Name as it appears on the ballot: Page Vernon
Date of Birth: April 30, 1952
Campaign Web Site: pagevernonforjudge.com
Occupation & Employer: lawyer and guardian ad litem; self.
Years lived in District 15B: 27 years
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the district 15B District Court? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
The most important issues facing our district courts are prevalent family violence, lack of sufficient mental health and substance abuse programs, lack of sufficient support services and resources for families in crisis, increasing teenage pregnancy and school dropout rates, growing gang influence, and decreasing funding for juvenile resources and services.
46% of youth involved in our juvenile courts last year came from homes where family members have criminal histories. 22% to 38% (Orange county compared to Chatham county statistics) of the youth in our juvenile courts last year came from homes where substance abuse is a problem and 42% to 50% (Orange compared to Chatham) of those youth are in need of substance abuse treatment themselves. 31% (Orange Co.) to 44% (Chatham Co.) of the youth in our juvenile courts last year came from dysfunctional families experiencing family violence and/or abuse and/or neglect and lack of supervision. These statistics reflect community problems which surface in our schools, on our streets and in our courtrooms.
My top three priorities for addressing these issues are:
- Keep children in our classrooms and out of our courtrooms by early identification of problems and early intervention. We need to work with our schools and school resource officers to recognize the early signs of trouble in youth and provide at-risk children and their families with support services including counseling, parenting skills training, mentoring, tutoring, study skills instruction and recreational opportunities. We need to foster communication and build collaboration between law enforcement and school personnel, churches and community organizations in learning about gangs in our community, identifying gang members, developing strategies for discouraging and preventing gang membership, punishing gang activity and keeping our schools and communities safe.
- Work with area churches, schools, law enforcement and community leaders to create positive programs and activities and opportunities for our youth. We need to expand community volunteer programs working with at-risk youth and their families including mentoring, tutoring and recreational programs. We need to work with local schools and education foundations to develop partnerships between our high schools, local community colleges and area businesses to assist and encourage non-college bound youth to set and work toward practical goals for future employment, to provide internships, training and mentoring programs to help them reach their goals and give them real incentives to stay in school.
- Work with community leaders to seek increased funding for domestic violence programs, substance abuse programs, mental health counseling and treatment programs, juvenile crime prevention programs and family advocacy programs. The majority of criminal offenders suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse. The recent disintegration of our mental health system most acutely affects low-income families who are unable to afford treatment from or find transportation to private providers. We need to improve access to appropriate mental health and substance abuse services for those who need it, provide alternative outcomes outside of the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism.
I have served for many years on the Orange and Chatham Juvenile Crime Prevention Council which assesses our districts needs for helping at-risk youth and their families, disperses state funds allocated for juvenile and family programs addressing those needs and monitors the effectiveness of those programs. Although our communities needs continue to increase, state funding for at-risk youth and their families has decreased every year Ive served on that board. We need to advocate for increased funding from our local and state elected officials and at the same time pursue creative financing of needed programs through grant writing.
Domestic violence continues to be prevalent in our community and affects all family members. Children raised in a home where domestic violence occurs are far more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system than those from non-abusive homes. To break the cycle of violence we must continue to educate children about alternatives to violence through school and community dispute resolution programs and increase community resources for victims of domestic violence. We must continue to support our districts Domestic Violence Courts and expedite hearing those cases.
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.
I have almost 27 years of District Court legal experience, more than double the combined length of my opponents district court experience. My experience encompasses every kind of case heard by a District Court Judge: civil domestic violence cases; divorce, alimony, property division, child custody and child support cases; juvenile delinquency cases; child abuse and child neglect cases; mental health hospital commitment cases; in addition to extensive experience both prosecuting and defending traffic, DWI, misdemeanor and felony criminal cases. My comprehensive experience gives me the ability to effectively perform the duties of a District Court Judge in any and every kind of District Court case starting the first day of my term in office.
From fall of 1981 until spring of 1984 I gained valuable trial experience prosecuting hundreds of felony and misdemeanor criminal cases in Orange County District and Superior Courts. I also learned the importance of protecting every citizens constitutional rights and civil liberties but at the same time working to keep our communities safe by holding offenders accountable for their crimes. The stamina, insights and professional skills necessary to be a good prosecutor have helped prepare me to be an effective District Court Judge.
After my children were born in 1984 and 1985, I worked with UNCs Institute of Government (now the UNC School of Government) writing legal procedure manuals for District Attorneys, District Court Judges and Clerks of Court. The renowned faculty there taught me the value of legal scholarship and thoughtful legal analysis, which are necessary skills to be an effective District Court Judge.
