Kristin Ruth | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Kristin Ruth

Candidate for N.C. Court of Appeals


Name as it appears on the ballot: Kristin Ruth
Date of Birth: 9/28/56
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: District Court Judge (Wake County), State of North Carolina
Years lived in North Carolina: 23 years

1. If you have made pledges, taken positions or otherwise commented on how you might rule in office, what are your top three priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?

I have not made pledges, taken positions on issues or otherwise commented on how I might rule as a Court of Appeals judge. However, there are specific issues of concern that I believe I can address on the Court of Appeals.

Trial Court experience. We have strong appellate judges who have brought different backgrounds to the bench. As a district court judge for 10 years, I know how an opinion from the appellate courts can affect the lives of individuals and families when it comes to decisions being rendered in our trial courts. The vast majority of what trial judges do is governed by the rulings of our Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. We need judges who know how those decisions will impact the way cases are handled at the trial court level. Each case at the trial court level is important in its own right; each decision at the appellate level can impact thousands of cases in the trial courts, and must be decided with a practical understanding of the trial process in mind. Given the increase in the juvenile and domestic docket, and the sometimes highly technical aspect of those cases, my experience as a district court judge would be an important asset at the Court of Appeals.

Effective Judging. My approach in the courtroom has been to focus on judging effectively as well as efficiently. The purpose of our courts is not to simply move cases, but to truly adjudicate cases in a way that promotes clarity in the law. While the procedural rules governing appeals are important to the orderly disposition of cases, there has, in my opinion, been too much emphasis by the incumbent on dismissing appeals, rather than ruling on the merits of each case, due to minor rules violations that do not hinder the fairness of the process or proper appellate review.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the bench? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have spent a fair bit of my time in recent years handling child support enforcement matters. This is a difficult area because of the cycle that often leads parents to get behind in their child support, face jail time because of their failure to pay, and end up further in arrears because they of course cannot work if they are in jail. When I undertook work in child support court, I decided to look for an alternative approach. With support from public and private resources, we built a program that helps parents find work, make their payments and stay active in their children’s lives. As a result of my efforts to take this problem-solving approach, I received the Judge of the Year Award from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, and the Service of Excellence Award from the North Carolina Child Support Council. I have presented seminars on the topic around the country.

Although appellate courts do not have the discretion to be creative in this way, I believe my efforts underscore my appreciation of the practical implications of the law to the every day affairs of the people who pass through our court system. An effective appellate judge must look to provide clear opinions that effectively address the parties’ disputes, and provide guidance for the resolution of future conflicts.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how do your political and legal philosophies show in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

As a judge, my job is to apply the law. I strive to be fair and impartial, and not to either have or imply a political agenda. While I appreciate that voters may want to try to glimpse a judge’s political leanings, judges must make sure that there is no improper suggestion that their particular political philosophy will influence the way they rule in cases.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

As noted in response to question 1, my experience at the trial level will enable me to appreciate the practical effects of my opinions. Likewise, I believe that my commitment to effective judging results in a more just system. As a judge – at the trial or appellate level – I can only make the process more just, but I cannot attempt to impose what I deem to be just outcomes that do not comply with the law.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

At the risk of sounding facile, every decision a judge makes has the potential to cost popularity points. One essential function of the judicial branch of government is to be a check on the popular will.

I have taken the principled stand that, notwithstanding that judges are technically permitted to discuss their position on political issues, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. We receive questionnaires all the time that ask us point blank how we feel about hot button issues. Answering those questions implies one of two things: either a judge (or judicial candidate) is implying that he or she would rule a certain way in a given case, or he or she is simply providing an answer that is designed to get votes. In my opinion, neither is appropriate. Failing to provide the desired answers may result in loss of popularity points, but I hope that voters appreciate the bigger issues at stake.

6. What is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in setting precedent for North Carolina’s appellate courts?

Under our federal system, the U.S. Supreme Court’s role is limited with regard to cases that proceed through our state appellate courts. To the extent that state cases have federal issues, they will generally proceed in federal court. However, our courts are bound to follow the U.S. Constitution and laws where federal issues may come in to play, or where application of our laws may violate the U.S. Constitution or laws. Otherwise, our courts interpret the North Carolina Constitution and laws independent of the federal courts’ interpretation of parallel provisions of the U.S. Constitution and laws.

7. Do you favor or oppose public financing of judicial races? Please explain. What changes would you make to the current system?

I am participating in the Public Campaign fund because I believe it helps remove much of the appearance of impropriety associated with raising large campaign contributions. In general, I do not believe that North Carolina courts or judges have been corrupted by money in politics in the past, but the creation of publicly funded campaigns are a good preventative measure, and an excellent means of increasing public confidence in our judicial system.

8. 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? Please explain.

In my previous campaigns (for my current seat as a district court judge), the Canons prohibited personal solicitations. Canon 7 was changed after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, removing essentially all the prohibitions on political conduct, and replacing them with a recitation of permitted conduct. Most judges I know remain uncomfortable with the idea of direct solicitations, and I am among them. However, we must raise money to qualify for pubic funding. One of the benefits of the public funding system is that there is a limit to what we can raise from individuals.

My view about taking positions on issues is noted above. With regard to endorsing candidates, I have not done so to date. If I were to do so in the future, it would be limited to other judicial candidates, as I do not think it is proper for judges to appear to be political with regard to policymaking positions in the legislative and executive branches. Supporting candidates for such positions implies agreement on political views or positions, which is, in my view, not an appropriate thing to do.

9. Have you ever recused yourself from a case or, as a lawyer, faced a conflict of interest? Please explain.

I have recused myself as a judge in cases in which I previously represented a party.

10. Sometimes state laws conflict with personal beliefs. Please list the two laws with which you are most uncomfortable personally. How do you deal with those conflicts?

For the reasons noted above, I don’t think it is appropriate for me to use my personal beliefs as a benchmark with regard to substantive areas of law. In reality, judges deal every day with laws they may not like. For me, I try to remember that, at the district court level, there are areas where I am able to apply some creativity, and there are some where I am bound by law not to do so. At the appellate level, there is actually less discretion in the sense that the facts are determined by the trial court, and the process is focused on reviewing the lower court for errors. In appropriate cases, Court of Appeals judges sometimes suggest in their opinions that an unclear or unjust matter be addressed by the legislature or the Supreme Court.

11. The passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws has removed some of the discretion judges, juries and prosecutors used to exercise in the sentencing phase of criminal trials. Should judges have more or less flexibility in the sentencing phase than currently allowed under North Carolina law? Please explain.

This is a very frustrating and difficult issue for judges at all levels, but is ultimately a matter for the legislature. There is a point at which the imposition of mandatory sentences may violate constitutional protections, making it a matter for the courts. However, unless that point is reached, the issue is not one that it is proper for the courts to address.

12. 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.

I should note at the outset that, as a district court judge, I do not handle capital cases. Likewise, the Court of Appeals does not hear capital cases, as those go directly to the NC Supreme Court. Thus, I cannot honestly say that I have studied this issue, but the threshold question seems to be whether such review would be constitutionally mandated (making it a matter for the courts) or not, in which case this would be a legislative issue.

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