Judge, Wake County District Court
J.D., Campbell University
Q: What makes you the most qualified for this job?
A: I believe that I am the most qualified in my race to sit on the Court of Appeals based on my total of 31 years of legal practice: nine years as a Wake County District Court judge, where I have presided over tens of thousands of cases, including numerous jury trials; 19 years with the Attorney General’s Office, where I briefed and argued well over 60 civil and criminal appeals in both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals; and three years working at the General Assembly in the Speaker’s Office. I have drafted legislation, lobbied for its passage into law, enforced the law and interpreted the law as a trial judge. I have been recognized by the appellate courts for my writing skills. I am a certified Juvenile Court Judge and lead judge in our Civil District Court. That experience, along with my reputation a hardworking, fair and impartial judge with an even temperament, uniquely prepares me for this position.
I also bring significant involvement as a leader in the profession. I am a past president of the Wake County Bar Association, past vice president of the N.C. Bar Association, inaugural appointee to the State Judicial Council where I served for eight years, current appointee of Chief Justice Parker to the N.C. Courts Commission, and current appointee to the Bench Bar Liaison Committee and the Young Lawyers Initiatives Task Force of the NCBA. In short, I am involved in our profession and in efforts to improve the administration of justice. I pledge to continue my involvement.
My endorsements include former Chief Justices Exum, Mitchell and Frye; former Chief Judges Arnold and Eagles; other trial judges; N.C. Advocates for Justice and the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys; the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys; law enforcement, teachers, labor, social workers and many other citizens groups. I am also endorsed by the Charlotte Observer, Winston-Salem Journal, Greenville Daily Reflector, The Independent Weekly and the Wilmington Journal. A full listing of my endorsements can be found on my website: www.judgejanegray.com. Judicial races in our state are nonpartisan and I am proud to have the support of voters from both major parties as well as unaffiliated voters.
I believe in the rule of law and will not legislate from the bench nor will I shy away from addressing difficult issues when properly before the court. The citizens of North Carolina and the Bar can be assured that I have no political agenda other than to see that justice is done fairly and impartially.
Q: Name one important North Carolina appellate court decision in the last 10 years that has made a difference and explain why.
A: There are many important appellate decisions in the last decade, but I would proffer State v. Hart, 361 N.C. 309, 644 S.E.2d 201 (2007) as one of the most significant. The decision clarified the scope of Rule 2 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure and the authority of the Court of Appeals to utilize it when appellants had violated the Rules. The case of Viar vs. N.C. Department of Transportation, 359 N.C. 400, 610 S.E.2d 360(2005) reversed an attempt by the majority in the decision of the Court of Appeals to consider an appeal under Rule 2 even though the appellant had clearly violated Rules 10 and 28. The underlying facts were compelling: an accident that resulted in the deaths of two young sisters. The Supreme Court adopted the dissent in a short opinion stating it was not the role of the appellate courts to create an appeal for an appellant and the appeal was dismissed. Viar was thereafter cited as requiring dismissal of any appeal that violated the Rules. See, State v. Buchanan, 170 N.C. App. 692, 613 S.E.2d 236(2005). The Hart decision, authored by Justice Hudson, made it clear that every violation of the Rules did not require dismissal of the appeal, but rather that other sanction under Rules 25(b) or 34 might be in order. The Hart decision reviewed decisions that had misapplied Viar and clarified that while an appeal is “subject to” dismissal for violation of the Rules, it is not mandatory. The Hart case also made clear the authority of the Court of Appeals to apply Rule 2 when Rule violations did occur. It is a rare use of the court’s power and should be used only in exceptional cases, but importantly, when it would prevent injustice which appears manifest to the Court or when necessary to consider significant issues of importance in the public interest. Rule 10 of our appellate rules (and some others) remained a thorny issue, and the decision in State v. Hart was one of the catalysts to the revision of the Rules in 2009. The amendments allowed North Carolina to join a majority of states in eliminating assignments of error and the technical requirements surrounding them. While the Rules are still mandatory, this case and the amended Rules that followed, should assist the appellate courts in reaching cases on the merits while not sacrificing the orderly presentation of the issues involved.
Q: What could be done to make the appellate process work better for jurists and lawyers?
A: The amended Rules as mentioned above will certainly aid jurists and lawyers in administering a better appellate process. However, a critical issue faced by all of us in the court system is a lack of appropriate resources to move the process along more efficiently. Most, if not all, attorneys have sophisticated software and hardware to prepare their records on appeal, exhibits, appendices, and briefs. Most have sufficient staff to assist them in the preparation of these documents. However, all of that efficiency bogs down when overburdened court reporters cannot produce the transcripts, there are vacant positions in the Clerk’s Office at the appellate courts, and the technology in the Administrative Office of the Courts is years behind. Extensions of time are the norm rather than exception, due to the backlog of transcript preparation. This bottleneck will only be solved when there is recognition that the co-equal third branch of our government cannot be funded with less than 3 percent of the state budget. I continue to advocate for more autonomy for the chief justice and the director to manage the resources that best serve the “judicial department” (as it is known in our Constitution) rather than having the Legislature decide line item by line item how to allocate those resources. The chief justice and the director would certainly have to justify their priorities, but I believe this change would aid in establishing a more responsive justice system.g