November 2018 Endorsements - Protecting our courts and moving Durham and North Carolina forward

State Courts

Anita Earls for NC Supreme Court – PA PAC endorses Anita Earls for the North Carolina Supreme Court.  Earls’ legal training and experience make her ideally suited to serve on our state’s highest court.  She holds degrees from the country’s very best schools where she earned highest honors. She was editor of the Yale Law Review.  She worked as a civil rights attorney with the Ferguson-Stein law firm, one of North Carolina’s leading civil rights firms for ten years.  She then worked in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in Washington during the Clinton Administration. She has taught law at the University of Maryland, Duke, and UNC.  At UNC she was the director of the Center for Civil Rights. She was the founder and first director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Usually, we do not go over a candidate’s resume in detail like this, but for the Supreme Court, serious legal scholarship is very important.  The court’s authority is reposed in it.

Earls’ responses to our questionnaire indicate that she is personally aligned with PA’s views on policy questions.  As a Supreme Court Justice, however, she repeatedly cautioned that she will apply the law scrupulously.

Earls is African-American.  Only six African-Americans have ever served on the North Carolina Supreme Court in its more than 200-year history.  

Most people know Anita Earls from her tireless advocacy for the poor, for people of color, for the disfranchised, for the LGBTQ community, and marginalized people everywhere.  The best recent example of her work is her role as lead attorney in Dickson v. Rucho, the case which challenged and overcame the Republican legislature’s racially gerrymandered legislative districts.  The litigation lasted six years and went to the United States Supreme Court twice.

Earls is a Democrat.  Her principal opponent in the contest is the Republican incumbent, Barbara Jackson.  Justice Jackson chose not to participate in PA PAC’s endorsement process. It is important to note that Jackson voted with the court’s majority to uphold the racially gerrymandered districts in the Rucho case on two occasions.  Each time, the court’s decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court through Anita Earls’ advocacy.

The other Republican candidate, Christopher James Anglin, did not respond to our invitation to participate in our endorsement process.  His candidacy has been controversial because he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican before filing.

John Arrowood for NC Court of Appeals – PA PAC backs Judge John Arrowood for the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  Judge Arrowood obtained his law degree from UNC law school in 1982. After graduation, he was a staff attorney for the NC Court of Appeals and rose to become staff director.   He was also selected to clerk for the Chief Judge of the court. Appellate court staff and clerk positions are honors reserved for the very best legal scholars. With Arrowood’s years of service, few candidates could be more familiar with the business of the court.

After working for the court, Arrowood worked for nearly thirty years in a broad range of civil practice.  His criminal practice was concentrated on post-conviction expunctions and pardons. He has also served as a Special Superior Court Judge at the trial level.   Arrowood has been a member of the board of the North Carolina Railroad, the NC Banking Commission, the NC Rules Review Commission, and the NC Arts Council. He is truly committed to public service.

Arrowood has served on the Court of Appeals twice, both through appointments.  The first occasion was 2007-8. The most recent followed his appointment in 2017.  On a number of occasions, he has dissented from the majority only to have his view of the case adopted by the NC Supreme Court on appeal.

Responses to judicial questionnaires are often guarded.  From Judge Arrowood’s questionnaire, it appears that his policy views are aligned with PA’s.  He cited cases relating to voting rights and the separation of powers as among the most significant recent decisions of the courts.  He is concerned about the legislature’s partisan manipulation of seats on the Court of Appeals and with vacancy appointments.

Judge Arrowood is a Democrat and is the incumbent for this seat.  He is the first openly gay person to serve on either of NC’s appellate courts.

Andrew Heath, Arrowood’s Republican opponent, chose not to respond to our invitation to participate in our endorsement process.  He was budget director in Governor McCrory’s administration and was then appointed to the Industrial Commission. He now serves as a superior court judge.

Toby Hampson for NC Court of Appeals  – PA PAC endorses Toby Hampson for the NC Court of Appeals seat being vacated by Anne Marie Calabria.

