In this year’s elections, voters will be asked to select a candidate to serve an eight-year term as an Associate Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. The candidates on the ballot are incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson, attorney Anita Earls, and attorney Chris Anglin. All three candidates sat down with North Carolina Lawyers Weekly reporter Bill Cresenzo this month to answer an identical slate of questions. As a public service, Lawyers Weekly is making its election coverage free to view online without a subscription. We encourage you to share our coverage with your friends and neighbors who may be seeking more information about the candidates.
Candidate: Chris Anglin
How would you describe your judicial philosophy?
To interpret the law, not make the law.
What do you believe makes you the best candidate to serve on the bench as an Associate Justice, based on your experience and any other factors that you think are important in a good justice?
I think that I am the best choice for this seat because of my diverse experience in the practice of law. I have practiced everything from court-appointed defense to wills and estates, real estate closings, and a broad variety of civil litigation. I can see firsthand the effect the judicial system has on the general public. I am running on a platform of suggested changes to the judicial system. North Carolina needs a process in which a federal court can certify a question to the state Supreme Court to clarify an issue of state law. Every trial court judge in the state needs to be provided a licensed law clerk in order to help them review the materials that are submitted to them and assist in research. If that is not fiscally possible, I would suggest a certified law clerk for every superior court judicial division in the state. There is currently a program through the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts in which there are eight available clerks that are available to work with on cases, but I think that’s not enough to assist all the superior court judges in the state. I also have shown that I am able to stand up for the independent judiciary and the General Assembly’s constant attacks on it. They clearly no longer believe that it should be a co-equal separate branch of government and they are seeking to make the justice system an extension of the legislature.
The General Assembly recently reinstituted partisan elections for Supreme Court races. What are your thoughts on how the shift to partisan elections might affect the state’s judiciary?
Judicial elections should be nonpartisan. North Carolina was the first state in over 50 years to go from nonpartisan to partisan elections. The Supreme Court elections were nonpartisan starting in 1996, and they were made partisan again in 2016. This was an attempt to help the incumbent win this election. It is this hyper-partisanship that leads to judges like Roy Moore. It is dangerous for the judiciary because it is supposed be the non-political branch of the government. There is going to be some politics involved in nonpartisan races, but when you have partisan races, the candidates can be beholden to political parties and special interest groups. When they are elected, that can have the citizens lose faith in their impartiality and they have to worry about being reelected and having continued support from the party or the special interests groups.
If elected, what would you do to ensure that all citizens can be assured that the court is handling its duties in an objective and non-partisan manner?
It is important for judges to show the general public that they are going to be relying upon the facts and the law in making their decisions. If I am elected, I will not let my personal beliefs impact the way I make decisions. I will interpret, and not make the law.
We’ve written extensively about the low volume of opinions authored by the Supreme Court in recent years, particularly for civil cases. Do you think the court is producing a sufficiently robust body of case law, and if not, what do you think the court can or should do to increase its output?
On Jan. 1 appeals for termination of parental rights cases will go straight to the Supreme Court. That will generate about 100 decisions a year. That will more than double the workload. So I think that it will be important to put a procedure in place so those decisions can be written in a timely fashion. Secondly, as a practitioner of civil law, I wish there were more civil opinions written by the Supreme Court. There are a number of areas in the Rules of Civil Procedure where there is not much case law on those issues, and we routinely have to look to other states to see what their decisions were. In 2017 the number of opinions per justice was an average of 10. The Court of Appeals, though, authored 1500 decisions, which is 100 per judge.
We’ve also written extensively about the ongoing crisis in access to justice. What do you think the state’s judiciary can do or should do to ensure that all citizens have and can afford access to justice?
There needs to be a constitutional right for attorneys in civil cases. That would go a long way in addressing the concerns of people with limited means not being able to afford an attorney in the civil context. And while it is not feasible to provide them in every type of civil cases, there should be specific cases where those in poverty are subject to having a bad result, such as eviction, unpaid wage claims, and lawsuits regarding collections. When there is an attorney involved in the eviction process the tenant is successful approximately 50 percent of the time. However, when they are pro se, that drops to 10 percent. While the judicial system can’t add a constitutional amendment to a ballot, they can certainly propose one to the General Assembly.
Are there any lawyers or judges, either ones you’ve worked with personally or whose work you admire, who have especially influenced your views on how to be a good judge?
Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr is someone I would like to emulate if elected. When he was a Supreme Court justice, he was a Republican, but he issued decisions that were fair and evenhanded. He did not let his political affiliation have any impact on his rulings.
What would you consider to be your proudest day or moment of your career to date?
I represented a man named Brian Berger in New Hanover County. He was a county commissioner who was removed from office using a process called amotion, a procedure by which county boards remove a member. In that case, it was incredibly unfair. There was a hearing, and at that hearing they acted as the judge. The head of commission actually set the rules and they also served as the jury. They voted on his removal. He was able to vote on that issue. Their county attorney worked as the prosecutor. So all three elements of what you consider a traditional trial were controlled by them. We appealed and it was heard in Business Court. Mr. Berger was given his seat back. That case stands out to me as important because it showed me how politics can go too far and impact the democratic process. Members of the same political board should not be able to just remove each other when they are elected officials. The ultimate responsibility for removing them should lie with the voters.
Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you think it would good for voters to know to help them make their decision?
If elected I will issue rulings in a fair and evenhanded manner. I am going to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench. While I obviously would like to get people’s votes, I hope they get out and vote no matter who they vote for, especially in a “blue moon” election. There is no national, gubernatorial, or presidential race on the ballot. People need to recognize the impact the law has on every aspect of their lives–from when you wake up in the morning and get into your car and drop your kids off at school to when you are at work, laws impact almost every second of your everyday life for better or worse. As North Carolinians and Americans, it is important for citizens to take an active role in electing their judges.