When my youngest son entered kindergarten, I entered private practice. I joined Wade Barbers law firm in Pittsboro in 1991 and specialized in civil and criminal district court cases for 11 years, handling every kind of case that comes before a District Court Judge. I provided pro bono legal service to victims of domestic violence and low-income women in family law cases and to juveniles and low-income offenders in traffic cases. I was also on the District 15B lawyer appointment list for providing reduced fee legal services to indigents in DSS cases, juvenile delinquency cases and criminal cases.
I have worked both as a prosecutor and defense attorney in criminal cases, Ive represented both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases, Ive represented husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and their children in family law matters and DSS abuse and neglect cases. Ive represented people from all walks of life, all ages, creeds, races, genders, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. My broad experience has given me the necessary legal skills and professional competence to be an effective District Court Judge, as well as a meaningful understanding of our community and its citizens.
My legal experience also includes teaching. I taught law students at UNCs Juvenile Criminal Law Clinic from 2003 to 2004. As Visiting Assistant Professor and Clinical Supervising Attorney at UNCs law school, I supervised certified third year law students responsible for defending juveniles charged with criminal offenses in Durham County District Court and I expanded the program into Orange County. I also taught a Criminal Lawyering Process and Procedure seminar focusing on juvenile delinquency law, developed a partnership with Duke Law Schools Education Law Clinic, organized a symposium of Durham agencies serving juveniles, and developed protocol for working with juvenile court counselors.
In 2005, I taught at Duke Law Schools Childrens Education Law Clinic. I supervised certified third year law students responsible for advising and representing children with special education and school discipline problems in 11 counties surrounding Durham and co-taught an Education Law seminar with Clinic Director, Jane Wettach. Since 2005, I have been a Guardian ad Litem advocate for children in high-conflict divorce cases and for abused and neglected children in DSS foster care proceedings.
For over two decades Ive been actively involved in our community, raising two sons, volunteering in our schools, serving on the boards of many non-profit organizations, initiating programs addressing juvenile substance abuse, raising funds for our public school teachers, mentoring disadvantaged youth, advocating for children in foster care, providing free legal services to abused women and helping families in crisis. (Please see my resume for more details about my community service work).
Effectively meeting the challenges and responsibilities facing a District Court Judge requires a breadth of experience, both in the courtroom and in the community. Im the only candidate for this seat who has that experience. I have earned the respect and support of many lawyers, elected officials and community leaders in both Orange and Chatham counties who believe that I have the skill and ability, professional competence, legal experience, temperament and demeanor to be an effective District Court Judge. (Please see my list of supporters on my website, pagevernonforjudge.com.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I define myself politically as a social progressive. Throughout my 26-year legal career I have been dedicated to social justice and public service. My focus has always been on promoting the rights of women and children under the law, protecting the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all citizens regardless of race, class, gender, ethnic origin, or legal status, helping families in crisis and ensuring equal access to justice.
During the 11 years I was in private practice, I provided pro bono legal service to victims of domestic violence and low-income women in family law cases and to juveniles and low-income offenders in traffic cases. I was also on the District 15B lawyer appointment list for providing reduced fee legal services to indigents in DSS cases, juvenile cases and criminal cases. I continue to volunteer my time helping women who are victims of domestic violence as a law student supervisor with UNC law schools Domestic Violence Advocacy Project. I am a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocating for children in DSS abuse and neglect cases and have been a volunteer mentor of a 15 year-old Hispanic girl for over 3 years through the Chatham County Together mentoring program for at-risk youth.
I have been an active volunteer in our community for over two decades, volunteering in our schools, serving on the boards of many non-profit organizations primarily benefiting women and children, initiating programs addressing juvenile substance abuse, creating an education foundation to provide grants for public school teachers, and mentoring disadvantaged youth. I am committed to improving the lives of citizens in District 15B both in the courtroom and in the community.
My campaign platform is based on my commitment to public service and social justice. As District Court Judge, I want to establish a family case management system to more quickly and comprehensively address all issues facing families in crisis, expedite cases involving children in foster care and cases involving women who are victims of domestic violence, increase resources addressing substance abuse and mental illness, ensure that all citizens in our courts are treated with courtesy and respect, make better use of technology to improve court efficiency, and work with law enforcement, community leaders and schools to address community crimes and concerns and to create joint solutions.
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 greatly admired District Court Judge Lowry Betts who conducted court with dignity, humility and dedication to the law. He treated every case that came before him with equal objectivity and fairness, regardless of who was involved or the nature of the issues involved. He was respected by lawyers for his willingness to abide by the law even when politically unpopular, such as finding a defendant charged with Driving While Impaired not guilty when the evidence presented was insufficient to meet the required burden of proof. That is the kind of judge I hope and want to be: dedicated to the administration of justice no matter the personal consequences.
