Name as it appears on the ballot: Walter Rand
Campaign website: RandForJudge.com and on facebook @ randforjudge
Phone number: 919-724-3814
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 a long track record of handling court-appointed, indigent criminal defense work for poor people accused of breaking the law. I began handling court-appointed cases in 1995 and am still handling them today. I fight hard for my clients. I recognize that poor people, especially poor minority people, are at a great disadvantage in our legal system. I have fought to correct problems arising from lack of respect for the law and lack of respect for people which arises so often in the courthouse. I have done so at times to my financial detriment and at times have angered some judges and prosecutors who would prefer to do things “the way we’ve always done them” (as one judge said to me) rather than as the law requires things to be done. In one instance a judge thought I fought “too hard” to get an innocent, court-appointed client released from her unlawful imprisonment in the Wake County Jail. I succeeded in getting her released but the judge was so annoyed with me for getting my client out of jail that he ordered that I not be paid anything for the work I did in her case. I have always considered justice at the top of my priorities and I think that anyone who seeks to be a judge should be able to say the same thing.
Poor people are at a great disadvantage and judges who do not understand that are making that disadvantage worse. Not long ago I had a client who was on disability for seizures and was caught with a small amount of personal-use marijuana. He admitted to possession of marijuana and explained that it helped him with his seizures. He didn’t try to avoid the criminal conviction; he was explaining why he used marijuana. The judge ordered that my client pay over $2,000 in the form of court costs, fine, probation supervision fees, and a $600 lab fee (the lab test was unnecessary since my client admitted immediately to the police that the marijuana was his and testified that he was guilty of possession of marijuana). That judge did not understand the difficulty a poor person has in raising $2,000 to pay the Court.
What do you believe qualifies you to serve as a district court judge?
Experience matters. I have been practicing law primarily in Wake County District Court for over 21 years, more than any of our sitting judges prior to becoming judges. I have appeared before many judges, some of whom were very good. I have seen what the good judges do and how they do it. I have also seen what judges who are not as good do and how they do it. I understand how to follow in the footsteps of the good judges and avoid the mistakes of the others. Experience in the courtroom is crucial for a judicial candidate. I had already been practicing law for 13 years before my opponent graduated from law school.
How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
Before I answer this question I point out that good judges should reach the same conclusion in a given case whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party members, unaffiliated, or what have you. The law and the facts of the case are the same; the judge’s ruling must be based on those facts and the law, not on the judge’s political views.
I am a Democrat. I believe in our Constitution. I believe in liberty and equality for all. Political viewpoints in terms of political parties and conservative vs liberal philosophies should not impact a judge’s decisions. A judge should keep an open mind, hear all of the evidence, then apply the law to the facts proven in reaching a decision.
I believe that the primary purpose of government is to ensure liberty for the people. Liberty can be roughly defined as the lack of restraint on people by other people. The government's primary purpose is protecting people from that restraint by other people. It's simple in theory but complicated in application.
My judicial approach would be to leave politics out of the courtroom, to treat everyone equally.
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
Fairness, which incorporates impartiality and involves more than treating everyone equally; a judge must treat everyone with respect. Treating everyone equally but without respect would not be treating anyone fairly. To be fair the judge must also have integrity; he must follow the law in spite of making powerful people angry by doing so.
Legal knowledge; a judge must know the law. The minimum requirement for a judge in North Carolina is that the judge be a lawyer, however being a lawyer does not mean knowing the law well enough to be an effective jurist. That seems obvious to most people yet some judges make rulings contradicting the law, whether deliberately or accidentally. The law is too extensive for any judge to have mastered all of it, so a corollary to having legal knowledge must be the willingness to learn new law.
Prior experience working as a lawyer in the courtroom over which the judge will preside is also important. It takes years of working as a lawyer in the courtroom before a lawyer is ready to be a judge. It is a mistake to put someone on the bench before he or she has the proper experience to handle the job. The most well-intentioned judge will not be effective without the proper experience in the courtroom prior to becoming a judge.
