North Carolina District Court 10
Name as it appears on the ballot: Monica M. Bousman
Campaign website: www.judgebousman.com
Phone number: 919-661-884
Years lived in the state: 45
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 have had the privilege of serving the people of North Carolina as a District Court Judge for almost 16 years. Currently, I serve as the Lead Judge of Juvenile Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency Court.
During trials, I listen carefully to all of the evidence presented, ascertain the credibility of the witnesses, consider the legal arguments of the attorneys, and consider the applicable law before entering a ruling. I preside frequently in domestic violence criminal court and also consider the needs of the victim in determining how to provide for their safety as well as to try to ensure that similar incidents do not occur again. If children are involved, I seek ways to educate parents about the cycle of domestic violence and its impact on children.
For more than 13 ½ years, I have heard cases regarding the most vulnerable of our citizens, children that are abused or neglected by their parents and have been the lead judge in this courtroom for 11 years. I use court time efficiently, and effectively, and work with all stakeholders to schedule cases for hearing as soon as practicable in order to comply with statutory time mandates and to allow parents and children to be engaged in needed services at the earliest possible opportunity. Wake County abuse and neglect court has one of the lowest continuance rates in North Carolina, demonstrating the effectiveness of our courtroom practices and procedures. Collaboration among attorneys is highly encouraged in order to share information to prepare for hearings.
Before I became a judge, I practiced law in Wake County District Court for more than fourteen years. I was a certified mediator and when appropriate, use those skills to try to resolve cases without the necessity of a lengthy hearing. I have earned the respect of social workers, guardians ad litem, foster parents, and attorneys for my diligent work in improving the lives of children. I frequently present the law to these stakeholders in order to assist them in their work.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a district court judge?
For the past 30 years, I have gained extensive experience in criminal, domestic, domestic violence and juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency courts, both as an attorney and a judge. I am completing my 16th year on the Bench and practiced law in district court for more than 14 years before becoming a judge. As a judge, I use my legal knowledge, experience, common sense, and integrity to make decisions in the cases that affect the everyday lives or ordinary people – the protection of children, the breakups of families, domestic violence, and criminal and traffic matters.
Serving in juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency court for 13 ½ years and as the lead judge in that courtroom for 11 years, I have specialized training in child development, child sexual and physical abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence and other issues which come before me in family court each day.
On occasion, I preside in other criminal courts such as general misdemeanors, traffic cases, DWI court, and felony pleas, but since Wake County became a Family Court district in 2006, 75% of my court assignments are in juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency court in addition to civil and criminal domestic violence courts.
My community service includes working with children and adults with developmental disabilities. This work has given me knowledge and information I also use in court in suggesting services that some children may need. I am a certified juvenile court judge and am trained in Family Court and case management issues.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
District Court does not generally rule on issue that participants would consider “political.” My job as the judge is to interpret the law, and apply the law to the facts in each case, without regard to my personal beliefs. Fair decisions should never be based on race, nationality, religion, gender or political affiliation. I do not even consider whether or not someone is a registered voter in rendering a decision.
I do not publically endorse any other candidate even though I am permitted to do so as a candidate, nor do I take public “positions” on issues. Some judicial candidates take positions on issues that are actually legislative matters and may give voters erroneous impressions that the judge has authority to make decisions on those issues. Other positions expressed may lead voters to believe that a judge has authority to rule on issues that are not in the jurisdiction of that judge, since many issues are exclusive to each trial court level.
Judicial races are officially non-partisan, and even though political parties may publically support judicial candidates that are registered with their party, politics has no place in the courtroom. I am faithful to my oath of office. I make decisions based on the evidence that is presented in court and follow the rule of law and not on any personal belief or ideology. I apply the law as it exists regardless of whether I personally agree with the law and/or its interpretation by the Appellate Courts.
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?
Judges must be fair and impartial, courteous and patient while remaining firm in maintaining courtroom decorum. Knowledge of the law(s) that must be applied and understanding how other legal matters in which a party is involved may impact other legal rulings is imperative.
I admire all of the Wake County District Court Judges who helped guide me as a young attorney and those that were serving on the Bench when I was appointed in 2001, especially Judges Joyce Hamilton and Anne Salisbury. These two women paved the way for other female attorneys to aspire to serve as judges and to have confidence to seek appointment and/or election to the Bench. They issued clear rulings and orders in a timely manner. As well, they were wonderful teachers and mentors in my first years as a judge, and I am grateful for their wisdom and guidance.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
Since my first day on the Bench, I have primarily been assigned to courtrooms affecting children and families. For the past 13 ½ years, I have presided over cases which affect the most vulnerable of our citizens, the children who are victims of abuse and neglect by their parents. I am one of only two judges who preside in this courtroom. The issues heard are difficult and complex and are unlike those heard in any other court.
I am committed to the responsibility of protecting these children who cannot protect themselves and strive each day to make the tough decisions to keep them safe. My experience has taught me that the legal decisions I make today are crucial not only for the current safety, protection, and welfare of the child, but will also impact the child’s future well-being and development and the future of our community.
New policies from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services which take place effective January 1, 2017, will necessitate more cases being filed in abuse, neglect, and dependency court. Experienced, seasoned, certified juvenile court judges will be needed to handle this increasing caseload without any additional judicial resources for the foreseeable future.
I am one of only five judges who regularly preside in the criminal and civil domestic violence courtrooms. The volume and seriousness of these cases has risen during my judicial tenure. Many of these cases involve life-threatening issues, and our community has seen a dramatic increase in homicides caused by domestic partners. I have received valuable education about domestic violence, the cycle of violence, and its impact on children and utilize this information in creating judgments that are appropriate for the issue presented.