I pledge to hear each case on its own merits, to work hard to impartially follow and implement our laws, to seek fairness and justice, and to ensure that constitutional rights and civil liberties are protected but at the same time protecting our community by holding offenders accountable.
5. The Independents mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Throughout the 27 years that I have lived and worked in this community I have been committed to public service and social justice in both my personal and professional lives. If elected to serve as District Court Judge I will continue to dedicate myself to improving our judicial system and making a positive impact in our community. (Please refer to answer #2 above for a description of my public service and legal experience.)
6. How long do you plan to serve if elected, and how long would you be able to serve?
If elected I plan to serve a full four year term. I will be 56 in a few weeks so I am able to serve my full term and eligible to run for re-election for 3 additional terms until I reach age 72 in the year 2024.
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.) Do you support the raising of the juvenile jurisdiction to 18? Explain.
I have been an advocate for children my whole life, as a sister to five brothers, a mother of two wonderful sons, a family law lawyer, a juvenile law lawyer, a law school teacher of juvenile court laws and procedures and of school laws and procedures, a Guardian Ad Litem for abused and neglected children and children in high-conflict divorce cases, a mentor for disadvantaged youth, a board member and participant in many community programs serving the needs of at-risk youth and their families.
In December 2003 I was appointed by the NC Commission On Indigent Services to serve on a state-wide Juvenile Committee charged with the task of assessing the quality of representation in juvenile delinquency proceedings in North Carolina and making recommendations to the governor and legislature about improving juveniles access to counsel and the quality of their legal representation. The juvenile experts who served with me on that committee spent many hours discussing the need to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 and also addressed the resulting need for expanding juvenile programs and resources and related costs. North Carolina is one of only 2 states in our country (the other is New York; Connecticut is currently in the process of raising their juvenile jurisdictional age to 18) that treats juvenile offenders as adults at age 16.
The research and reasoning supporting the conclusion that is fundamentally unfair to juveniles and bad public policy to treat 16 and 17 year old as adults is comprehensively addressed in a recent paper published by a child advocacy group in Durham, Action For Children (formerly the NC Child Advocacy Institute). Action for Children's newest report discusses the latest scientific research on adolescent brain development, showing that while teenagers may physically resemble adults, neurologically, their brains are still developing and are extremely susceptible to environmental influences. The report also finds that in North Carolina youth who serve adult time are more than twice as likely to be reconvicted of crimes as youth who receive juvenile services.
I agree with the conclusions reached in that report. Recent science on adolescent brain development, recidivism data and my own observations of juveniles developmental immaturity, incapacity to understand the trial process, assist their attorneys, and make decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives, leads me to believe that we need to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18. Increasing the juvenile jurisdictional age would not compromise community safety regarding violent youthful offenders since judges would still have discretion, as under the current juvenile code, to transfer to adult court in appropriate cases juveniles over the age of 12 who are charged with serious criminal offenses.
This issue has been before the NC legislature for the last two years and it appears that even early opponents of the idea are now resigned to making it happen. Since they anticipate that the change would add approximately 30,000 juveniles into the juvenile justice system, the biggest hurdle is expanding juvenile programs and resources to accommodate the increased numbers and to find a way to pay for additional juvenile services. Implementation is likely to take up to five years. (See the NC Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission Report On Study of Youthful Offenders dated March 2007.)
8. Are you in favor of raising suggested bond guidelines for serious felonies? Are you in favor of unsecured bonds for Class 2 and 3 misdemeanors? Please explain. Our Districts suggested bond guidelines for serious felonies were last reviewed and raised when Superior Court Judge Carl Fox came into office about two years ago and I do not see a need to raise our suggested bond guidelines at this time for the following reasons.
First, NC law clearly states that a person charged with a non-capital case is entitled to have conditions of pretrial release imposed by a judicial official who must impose the least restrictive form that will reasonably assure the defendants appearance in court. Our law lists the factors a judge or magistrate must consider in determining the type and amount of bond in each case and gives the judicial official discretion to impose various conditions of pretrial release. Our districts suggested bond guidelines are not mandates but are suggested guidelines providing our judicial officials with helpful tools for setting bonds and allowing that official a great deal of discretion in doing so. Therefore, a judge may set a higher bond than suggested in appropriate circumstances such as when there is a high risk of nonappearance based on previous failures to appear or lack of ties to the community or when the defendants past conduct or the nature of the current offense raises an elevated concern about danger or harm to persons in the community if the defendant is released.