Retired Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning is one of the judges I have practiced before that I most admire. He was always courteous, knew the law, & treated everyone respectfully and fairly. Another retired judge I admire is Wake County District Court Judge Jerry Leonard. Judge Leonard cared about the people who appeared before him. Before the days of routinely letting under-aged criminal defendants take anti-alcohol & anti-drug classes or do community service work to avoid permanent criminal convictions Judge Leonard did that for those defendants. He thought things through for the long haul.
I admire current Wake County District Court Judge Woofer Davidian. He is a Republican (as is Judge Manning) and I am a Democrat (as is Judge Leonard), so my admiration for him has zero to do with politics. Judge Davidian follows the law. He treats people fairly. He understands the law and is not embarrassed to admit when he needs to read up on a legal point with which he is unfamiliar. We need more judges like Judge Davidian.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a more just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
Electing me would put a more just, experienced jurist on the bench. I have worked for justice, the law, and my clients for over 21 years. I have demonstrated my willingness to do what is right even when doing so will anger powerful people. We need judges who will do what is right in spite of angering some people. Having good judges is essential to having a just community because when people have conflicts they must go to court for justice, otherwise vigilantism occurs. People must expect fair and just treatment in court or they will lose faith in the judicial system and take matters into their own hands. If I am elected the people who come before me in court will know that they are being treated fairly and justly. We will move toward a more just community.
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?
One crucial issue is the division along political party lines we see in our higher courts. We have a problem when the Republican judges rule one way and the Democratic judges rule the other way. We should not have that sort of division in our courts. As a District Court Judge I would have little more power than an average citizen to remedy this problem. If elected, my voice in pointing out the problem and possible solutions would carry more weight than otherwise, however I would also be ethically limited in criticizing my superiors in those higher courts.
Another crucial issue is the excessive and unfair incarceration of our citizens. Studies have shown that our system incorporates racial and socio-economic class bias by disproportionately imprisoning minorities and poor people. Apologists say that minorities and poor people commit more crimes than other people. The studies show that minorities and poor people convicted of the same crimes as other people are far more likely to be imprisoned than other people.
Another significant problem is the terrible waste of time, money, and resources in which our courts indulge. The typical path of an innocent person charged with a crime set in District Court (assuming that person can avoid the trap of being stuck in jail awaiting trial) is coming to court 5 or 6 times before receiving either a dismissal of the charges or a trial. This unnecessary waste of time hurts not only to the individual charged, but also his/her witnesses, lawyer, and if the lawyer is court-appointed and being paid with public money, the taxpayers as well.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the district you’re running in?
I’m running in the 10th Judicial District which is all of Wake County. The biggest judicial issue here in my view is the unlawful incarceration of people. Delaying trials is a problem, but when a person is out of jail the harm done is much less than the harm done when that person is in jail, especially when that person is held unlawfully in jail, a frequent occurrence here in Wake County.
Do you think the judicial system is becoming too politicized? Explain.
Yes, I do. We see it when the higher courts have decisions split on political lines. We see it when a judge ignores the law in order to impose his or her political view of what he or she thinks the law ought to be. We see it when our Republican-controlled US Senate refuses to hold a hearing on the judicial nominee of a Democratic President.
Not long ago under NC law when a District Court judge retired or otherwise left his seat vacant the lawyers in that District (the Bar) would vote for nominees to fill the position. Up to three names would be sent to the Governor who would have to pick from those nominees to fill the seat. If the Governor failed to pick, then after a specific time, the nominee who received the most votes from the Bar would become the judge. This injected some merit into the system. The General Assembly changed the law so that the Governor could pick any lawyer he wanted to pick to fill the seat, whether or not that lawyer had ever set foot in a courtroom. That is a recent, local example of the judicial system becoming too politicized.
I have first-hand experience in this situation as I was nominated by the Bar. Unfortunately, the Governor chose a Republican who was not nominated.
Some district courts are beginning to implement misdemeanor diversion program for young and/or first-time offenders. What are your thoughts on such programs?