Hampson has a Durham connection.  He graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.  He is an honors graduate of the American University in Washington, DC, and from Campbell University law school.  Following graduation from law school, Hampson clerked for three judges on the NC Court of Appeals. In private practice, he has concentrated on appellate work and is now head of appellate practice for one of the state’s most prominent law firms.  He is an expert in the business of our appellate courts.

Hampson’s questionnaire responses indicate that he agrees with PA on policy issues.  He has well-developed views about improving access to the courts and for simplified and less expensive resolution of routine and minor matters.  He supports diversion programs and adequate funding for indigent defense. He indicated a desire to use his position as a judge to advocate for equal access to the courts and to address racial disparities in the judicial system.  He cited the City of Asheville case in the NC Supreme Court as having special significance because in it the court reasserted its authority and obligation to review legislative acts as a check on the power of the General Assembly.

Hampson is a Democrat.  Opposing him are Republicans Jefferson Griffin and Sandra Ray.  Both are serving as trial court judges. Ray declined to participate in our endorsement process.  Griffin appeared at our candidate mixer and was interviewed. He did not, however, respond to our questionnaire.  He lost to Lauren Freeman for the office of Wake County DA back in 2014.

Allegra Collins for NC Court of Appeals – PA PAC endorses Allegra Collins for the Elmore Seat on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  Collins grew up in Virginia and was a champion tennis player during her college years. Before attending Campbell Law School, she played professional tennis for a time and worked in the business world.  Following graduation, Collins clerked in the Court of Appeals and later worked in the office of the appellate reporter for the NC Supreme Court. She holds a faculty position in legal research and writing at Campbell Law School and has her own successful appellate practice. She represents indigent criminal defendants at the appellate level.  Like candidates Hampson and Arrowood, Collins is an expert in appellate advocacy and the business of our appellate courts.

Her responses to our questionnaire on policy issues were guarded.   In her interview, she was less guarded. When she did respond substantively, her answers were aligned with PA’s policy views.  She indicated a real concern about access to the courts for people with limited means. She is determined to fight against racial bias in the justice system.  She wants to remove political maneuvering in the court system and to protect the role of the North Carolina Supreme Court as the highest court in the state.

Allegra Collins is a Democrat.  Her Republican opponent, Chuck Kitchen, served for many years as Durham County attorney.  His questionnaire responses are extremely guarded. During his interview, he explained that he changed his voter registration to Republican because of what he perceived to be the Obama administration’s persecution of the Alamance County Sheriff for alleged racial and ethnic profiling.

Michael Monaco, the libertarian candidate, did not respond to our invitation to participate in our endorsement process.

 

Durham County Superior and District Courts

Jim Hardin for Superior Court – Prior to 2009, Jim Hardin served as a special superior court judge appointed by the governor.  In 2009 he was appointed by the governor to serve as a Durham County resident superior court judge.  In 2010, he ran for election to his seat with PA PAC’s endorsement. Now we endorse him for another term.  Hardin has broad experience as an attorney and a long record of public service. He began his career in a general practice which included criminal defense work.  He then served in the District Attorney’s office and rose to become Durham’s elected DA. He has been a judge for sixteen years. During most of his career, he has also been active in military justice with the army and has served tours of duty in the United States and overseas.  Hardin has a well-earned reputation as a fair, patient, and respectful judge. He displays a model temperament from the bench and exercises an easy control over his courtroom. His views align with PA’s. He believes that the death penalty should no longer be sought. He believes that it is time to reassess the bond schedule.  He is a strong supporter programs to divert certain offenders away from prosecution and punishment. He initiated a number of them when he was DA. He is loath to impose fines except in those cases where the law offers no alternative and he routinely remits fees. He sees no point in setting people up on a cycle of failure when they cannot afford to pay.  

Hardin, a Democrat, is running unopposed.