Second, the primary purpose of a bond is to assure a defendants presence at trial and both our state and US constitutions prohibit excessive bonds. Bond levels are not meant to be punitive and a defendant should not be held in jail merely because of lack of finances. Currently our bond guidelines for classes C, D and E felonies are $500 per month for each month of the longest maximum sentence to which defendant is subjected resulting in a maximum of $105, 000 on a class C offense, a maximum of $91,500 on a class D offense and a maximum of $37,000 on a class E offense. Those amounts seem reasonably calculated to assure a defendants appearance in court without being excessive.
Third, studies show that the seriousness of a charged offense does not predict whether a defendant will fail to appear in court or commit a new crime if released on bond. Studies also indicate that access to justice for an incarcerated defendant is compromised by making it more difficult to meet with legal counsel, prepare for trial, and demonstrate good citizenship by working and providing family financial support. Furthermore, whether the amount of bond will provide sufficient incentive to ensure court appearance without being unreasonably excessive depends on the defendants financial circumstances, which is one of the factors considered by the judicial official in setting the bond. It seems unnecessary to increase our bond guideline amounts since judicial officials currently have the latitude to balance community safety and likelihood of court appearance against defendants rights and access to justice concerns.
Im in favor of unsecured bonds in appropriate circumstances for class 2 and class 3 misdemeanor offenders, although typically a written promise to appear is the least restrictive and most appropriate form of pretrial release for these offenses, such as driving without a valid license or underage possession of alcohol. In some cases, requiring a cash bond may be appropriate such as when the charge is for writing a worthless check and the bond amount is set at the amount of the check.
9. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
My juvenile court experience: I began practicing law in this district over 26 years ago as an Assistant District Attorney hired by District Attorney Wade Barber. From the fall of 1981 through the spring of 1984, I was the District 15B prosecutor responsible for juvenile court in Orange County. I worked closely with the Juvenile Court Counselors office and helped develop protocols and treatment programs for juvenile offenders in our district.
I joined Wade Barbers law firm in Pittsboro in 1991 and was our firms District Court specialist for 11 years. Throughout those years I represented juveniles charged with criminal offenses in juvenile delinquency court and I was also on the District 15B lawyer appointment list for providing reduced fee legal services in juvenile cases (and also on the indigent appointment list for DSS and criminal cases).
In 2003/2004 I taught law students at UNCs Juvenile Criminal Law Clinic. As Visiting Assistant Professor and Clinical Supervising Attorney at UNCs law school, I supervised certified third year law students responsible for defending juveniles charged with criminal offenses in Durham County District Court and I expanded the program into Orange County. I also taught a Criminal Lawyering Process and Procedure seminar focusing on juvenile delinquency law, developed a partnership with Duke Law Schools Education Law Clinic, organized a symposium of Durham agencies serving juveniles, and developed protocol for working with juvenile court counselors.
I was our districts juvenile lawyer representative on the District 15B Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC, formerly called the Joint Orange/Chatham Criminal & Juvenile Justice Partnership) from 1992 to 2002 and went back on the board again in 2006 and am still serving on that board. The JCPC assesses our districts needs for helping at-risk youth and their families, disperses state funds allocated for juvenile and family programs addressing those needs and monitors the effectiveness of those programs.
In December 2003 I was appointed by the NC Commission On Indigent Services to serve on a state-wide Juvenile Committee charged with the task of assessing the quality of representation in juvenile delinquency proceedings in North Carolina and making recommendations to the governor and legislature about improving juveniles access to counsel and the quality of their legal representation. I met monthly with a committee of juvenile lawyers, judges, law school professors, juvenile advocates and other juvenile law experts and we completed our report in May 2004. All of our committees recommendations were approved and most have been implemented, including the hiring of a NC Juvenile Defender.
What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement? Juvenile delinquency and gang involvement are problems in our district requiring comprehensive community solutions. For over two decades Ive been actively involved in our community, volunteering in our schools, serving on the boards of many non-profit organizations primarily benefiting children and families in crisis, initiating programs addressing juvenile substance abuse, creating an education foundation to provide grants for public school teachers, mentoring disadvantaged youth and advocating for children in foster care as a Guardian Ad Litem. I am running for election to this seat because I am committed to social justice and community service and I believe that serving as District Court Judge will provide the best opportunity for me to improve our judicial system and improve the lives of children in our community.
