My journey to run for the North Carolina Court of Appeals began during the 2016 presidential campaign with my family.
During one of the debates, my eldest teenage son said to me, “Seriously, is this the way that things are supposed to work?” That got me thinking. Regardless of which candidate you chose, or more than likely which candidate you did not chose, it was hard not to feel ashamed about the process and how degenerate American politics have become. The Trump-Clinton debates were not adult conversations. They were sporting events, and poor ones at that, but with very serious consequences for every one of us.
I told my son to watch the Reagan-Carter and Reagan-Mondale debates on YouTube to contrast the difference.
Meanwhile, my son was quietly getting involved with the Libertarian Party, helping with a few campaigns and doing other things.
I really didn’t take much notice early on. Then the recruitment started. I started having lots of conversations with Michael Jr. on a wide range of subjects.
He kept talking “status.” The Libertarians have “status” now. I joked with my son that maybe I’d run for judicial office as a Libertarian.
I’ve practiced law for about 15 years, and was often looked down upon my attorney peers because I did it part time and not for money.
Basically, I was a pro-bono estate attorney helping ordinary families settle things by walking them through the Byzantine administrative process.
This process is the same if you die with a billion dollars or $25,000. I helped people on the $25,000 end of the spectrum get through all the paper work.
I got paid mostly in hugs and thank you notes.
I was drawn to the appeals process while in the 1990’s, where I studied appellate law under former NC Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr at NCCU.
Being a Libertarian
When I attended the state Libertarian convention this year I realized I have always been a Libertarian and did not know it. Libertarians have a special power.
We have the ability to argue like adults. At the end of the argument we can shake hands and say, “Let’s get something to eat.”
Then, over a meal, you end up talking about family and things that bind us together.
In other words that special power is that we treat people like people despite our differences.
During the convention I also met Larry Sharpe, Libertarian candidate for New York governor.
I believe Larry is going to lead the Libertarian Party out of the woods and onto the American political scene as a viable alternative in the next couple of years.
There are two primary reasons I am running.
The first is to demonstrate that the Libertarian Party is very serious about entering the political arena and changing the political discourse from school yard taunting
to an adult conversation.
The second is to educate North Carolinians about their judicial system and why votes for judicial candidates are so important.
Voting for Judges in North Carolina
I believe that voting for judges is second in importance only to voting for members of Council of State.
I don’t believe people are paying enough attention. So I’ll be doing a series of YouTube videos to explain how our court systems work and why we elect our judges.
The current candidates running for Court of Appeals have already started using the slogan “We are tough on crime.”
This illustrates why my campaign will focus on educating voters about the role of the courts, particularly the Court of Appeals.
“Tough on Crime” sounds good and appeals to voters but in reality the Court of Appeals has only a marginal role in the criminal justice system.
Most of the cases they hear are civil cases. Moreover, all matters are questions of “law” and not “fact.”
That is, the Court of Appeals only determines whether the lower court decision was justified by the law.
A more accurate campaign slogan would be “I am going to be tough on procedure,” but of course no candidate will use it because that slogan has no emotional appeal.
Libertarian Judicial Philosophy
As the first Libertarian to run for judicial office in North Carolina you’re probably wondering what exactly a “Libertarian’s judicial philosophy” looks like?
Let us start with defining what a Libertarian believes. A Libertarian believes in freedom in the purest sense of the word. In other words,
I get to do what I want and you get to do what you want, so long as neither of us harms the other.
Freedom requires two things. The first is tolerance of others. My freedom is dependent on affording others the same rights to live and enjoy their lives as they like. Thus, whether it is gay rights, trans-gender rights, black rights, or immigrant rights Libertarians are always going to be on the side of individuals merely trying to live their lives as they see fit.
The second thing is personal responsibility. Nobody owes me anything, not even the government. The only role I see for government is to protect my freedom and as I see it that role is quite limited. The government these days is trying to do too much for me and I would rather they not try to take care of me and my family as that is my job.
Why is freedom is so important? Ultimately there is a direct correlation between freedom and happiness. In other words to be free is to be happy.