My re-election will allow that experience, knowledge, continuity, and commitment to the safety of children and families in our community to continue.
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?
a. Ever increasing caseloads without sufficient judges and other courtroom personnel to hear lengthy cases, especially in areas involving families and children-domestic, domestic violence, and abuse, neglect, and dependency court.
b. Lack of affordable, consistent mental health care in our communities and its impact on children and adults being labeled as “criminals” for issues arising as a result of the mental illness as well as creating parenting issues in domestic and juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency courts.
c. Access to courts for all citizens, especially those who cannot afford legal counsel in civil and family law cases.
District Court must continue to find ways to move our limited resources around to provide more court time for our overburdened courtrooms hearing family law cases, while also seeking legislative funding for additional judges and support personnel. We must continue to implement and encourage mediation and arbitration where appropriate to keep families out of court when a resolution can be reached by agreement.
Judges and attorneys must be trained to recognize a mental health issue and/or an accompanying self-medication issue (with alcohol, prescription drugs, and/or illicit substances) and to find appropriate treatment to assist the party in in dealing with the life-issues which brought them into court while still protecting their family and the community.
Judges, in collaboration with attorneys, must seek alternative programs to assist pro-se litigants with handling court issues. If re-elected, I will continue to work as hard as I have for the past 16 years in making legal decisions and in continued collaboration with colleagues on ways to make our courts function better for our citizens.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district you’re running in?
Wake County has experienced massive growth in population which has resulted in increased legal filings for the cases that require lengthy amounts of court time, namely cases involving child custody, property division, civil domestic violence, and juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency cases. When parties cannot have these issues heard in a timely manner, the family financial resources dwindle, children suffer from the uncertainty of their future, and the safety and health of the family is compromised. We need additional judges and support personnel to hear these issues without lengthy and repeated delays.
Do you think the judicial system is becoming too politicized? Explain.
The judicial system will always be too politicized as long as judges are elected. District Court, however, is rarely called up to rule upon decisions that would be deemed “political.” In Wake County, we are fortunate that all of our District Court Judges, regardless of our individual party affiliation and/or beliefs, work as a team and as genial colleagues. We are always willing to assist another judge when possible, to fill-in when emergencies arise, and to discuss various issues that have occurred in court in order to gain new information or discuss new legislation and case decisions.
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 and encourage participation in our diversion/deferral programs, some of which began shortly after I began practicing law 30 years ago. Wake County’s First Offender, Felony Diversion, and Alcohol/Drug Deferral programs have been operating successfully for decades. The Teen Court program remains strong. This program is run in the evening with many volunteers from the community and other teens serving courtroom roles and making decisions about appropriate resolutions.
Domestic Violence Criminal Court has had a deferral program since this specialized courtroom began almost twenty years ago. Domestic Violence court has a new deferral program for young offenders who are accused of assaulting or threatening a family member or someone with whom they had a dating relationship. Our juvenile delinquency judges have been instrumental in partnering with the school system in developing a new deferral program for 16 or 17 year olds who would be charged as adults for issues which occur at school. A new Mental Health deferral program which is discussed below began recently.
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?
Wake County has long worked to set appropriate bond amounts and conditions of release to not only ensure the defendant’s appearance in court, but also in violent crimes to protect the safety of the victim and/or the community. We have bond guidelines developed by the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge and Chief District Court Judge. Magistrates and judges consider those guidelines when determining the conditions of release.
Unlike other counties, every defendant in Wake County, even when charged with a misdemeanor or a failure to appear in court, has an opportunity for a first appearance in front of a district court judge on the next business day after arrest and can request a review of bond set by the magistrate. For lower level misdemeanors, repeat offenders and/or those defendants who failed to appear on the scheduled court date are frequently offered the opportunity to come into court within a week of arrest on a day when a public defender is available to speak with the defendant to attempt to resolve the case. Occasionally, these types of cases may be resolved at the first appearance. For other cases in which the defendant is not likely to be able to post bond, during first appearance the judge will reschedule the case to an earlier hearing date in order to lessen the time of incarceration before a hearing on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Attorneys are appointed at this first appearance if the defendant is eligible for court-appointed counsel. Attorneys with new information about their client can request a bond hearing prior to the first scheduled court hearing.
As a judge, I review every release order for every incarcerated defendant on the docket to see what other cases the defendant may have pending, and make inquiry of the defendant’s counsel and district attorney to see if other pending cases can be resolved that day. Because of my frequent assignment in domestic violence criminal court, I set initial bonds that magistrates had no authority to set. In setting bond, I carefully assess the crime charged, the specific allegations, the criminal history of the defendant, history of failures to appear on other charges, and whether there are past violent offenses. I order pre-trial release, if appropriate, as well as other provisions designed to protect the alleged victim. If pre-trial release is not appropriate because of the alleged act(s) of violence and/or the criminal record of the defendant, I set conditions of release that are primarily designed to protect the safety of the alleged victim, as well as to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court.
What are your thoughts on implementing mental-health treatment courts across the state?
Special courts require a great number of resources. I am in favor of mental health courts as long as sufficient court resources are available. Fortunately, we have a new initiative in Wake County that will create a deferral program for those defendants that have a mental health diagnosis and agree to evaluation and treatment. Parameters have been set by the District Attorney’s Office as to the type of criminal charge that will be considered for deferral. This is a positive first step in allowing defendants with mental health issues to receive treatment and to have the charge dismissed if in compliance with the deferral agreement.