We need them. Fortunately, in Wake County we already have such misdemeanor (and felony) diversion programs. They work. It is beneficial all the way around to help people get off of the criminal path and onto the productive citizen path. Once a person saddles himself or herself with a criminal conviction on his or her record getting a job becomes much more difficult as does getting off of that criminal path. The diversion programs help prevent future crimes from happening. The programs usually involve more effort/punishment of the defendant than the criminal conviction would have, so it isn’t as if the person is simply being let off the hook. For example, a typical punishment for a first-time marijuana offender is to pay between $180 & $280. To go through the diversion program and get the marijuana charge taken off of the defendant’s record the defendant must take anti-marijuana classes and pay $605.
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?
We need judges who follow the laws already in place outlawing bails such as this question contemplates. We already have a law (15A-534(b)) that outlaws bail for most crimes except in cases where there is evidence indicating that the accused person will do one of 5 things if released from jail: 1) not show up in court, 2) hurt someone, 3) destroy evidence, 4) get someone to lie on the stand for him/her, or 5) intimidate potential witnesses. When the judge finds evidence convincing him/her of one of these five things, the judge must tell the person accused of his/her reasons and put in writing his/her reasons for making that finding. However, if the senior resident superior court judge says the judge making the finding does not have to put his/her reasons in writing, then the judge does not have to put his/her reasons in writing. The judge still must tell the accused person his reason for making that person pay money to get out of jail because it is basic due process of law that someone locked up in jail must be told the reasons he/she is locked up in jail, however there is no enforcement provision if the judge fails to tell the accused person the reason for the bail.
In Wake County the senior resident superior court judge has said that the bail reasons do not need to be put in writing. Many judges go one step further and do not tell the defendant what the judge’s reason is for holding the defendant in jail under bail, resulting in hundreds if not thousands of people being unlawfully incarcerated, often with no justifiable reason existing for imposing bail.
To force our judges to follow the law concerning bail the legislature should eliminate the loophole allowing the judges to not put their reasons in writing. Otherwise, the law cannot be enforced. We cannot show later what the judge considered and did not consider in making findings not put in writing.
In addition to this North Carolina statute meant to protect against unnecessarily forcing people to be in jail awaiting trial we have both federal and NC Constitutional protection. This Constitutional protection is also ineffective. In spite of the US Constitution’s 8th Amendment and the NC Constitution’s Article I, section 27 prohibition against excessive bail, we routinely impose excessive bail. District Court judges should follow the laws already in existence as to bail, alleviating if not eliminating this problem. Defense lawyers should immediately demand bond hearings in unlawful bail situations. When the State refuses to give the bond hearing the defense lawyers should petition the Court for a writ of habeas corpus. I have done this many times, however it is tedious and time-consuming, sometimes taking 20 hours of work and days before a hearing can be held. Eliminating the loophole which allows judges to impose bail without giving their reasons in writing would go a long way toward eliminating this problem.
What are your thoughts on implementing mental-health treatment courts across the state?
I think it is a good idea. It requires judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers somewhat knowledgeable in mental health issues, so we need appropriate training programs to secure the foundation for mental health courts to work. We also need well-functioning mental health facilities. The basic idea is that prisons generally do not reform prisoners; they train prisoners to return to prison. If a person’s criminal behavior arises because of a mental health problem and future criminal behavior can be prevented by addressing the mental health problem, then we need to address the mental health problem. Regular prisons generally do not successfully deal with mental health problems. Rather than serve his (for example) 3-year-sentence in a regular prison, the person who committed the crime as a result of a mental health issue could be sentenced to 3 years of mental health treatment at a facility designed to “cure” him of whatever led to his criminal behavior. The start-up cost for this sort of plan would be significant but if successful, the plan would save money in the long run by preventing future crime. Also, treating people with mental health issues is the right thing to do.
The Americans With Disabilities Act already requires us to reasonably accommodate defendants suffering from mental illness. Mental health courts would be a more effective accommodation than what we currently do.