County which means they have a lot of unoccupied time. Haven House has a boxing program to provide positive role models to those who are or who may be at risk for become gang involved and provides those who are otherwise prohibited from participating in after school sports an outlet for productive use of their time. I have watched this program flourish over the years. Funding programs like this is vital to preventing delinquency and continued gang involvement.
9. What improvements could be made in the Wake County judicial system to expedite the trying of cases and ease caseloads?
The continued use of alternative dispute resolution, like the Family Court Mediation program, helps to settle cases between the parties without having to use court time to resolve those issues. These services are invaluable to ensure court time is available to those who cannot resolve their differences and that children have a safe and stable custodial schedule.
Wake County is fortunate to have a "Family Court" where each case is assigned to one judge as their "assigned judge" who becomes familiar with the family and the family's dynamics. Currently through Wake County's "Family Court" program each domestic judge has an assistant who helps their judge with the administration of scheduling and keeping litigants and attorneys on track with resolving their matters. This program has been instrumental in improving case management and expediting the case loads in domestic matters leaving the role of the judge to preside in court and not having to spend valuable time on administrative matters.
Each one of these examples illustrates creative thinking and problem solving solutions in an era where the budgets for the court system are tighter and tighter. These programs and programs like them are necessary for the continued improvement of the Wake County judicial system and to expedite the trying of cases and case loads.
One highly anticipated improvement is the new court house under construction. The additional facilities will ease some of the crowding in the courtrooms and provide more available courtrooms for both criminal and civil cases.