Mike O’Foghludha for Superior Court – The PA PAC endorses Mike O’Foghludha for superior court judge. O’Foghludha won his court seat in 2010 with PA PAC support.  Now PA PAC endorses him for another term. Prior to being elected, O’Foghludha represented indigent clients in civil and criminal matters from 1983 until 1987. From 1987 until 2010, he worked for and was made partner in a Durham-based law firm, where he represented clients in civil cases. In his eight years as a superior court judge, O’Foghludha has cultivated a reputation for being a compassionate, kind, and thoughtful jurist.

In his responses to the PA PAC’s questions, O’Foghludha wrote about increasing access to justice for indigent defendants. He supports a return to an expanded role for civil legal services organizations, a role that has been curtailed to the detriment of poor people since 1996 changes to federal law. He also criticized more recent changes at the state level to reduce compensation paid to criminal defense attorneys representing indigent defendants. We also appreciated O’Foghludha’s responses to questions about waiving fines and fees for indigent defendants. His description of the system gives us confidence that he does not, in fact, impose fines, and that he waives fees and true costs when defendants cannot afford to pay. He repeatedly expressed support for required race equity training for judges, and described the training that he has received to overcome his own implicit biases.

The PA PAC finds that O’Foghludha’s responses indicate an alignment with the values of the People’s Alliance. O’Foghludha is a Democrat and is running unopposed.

Josephine Kerr Davis for Superior Court – The PA PAC endorses Josephine Kerr Davis for superior court. Davis, a graduate of NC A&T and NCCU Law, has spent the last eight years working at the District Attorney’s office in Durham. She also has experience in criminal defense, having worked for the Public Defender in Fayetteville, and civil litigation experience gained during her time at the N. C. Department of Justice. In her questionnaire and her interview, Davis displayed a passionate commitment to reducing barriers to accessing justice by presenting a menu of changes Durham could implement to make it easier for people who need to access our courts. Davis also presented a narrative of her own growth and development as an attorney, discussing her evolving approach to pleas over time, and how she has developed judicial demeanor in the crucible of intense interactions with victims, clients, and defendants.

Davis does not only talk about her progressive values. She has applied her values to her work and changed the lives of many of our neighbors. Davis volunteered to review thousands of driving records, dismissing charges in 2,000 cases that met the criteria established by the District Attorney’s office. This work, involving countless hours, made it possible for hundreds of individuals to reclaim a piece of adult life many take for granted—legally driving a vehicle.

Davis is a Democrat. She is running against Dawn Baxton who is also a Democrat.  Baxton displays experience and espouses values that are progressive. However, it was Davis’s values, commitment, and breadth of experience that won over PA PAC, earning her the endorsement.

Pat Evans for District Court – In 2010, Durham elected one of its most experienced criminal law attorneys to the district court bench

. She was endorsed by PA PAC in that election and in her bids for re-election since.  Evans is a double eagle having attended the Nort

h Carolina Central University and the North Carolina Central University School of Law. Upon graduation, she entered private practice d

efending Durham County residents in both District and Superior Court. She later joined the District Attorneys staff.  Throughout this time, Evans gained a well-earned reputation as a highly skilled trial attorney and a compassionate advocate for victims of crime in Durham County.

As a District Court judge, Evans has displayed that same compassion for the people appearing before her.  She has proven herself to be a strong supporter of pre-trial release and Durham’s diversionary courts, and routinely unsecures bonds for low-level offenses and indigent individuals. Judge Evans openly acknowledges the inherent inequalities systematically embedded in our criminal justice system and uses her position in the court to ensure that outcomes are equal for all citizens, regardless of status or wealth.  PA PAC is happy to endorse Judge Evans for another term.

Evans is a Democrat.  She is running unopposed.