I am a volunteer mentor of a 15 year-old Hispanic girl through the Chatham County Together mentoring program for at-risk youth. During the 3 years that Ive known her shes been suspended from school three times, involved with the juvenile court system twice and is suspected of associating with gang members. She and her 3 younger siblings live with their mother and abusive stepfather in a three-bedroom mobile home. She shares a bedroom with her younger sister, she doesnt have a desk or table or place in her home to do homework other than her shared bed. She has the intellectual capacity to do well in school but as a ninth grader she lags behind her peers and may not pass this year due to not having access to a computer, no dedicated space for studying and little if any support from home. Her future looks dim, her options are few and my biggest fear is that she will become pregnant.
Community programs like Chatham County Together can and do make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth and their families. But there arent enough volunteers or programs to serve all of the youth in our district that need help. We need to expand existing programs and encourage new programs because its vital to the health and future of our community to help disadvantaged children break out of the cycle of family violence, crime and poverty and become productive citizens.
Last week I attended an Orange and Chatham County Gang Awareness workshop presented at a local church by Captain Charles Gardner of the Chatham County Sheriffs department and Officer Rex Gibson with the Chapel Hill Police Department. Their presentation provided detailed information about the prevalence of gangs in our district and correlations between dropout and pregnancy rates, drug use, poverty and criminal activity. They talked about why youth join gangs, how to identify gangs and gang activity, strategies for discouraging gang membership and gang activity in our neighborhoods and strategies for intervening when gang-involved youth want to leave a gang.
The first step in preventing gang involvement and delinquent behavior in our community is to talk to and spend quality time with our children, provide them with love, support, encouragement, positive role models, appropriate oversight and guidance, establish and consistently impose reasonable household rules and structure, and encourage and facilitate participation in legitimate, healthy out of school activities.
The second step is to educate ourselves about the nature of the problem by contacting local law enforcement to arrange to attend their free gang awareness training or by talking with other local experts on gang involement.
We also need to get involved in school, church and community activities to share information and concerns about gangs and problem juvenile behaviors and work together to create community solutions. Please see my answer to question #1 for some proposed solutions.
10. District court judges do not continue cases past 120 days after the first appearance. Is that too long, or too short? Why?
District 15Bs current local court rules for district court criminal matters are generally effective at timely moving cases through the court system. The 120-day continuance limitation is the presumed maximum which allows a judge necessary discretion to shorten or extend the length of time a case may be continued depending upon the particular circumstances of each case. For example, extensions are allowed upon a showing of good cause such as illness of a necessary party (the defendant, the defendants lawyer, or a necessary witness).
11. Do you favor or oppose the creation of a Family Court system in district 15B District Court? Please explain.
The creation of a Family Court System in District 15B has been discussed among family law lawyers in our community and opinions are split. During the 11 years I was in private practice, the majority of my caseload was dedicated to representing husbands and wives, fathers and mothers in family matters so I am very familiar with 15B District Court rules and procedures dealing with these cases (in fact, I was on the committee that drafted our family law rules and created the Guardian Ad Litem and Parent Coordinator Programs now implemented in our district and serving as models across the state).
Ive handled family law cases in Durham where they have a Family Law Court system. The primary advantage of the Family Court System is that cases are moved forward quickly. But expediting a family law case according to the strict timelines imposed by a Family Court System can also be a disadvantage, such as when a particular client needs more time to pay the lawyers fees or to sell the marital home before willing to discuss property division. Another common complaint about the Family Law Court System is that it can result in much greater expense to clients due to rigidly scheduled court appearances without regard to client or attorney availability or readiness, and voluminous required paperwork. I do not feel outcomes for clients would be improved by instituting a Family Court System in our district.
My experience in our district is that problematic delays occasionally occur due to limited available hearing dates and lack of oversight and coordination in cases where families have related matters simultaneously pending in various courts (DSS Court if children have been removed from the parents home and are in foster care; Domestic Violence Court if one parent has abused or threatened the other; Criminal Court if criminal assault or harassment charges have been filed; Civil Court if divorce, alimony, property division and child custody cases are pending; Juvenile Court if the minor children are in trouble; Community Resource Court or Family Treatment Court if parents have mental health or substance abuse issues; Truancy Court; and Child Support Court). As District Court Judge, I want to work with our incumbent District Court Judges, family law lawyers, clerks of court and court administrators to continue to expedite these cases through the court system, and to improve family case management in our district.
Under the leadership of Chief District Court Judge Joseph Buckner, our district has been progressive and proactive in instituting programs and procedures helping families in crisis, such as our mediation programs, GAL and Parenting Coordinator programs, and specialty courts. If I am elected, I will continue to be an advocate of intervention and treatment programs, I will promote addressing marital conflicts through mediation and collaboration, and I will ensure that the rights and interests of children are protected.