Martha Geer | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Martha Geer

N.C. Court of Appeals


Full Legal Name: Martha Anne Geer

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Martha Geer

Seat Sought: North Carolina Court of Appeals (Geer Seat)

Partisan Affiliation: Democrat

Date of Birth: November 24, 1958

Home Address: Raleigh, NC

Mailing Address (if different from home): PO Box 12066, Raleigh, NC 27605

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Judge, N.C. Court of Appeals

Bachelor's Degree Year & Institution: 1980, Bryn Mawr summa cum laude

JD Year & School: 1983, University of North Carolina with high honors

Other Degrees: N/A

Years lived in North Carolina: 23 years

Home Phone:

Work Phone: (919) 831-3650


1. What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?

When serving on the Court of Appeals, the top priority for every judge must always be to correctly apply the law as established by the legislature, the North Carolina Supreme Court, prior decisions of the Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court (with respect to federal law). Judges on the Court of Appeals must understand that it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of trial judges or juries, but rather to correct errors of law. In doing so, we must ensure that our decisions are easily understood and applied by trial judges and lawyers. It is critical that our opinions be clear and precise. My top priority if re-elected will be, therefore, to continue to resolve appeals in accordance with the law in carefully written opinions.

2. What qualifies you to serve?

I have served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals since January 2003, after having been elected by more than a million North Carolina citizens in November 2002. In that time, I have participated in deciding more than 2000 appeals. In those appeals, I have written the deciding opinion approximately 700 times. Over the past seven years, the Supreme Court has rarely reversed me, with my opinions becoming the law over 98% of the time. I was selected in 2005 as Outstanding Appellate Judge of the Year by the Advocates for Justice. Prior to my election, I was in private practice for 19 years and was named as one of the top lawyers in North Carolina by Best Lawyers in America and Business North Carolina magazine. Because of my substantial appellate practice, I understood, even before being elected, the proper role of an appellate judge and how important the Court of Appeals is to the lives of North Carolina citizens.

3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?

Politics plays no role in my work on the Court of Appeals. I work hard to ensure that, in writing my opinions, I am implementing the intent of the legislature and the United States and North Carolina Supreme Courts without any personal agenda. It is my responsibility to carefully research the law and apply it to the issues on appeal. My goal is to craft an opinion that accurately sets out the applicable law and shows how it should be applied to a given set of facts.

4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity? FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with?

Blinson v. State: This opinion recognizes that the authority to decide the proper role of economic incentives in recruiting new business and jobs rests with the legislature and with the voters who elect our legislature. It is not the function of the appellate courts to decide whether the legislature's choice is good or bad policy.

Mason v. Dwinnell: This opinion sets out the analysis to be applied, based on North Carolina Supreme Court precedent, in determining whether a person who is not a biological parent – such as an aunt, a step-parent, or a non-marital partner – may obtain visitation rights as to a child with whom the person has a parent-like relationship.

State v. Rose: My opinion specifies what law enforcement must do – and what a trial court must consider – in order to ensure that check-point stops in North Carolina comply with the constitutional requirements set out by the United States Supreme Court.

Wake Cares, Inc. v. Wake County Bd. of Education: In this opinion, we upheld a local school board's determination that educational and economic needs required that some children attend year-round schools. The ultimate power to decide local school policy then rests in the hands of the voters, who can express their views through the ballot box.

5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority? What is the role of that court in setting precedent for North Carolina's appellate courts?

I believe Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the most important recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. While I am concerned about the impact that decision will have on elections, including those in North Carolina, my personal views are irrelevant since the Supreme Court based its decision on the First Amendment of the federal constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has the final say as to the federal constitution and federal statutes. North Carolina appellate judges are bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting federal law, including the federal constitution. When I took my oath to uphold the U.S. constitution, I necessarily swore to abide by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting that constitution. North Carolina appellate judges are not, however, bound by the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting the North Carolina constitution so long as the North Carolina constitution does not conflict with the U.S. constitution.

6. Do you feel that North Carolina's current system of judicial elections serves the state well? Are there other forms of selecting judges you feel would function better or worse than the current one?

I recognize that I would not likely be serving on the Court of Appeals if we did not elect judges. Nevertheless, I am concerned that because of the public's lack of information about candidates for judicial races, voters frequently are not casting their vote based on the candidates' qualifications, but rather are relying on arbitrary reasons such as the nature of the candidates' names or placement on the ballot. I would prefer a system under which a non-partisan commission would review applicants and submit a pre-determined number of names to the Governor. The Governor would then be required to select from the submitted names. If we are going to continue to vote on judges, I would prefer a retention election system under which the judge does not run against an opponent, but rather the voter votes on whether to retain the judge or not. One election system that is used in some states requires a person to run in one contested race with an opponent, but subsequent elections are retention elections. That approach allows citizens still to have a voice in the selection of judges, but limits the effect of non-informed voting.

7. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.


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

I have already taken such a stand. In Standley v. Town of Woodfin, the majority opinion upheld a town's ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from entering town parks. I wrote a dissenting opinion. I concluded, based on N.C. Supreme Court decisions, that this issue, implicating public safety, required uniform regulation across the State and not patch-work and inconsistent ordinances by each municipality and county. It was my view that the regulation of sex offenders in order to protect the public should be done by the State and federal government. For example, imagine if each town, city, and county could have different standards for driving while impaired. As with other matters of public safety, only through uniform regulation can we ensure that the public is truly protected with respect to sex offenders and that the regulation is fully enforceable. Doug Clark, an editorial writer for the Greensboro News & Record, in writing about my dissent, observed that it would have been easy to go along with the Town of Woodfin, but added: "Then there's Geer, bravely tacking a 15-page dissent to the four-page majority opinion. It might hurt her if she runs for re-election in 2010, but I think she got it right." He said later, in response to someone commenting on his column: "I appreciate judges who go the extra mile, even at potential political risk, to make the right call. That's what struck me as extraordinary about Geer's dissent in this case."

9. 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.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals does not hear capital cases. It is the Supreme Court that decides which rule it will apply in reviewing errors in capital cases. While plain error review is currently limited to evidentiary and instructional errors, the Court has discretion to suspend the appellate rules with respect to other issues in order to allow the Court to review fundamental errors. In addition, in many instances, an error not objected to at trial may be part of a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel.

Because we are talking about execution and mistakes cannot be corrected down the road as they have been in non-capital cases, such as those of Darryl Hunt and Ronald Cotton, I think the General Assembly should consider mandating appellate review in post-conviction capital cases. The risk of error exists. I represented a man in Virginia who came within weeks of being executed before new lawyers finally began working on his post-conviction claims. Even though his death sentence had been upheld repeatedly, DNA analysis, which was not available when he was convicted, ultimately conclusively established his innocence. The Governor of Virginia pardoned him, and he now lives a productive life in Virginia Beach.

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