Clayton Jones for District Court – PA PAC endorses Clayton Jones for district court. Jones is a graduate of the NCCU School of Law. He served in the Public Defender’s Office from 2003 until 2016 where he earned a reputation as a formidable trial attorney. Since 2016, Jones has worked in the District Attorney’s Office handling cases at every level of complexity. Jones is very active in community life, serving in leadership roles with the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the George H. White Bar Association, and the Durham County Bar Association.  Jones’s legal experience gives the PA PAC confidence that he will be fair when applying the law to the facts of each case that comes before him.

Jones was particularly impressive when addressing questions about diversion programs designed to keep individuals out of the courts. His support for pre-charge diversion for many types of non-violent offenses could play a role in reducing incarceration rates in Durham. He also noted that the expanded use of such programs could help reduce the number of people with criminal records in the county.

Jones is a Democrat. He is running against the incumbent Judge James Hill.  Hill, a Republican, earned our endorsement when he ran for re-election in 2014.  He is independent minded and we appreciate his forthright responses to our questionnaire. We were dismayed when Judge Hill was reprimanded by the N. C. Supreme Court in 2015 for improperly using his contempt authority and for failing to be patient and courteous with litigants appearing before him. Hill’s mixed record and Jones’s strong progressive credentials make the choice in this election clear.

Amanda Maris for District Court – PA PAC endorses Amanda Maris for election as a district court judge. She was appointed to a vacant seat on the bench in 2017 with PA PAC’s strong support.  Since her appointment, Maris has proven herself to be a capable and compassionate judge.

Her experience as an assistant public defender for ten years shaped Maris’s view of justice in Durham County. During that time in her career, she was instrumental in founding a quarterly expunction clinic in Durham with Legal Aid.  She is committed to treating people fairly, and her record on the bench reflects that.  She has been a staunch advocate for decreasing the effects of criminal convictions on people struggling with poverty. As a judge, she is spearheading a new, multi-agency initiative to increase access to expunctions in Durham. Maris has not been afraid to speak out on important issues facing our community and our court system.   She deserves the opportunity to continue her service to the people of Durham County on the district court bench. 

Maris is a democrat.  She is running unopposed.

Brian Wilks for District Court - PA PAC endorses Brian Wilks for re-election as a district court judge.  Judge Wilks graduated from the NCCU School of Law and was admitted to the North Carolina Bar in 1996. Shortly after becoming licensed, Wilks served Durham County as an assistant public defender for almost five years. After a brief stint in private practice, Wilks joined the Attorney General’s staff in Raleigh. Wilks then returned to Durham County to serve as an assistant district attorney, where he was the supervisor of district court operations. In 2008, Wilks was appointed to the district court bench by the governor.  PAC endorsed him for election in 2010 and re-election in 2014.

As a judge, Wilks exemplifies the values and characteristics PA PAC looks for in a judicial figure. Judge Wilks is immensely patient and treats everyone with the respect they deserve from a judicial official.  In return, Wilks has won the respect of the legal community. He is able to connect with individuals while maintaining a professional demeanor from the bench. Always interpreting and parsing out legal arguments, Judge Wilks is fair and follows the law.

Wilks is a Democrat.  He is running unopposed.

Dave Hall for District Court – PA PAC endorses Dave Hall for district court. Hall graduated from NCCU Law in 2008 and opened a practice in Durham where he represented people in criminal and civil proceedings. In 2013, Hall was working in his front yard when he was shot.  The bullet, one of dozens fired during a shootout in which Hall was an innocent bystander, altered the course of his career. Hall shuttered his law practice while he recovered from his wound.

When he was well enough, Hall returned to work, making civil rights work the focus of his legal career. Hall spent several years at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice serving as a community lawyer. Hall used his legal skills to support efforts led by directly-impacted individuals to end money bail, eliminate the criminalization of poverty, and address the collateral consequences of a criminal record. Hall’s values are progressive. His positions on mass incarceration, bond reform, and access to justice demonstrate his commitment to an equitable legal system.

The unusual blend of experiences Hall will bring to the bench that makes PA PAC confident that he will be fair in applying the law in the cases before him while treating those in his courtroom with respect.

