Name as it appears on the ballot: Valerie Zachary
Campaign website: www.JudgeZachary.com
Phone number: (336) 428-9560
Years lived in the state: 37.5 years
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.
As a judge on the Court of Appeals, I have authored approximately 100 opinions, which are available to the public at nccourts.org and which are evidence of my effectiveness, impartiality and fairness on the bench.
I apply the law to the facts of each case, even when the result is difficult or controversial. I have authored or concurred in opinions that granted a criminal defendant a new trial, regardless of whether the record indicated that the defendant was probably guilty, because all defendants are entitled to a fair trial. My opponent has repeatedly stated that she believes in “Faces, not cases.” However, for more than 95% of the cases we hear, there are no further appeals and the opinion issued by the Court of Appeals becomes the law that applies to all North Carolinians. We do not have the luxury of rendering an opinion based on sympathy for the individual “face” in the case, but must follow the principle that justice is blind. This preserves the security of a fair trial for us all. Accordingly, I judge all of the cases, regardless of the litigant, in a fair and impartial manner.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve on Court of Appeals?
I am better qualified to serve on the Court of Appeals because I am fair, impartial and have a wide variety of legal and personal experiences that gives me a different perspective.
The appellate opinions that I have authored are available for review at nccourts.org. During my tenure on the Court, my scholarship, work ethic and collegiality have earned me the respect of my colleagues and of the members of the bench and bar at the highest levels. I have authored opinions on a varied assortment of subjects, including juvenile and domestic cases and criminal appeals to opinions that analysized the intricate interplay between federal and state law in Medicaid matters, governmental impact fees, review of complex business matters, and other complicated issues.
As an attorney, my legal experience ranged from federal retirement law, to elder law, to estates and trusts, to adoptions, and to receiverships. I have worked as a research assistant for Professor Laurence Tribe revising the 2nd Edition of his treatise American Constitutional Law. I was a member of Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, as well as a member of the litigation team at Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman (now K & L Gates). I also worked for 26 years in a small general practice in Yadkin County. My extensive experience in so many areas of the law has been extremely valuable to the Court of Appeals.
Finally, I was raised the oldest of five children in difficult circumstances, and put myself through Michigan State University and Harvard Law School. This gives me a different personal perspective that I have contributed during my tenure on the Court of Appeals.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
Although I identify as a Republican, my political opinions are not defined by party allegiance and I have broad bipartisan support. I have been endorsed by knowledgeable Republican and Democratic jurists and Bar members, as well as voters outside of the legal system. One reason for my substantial bipartisan support is the fact that I do not approach cases with a partisan agenda, but simply apply the law as written to the facts before me.
I believe that my political affiliation has no bearing on the decisions I render in the cases that I review. I apply the law fairly and impartially in all cases, regardless of the litigant. In the cases before me, I insist that justice is blind and I judge the cases, not the faces.
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?
The three most important qualities for a judge of the Court of Appeals are fairness, intellectual rigor, and work ethic. My service on the Court has demanded painstaking attention to detail and analysis, as well as a devotion to the correct application of the law, in every case before me. The incredible workload of the Court requires my consistent, diligent effort. Finally, I strive to be fair, not by yielding to my emotion, but by applying the law in an unbiased, even-handed manner.
The judge whom I most admire is my local Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Michael Duncan. Judge Duncan is fair, impartial, learned, hard-working, and of even temperament. After 10 years on the bench, I have never heard Judge Duncan utter a harsh word to an attorney or a party, yet he keeps order in each courtroom over which he presides. Moreover, every case is approached with exceptional energy and commitment. He makes every effort to rule correctly, often anguishing over his decisions. Most importantly, Judge Duncan is consistently fair and impartial, regardless of one’s station in life or other characteristics. Superior Court Judge Michael Duncan is the judge we all hope to be.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
The quality of the Court of Appeals’ opinions is improved and enriched by having judges with a variety of life experiences on the Court. Because I grew up in difficult circumstances in rural North Carolina, I understand the vulnerability with which some litigants approach the Court. I also have a visceral comprehension of the value of fairness and impartiality, as one to whom that was sometimes denied. As a judge on the Court of Appeals, my opinions reflect my life experiences and make this a more just community. My opinions are available at nccourts.org.
What do you think are the three most crucial issues facing the state’s judicial system at this moment? Explain how, if elected, you’d help remedy those issues. And how do you think the Court of Appeals can do to address those issues?
The North Carolina judiciary faces three crucial issues at this juncture: the need for an increase in funding for the judicial system; the need for special management of the unique combination of issues facing our veterans; and the need for the State to provide appropriate services for the mentally ill in the justice system.
In 2016, the General Assembly made a wise investment in the people who staff the State’s court system by increasing salaries. Now the Legislature must face other pressing needs of the Judicial Branch, including the need for additional staff and improved technology. In addition, the entire State needs to adopt the specialized veteran’s courts that have been launched to such success in parts of our State. Finally, there is an urgent need for services for the mentally ill in our State. Too many of these unfortunate people find themselves in a criminal justice system that is ill equipped to assist them or care for them.
As an appellate judge, I can seek to influence those with the power to make these changes occur, both through the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts and through Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin.
Do you think the judicial system is becoming too politicized? Explain. If elected, how would you address any perceptions that politics play a role in judicial decisions?
We all agree that judges should not be political at all. However, with judges in North Carolina standing for election, politics was bound to intrude. Moreover, it is far from clear that there exists any method for choosing judges in which politics can be completely eliminated.
No one wants to think of a judge as a politician in a robe – judges are supposed to be fair and impartial. A few suggestions for addressing the negative perception of judges as politician are as follows:
a) Judges should not inject themselves into the political issues of the day.
b) Judges should be independent from both the Executive Branch and the General Assembly, as anticipated by the North Carolina Constitution.
c) Judges should simply apply the statutory or case law to the facts at hand, without resort to partisan ideology.
With the adoption of these guidelines, the judiciary can avoid the negative perception of being less than fair and impartial to all litigants.