As a judicial candidate I can not really run a traditional campaign that runs on specific issues and tells you how I would decide particular cases. That would not be proper. My role as a Court of Appeals justice would be to apply the law that the North Carolina General Assembly has determined and how the common law has developed by stare decisions. In other words, I have to make my ruling based on precedent, what other courts have decided in similar cases.
So how do you decide what judicial candidate to vote for if they cannot tell you how they stand on an issue? I could use a slogan “I am going to be tough on crime,”
which is often used by candidates. It sounds great but in reality the Court of Appeals hears mostly civil cases that have nothing to do with criminal law.
Moreover, since the Court of Appeals only decides questions of law, not of facts, there is no way an appellate court decision could be called tough, or soft, on crime.
Safeguarding Your Freedoms
My philosophy would be to view questions of law through the prism of freedom and, to the extent possible within that framework, put the rights of people first when
deciding cases. There will likely be unfortunate cases where I believe that the libertarian freedom ideal can not be achieved, but my role on the court will be to follow
the the law – not my belief – in those cases. North Carolina appellate courts have a long history of not engaging in judicial activism and I would uphold that tradition.
What is the Court of Appeals?
The North Carolina Court of Appeals was created in 1967 by the North Carolina General Assembly after voters approved creating the court via a State Constitutional Amendment in 1965. It is an intermediate appellate court which was created to reduce the burden on the North Carolina State Supreme Court.
Traditionally there have been twelve to fifteen justices on the Court of Appeals and cases are heard in rotating three judge panels. Justices to the Court of Appeals are elected in a state wide election or appointed by the governor to replace an existing justice when they retire or resign. Justices serve for an eight year term.
What is an Appellate Court?
This is an important concept to understand.
An appellate court only reviews questions of law and not questions of fact.
That is a great sentence for a lawyer to write because it probably makes no sense to someone outside the legal profession so I will try explain it a bit better.
The role of an appellate court is not to overturn a lower court decision because they did not like the result or interpretation of the facts.
The lower court decides the facts and by that I mean the jury or judge listens to the evidence presented and makes a decision.
The appellate court is not going to reinterpret the evidence and make a decision they like better.
The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court looks at questions of law.
So what is a question of law? There are two primary things:
Did the lower court apply the right legal process?
Was a mistake made in the proceedings or the handling of evidence.
You’ve heard of “due process” which we are all entitled to under the law.
This is an umbrella term for following the correct legal process in all stages of litigation.
Application of the Law
Did the lower court apply the law correctly?
Examples here would be jury instructions.
Did the court give the jury the correct legal standard for making a determination.
Appellate courts look at these issues and then analyze as to whether if a mistake was made and if that mistake materially altered the outcome of the decision.
Only then does an appellate court act and when it does take action it is very rare for an appellate court to change the decision directly.
Instead the appellate court sends the case back to the court of origin with instructions.
Because an appeal can only succeed on this basis bringing a successful appeal is difficult and time consuming.
Preserving the Right of Appeal
If you have ever served on a jury or watched a trial you’ve probably seen lawyers doing things that would tend to validate every lawyer joke you’ve ever heard.
The two examples are making objections to witness testimony where the trial court judge continually overrules the objections and where the trial court judge
would appear to be getting irritated.
Another court room behavior that probably seems odd are motions that are made where the jury is removed from the court room and the motion is immediately denied.
The context of this behavior is the attorney engaging in this behavior has a genuine belief that a mistake is being made and these objections and motions are
being made for the possible opportunity for the case to be reviewed by an appellate court.
The legal term is “Preserving the Right of Appeal”.
The way it works is if these seemingly pointless behaviors are not done then there is nothing for an appellate court to review since they are not going to
be looking at the facts to overturn the decision.
Civil Case vs. Criminal Cases
Our court system handles two types of cases which are important to understand.
In a criminal case the state, or government itself, is bringing the action because a crime has been committed.
These cases often get a lot of attention and are the easiest cases to understand outside of the legal profession. However, this is only part of what the court system handles.
In a civil case, the parties involved usually are private individuals bringing the action to resolve a private dispute.
There are some cases where the state, or government itself brings a civil action if the action is not a crime.
These cases are just as important, but get less attention in the media in general. Our court system handles a lot of these cases,
both at the trial court level and appellate level.
The Court of Appeals hears both Civil Cases and Criminal Cases in a significant volume.
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