Hall is a Democrat. He is running against the incumbent, Fred Battaglia, also a Democrat. Battaglia’s critical remarks about a member of the District Attorney’s staff cause some to question whether he possesses the temperament required for the bench.  In part because of this, but more because PA PAC is impressed by Hall’s work in areas of particular concern to the progressive community, PAC feels that Hall would better reflect PA’s values on the bench.

Doretta Walker for District Court – PA PAC has endorsed Doretta Walker for district court since she first ran in 2010.  We endorse her again now. Following her graduation from UNC law school in 1993, Walker went to work for legal assistance where she advocated for children with mental disabilities.  She later clerked in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and went on to serve as an assistant district attorney in Durham for thirteen years. In the DA’s office, she rose to handle the most complex white-collar and financial crimes prosecutions.  As a judge, Walker is appreciated for her knowledge of the law, her fairness, and her genuine concern for those who appear before her. Although her questionnaire responses are sometimes guarded, our long experience with Judge Walker indicates that her values are PA’s.  She is deeply concerned about the lack of legal and program resources for low-income people in family court and civil cases. She would like to see more assistance for victims of domestic violence and daycare services for parents who must appear in court. She would like to reexamine the bond schedule and she often waives fees and costs for those who cannot pay.  She supports diversion programs and would like to see an expanded role for restorative justice remedies for offenders and the victims of crime where it is appropriate. Walker is active in the community. She is a twenty-year mentor and volunteer in Partners for Youth Opportunities and she teaches criminal law, ethics, and the courts in the criminal justice program at Durham Technical Community College.

Walker is a Democrat.  She is running unopposed.

 

Constitutional Amendment Referenda 2018

There will be six proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution on the ballot in November.  All six were created by the Republican legislature to either to strip power from the governor or to serve as dog-whistles to the Republican base.  PA PAC endorses a strong “NO” vote for all six referenda questions on the ballot.

1) Would make the right to hunt and fish a constitutional right.

This amendment is really an assault on the state’s ability to regulate the environment.  The dangerous language is the clause which would make hunting and fishing the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”  The measure is a dog- whistle to the gun lobby. 

2) This unnecessary “Marsy’s Law” amendment would make certain rights of victims of crime constitutional.

The North Carolina Constitution already provides for victim’s rights and most of the provisions in this amendment already exist in laws passed pursuant to the current constitution.  The legislature already has all the constitutional authority it needs to strengthen victims’ rights.  The amendment adds nothing.  It is intended to whistle up the Republican law-and-order base.

3) Would establish a 7 percent ceiling on the state income tax.

This proposed amendment would enshrine tax breaks for the rich in the state’s constitution.  Its Republican authors hope to permanently starve the state government and prevent it from adequately providing for education, for effective protection of the environment, and for programs for the poor, the elderly, and those requiring health care. 

4) Would limit the governor’s power to fill mid-term judicial vacancies.

This amendment would strip the governor’s power to fill judicial vacancies when judges die or retire mid-term. It would require the governor to choose someone from candidates selected by legislative commissions. It is a power grab to control the judiciary, the third branch of government.  How often do judges quit mid-term?  Often.  It’s the only elected office that has a mandatory retirement age.  That’s 72.

5) Would require a photo ID to vote.

This proposed amendment would establish a new legal basis for the legislature to pass laws suppressing the right to vote. Their targets, of course, are African American voters, the poor, and the elderly.  The legislature keeps losing in court, but if this is passed, it can start the whole process of voter suppression over again and keep the litigation alive while election after election rolls by with no practical changes.  The legislature moves faster than the courts.  Legal turmoil benefits them.  It hurts the rest of us.

6) Would empower the legislature to essentially appoint all the members of the State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.

This is the most dangerous amendment of all. It would eliminate the checks and balances on governmental power which have long been the hallmark of our state constitution.  From time-out-of-mind, our constitution has given the legislature the power to make the laws and the governor the power to execute them.  Running elections is an executive function.  The governor has always had the right to appoint the majority of  the members of the State Board of Elections.  But since Gov. Cooper won in 2016, the Republican legislature has done everything it can to keep control of the elections process out of his hands.  This amendment would establish an elections board of eight members - four of whom would be Republicans and four of whom would be Democrats.  The governor would appoint the members, but only from a short list of candidates nominated by the legislature!  When the Republican legislature recently tried to do something like this by statute, the courts struck it down as an unconstitutional infringement on the governor’s power and a breach of separation of powers.  Having lost that battle, the legislature wants to change the constitution. The legislature cannot make the laws and execute them too! 

 

Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors

Soil and Water Conservation Districts were created across the country in the 1930s as a part of federal legislation to reform land management practices.  The district uses state and federal financial and information resources to encourage voluntary conservation practices to protect soil and water. The board receives money from the county and from state and federal grants. Durham County’s district is governed by a board of five supervisors.  Two are appointed at the state level and three are elected locally. There are also associate supervisors appointed by the board. An associate supervisor is a volunteer, non-voting advisor to the board. This year, two elected seats on the official board are up. There are four candidates. PA PAC endorses David Harris and Natalie Murdock in their bids for the two available seats.

David Harris was born in northern Durham County on a small farm near Rougemont.  He made his career in communications working first for GTE and later for Nortel Networks.  He has been active in the political life of the community and has served as president of the InterNeighborhood Council and the People’s Alliance.  He has served on the Planning Commission where he was a strong voice for the preservation of natural resources. In 2014, Harris was appointed an associate supervisor for the Soil and Water Conservation District.  David’s strong commitment to the board and its work earned him an appointment in 2017 to fill out the unexpired term of an elected member. He has held and now holds numerous positions of responsibility in the state-wide Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

PA PAC is impressed that Harris sees the role of the district in Durham County as one that not only addresses issues of conservation in agricultural settings – the traditional role for soil and water districts boards but as one that addresses conservation issues in a growing urban environment.  He spoke with considerable pride about district-sponsored conservation projects at the granular level within the city limits.

Natalie Murdock was born in Greensboro but has called Durham home for a number of years.  She studied political science at UNC and public administration at Western Carolina.  She has held a number of jobs for North Carolina local and state governments in the fields of community development, transportation planning, including Go Triangle, and communications.  She is active in the political life of the Durham Community and holds a leadership position in the Durham Democratic Party. She has been an associate member of the Soil and Water Conservation Board for a number of years.

Murdock sees a strong role for the board in promoting conservation efforts for regional agriculture, but in our interview with her, she indicated a sensitivity to the role the board can play in the urban portions of the county promoting successful relationships between local producers and people in Durham needing local fresh food.  PA PAC is impressed by Natalie’s energy and we believe that she will use that energy and her considerable connections in state government to help the district procure the grants and other special funding that make the district’s conservation efforts possible.

Both Natalie and David demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Durham and the issues facing the city and county.  Both candidates are African American. Of the more than 400 soil and water supervisors serving districts covering North Carolina, only a handful are people of color.

A third candidate also attracted our attention.  Laura Marie Davis is a relative newcomer to Durham having come here in the fall of 2015 to obtain her master’s degree in environmental management at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  Since graduating, Laura has worked with EarthShare NC, an organization created to coordinate efforts of North Carolina-based environmental and conservation non-profits. We were very impressed by Laura’s academic background in the environmental and conservation areas – a base of knowledge that would clearly benefit the board of supervisors.  During our interview with her, however, it became apparent that she is not yet very familiar with Durham. She is a new associate supervisor with the board. In that role, she can share her knowledge and learn more about the community the district serves. In time she will become a stronger candidate for an elected or appointed supervisor position.

The fourth candidate, Jason Lynn Watson, did not respond to our invitation to participate in our endorsement process.



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