In this year’s elections, voters will be asked to select a candidate to serve an eight-year term as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. As we’ve done in previous Supreme Court elections, Lawyers Weekly reached out to both of the candidates on the ballot and asked them to complete our Candidate Q&As. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Q&As were conducted entirely via email.
Associate Justice Paul Newby’s responses are provided below. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley’s responses can be found here.
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, and we greatly appreciate all of the candidates who took time out of their busy schedule to participate.
Associate Justice Paul Newby – Candidate for Chief Justice
How would you describe your judicial philosophy?
My judicial philosophy is to follow the rule of law—fairly, impartially, and consistently applying the law to the facts of each case and faithfully interpreting the Constitution and statutes as intended. Consistency and predictability in the law is imperative for lawyers to counsel clients accurately. And, the law is for everyone, not just lawyers. That consistency, predictability, and fairness is important to all North Carolinians. The symbol of the Judicial Branch, Lady Justice, is blind-folded for a reason—she cannot see the identity of the parties—every party is to be treated the same. A judge must always remember the importance of each case, treating everyone with dignity and respect. Separation of powers is vitally important to our system of government. I believe in judicial restraint. My opinions issued over the last 16 years reflect my philosophy.
What do you believe makes you the best candidate to serve as Chief Justice?
I am the Senior Associate Justice, or the longest-serving justice of the Supreme Court, having been first elected in 2004. I have been a lawyer for more than 40 years and had both a transactional and a litigation practice before being elected to the Court. I have worked in private practice (Van Winkle Law), as in-house counsel, and as an Assistant US Attorney, doing both civil and criminal litigation. Over the last 16 years, I have written more opinions than any other justice. I desire to leave the legal profession better than I found it. Through my chambers’ internship program and teaching at Campbell Law School, I mentor the next generation of lawyers. Knowing the fundamental importance of civic education, I frequently speak to school groups and community organizations. I lecture and have written a book on the North Carolina Constitution and received the N.C. Bar Association’s Constitutional Rights Award. For my community involvement, I received the Citizen-Lawyer Award. From Martindale Hubbell I have received the “highest possible rating in both legal ability & ethical standards reflecting the confidential opinions of members of the bar and judiciary.” I was named a “Leader in the Law” by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly. I have served on numerous committees of the N.C. Bar Association. Because of my experience I believe I can inspire the Judicial Branch and the legal profession to pursue the highest ideals of our profession—Equal Justice for All.
Unfortunately, North Carolina will likely still be dealing with COVID-19 in 2021. Going forward, how can the Judicial Branch best balance the need for open access to the courts and the need to keep residents safe from the spread of this virus?
The judicial branch needs to fulfill our State Constitution’s promise that, “All courts shall be open; every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law; and right and justice shall be administered without favor, denial, or delay.” N.C. Const. art. I, § 18. Justice delayed is justice denied. The Judicial Branch needs to collaborate with all the Branch’s local stakeholders—trial judges, clerks, district attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, and civil attorneys—to develop ways to address the increasing backlog of cases in each district. Public health and safety is critically important, and I believe that the court officials in each local area can best balance the constitutional guarantees and public safety based on the unique circumstances of their respective localities.
COVID-19 has prompted an unprecedented amount of innovation in our court system, including the use of virtual court hearings. Are there any new practices that have been implemented as a result of COVID-19 that you believe the courts should continue to use even after social distancing has ended?
The pandemic has forced us to use technology in many innovative ways. The use of technology can save time for attorneys and fees for clients. Virtual hearings allow judges and attorneys to be more efficient. We should continue to use technology for conferences and hearings on various matters which do not implicate the Confrontation Clause. The business court has also pioneered various innovations which can be used in other courts.
Do you believe that systemic racism is a problem in our criminal justice system?
The symbol of the judiciary, Lady Justice, is blindfolded for a reason: everyone is to be treated the same. Because the question of systemic racism is an issue in cases currently pending before the Supreme Court, it would not be appropriate for me, as a sitting justice, to state my personal view. But I can say that public trust and confidence in the judicial system is foundational, and those interests are eroded when citizens believe that they are not treated equally. We in the Judicial Branch should listen to community stakeholders about their concerns of fairness and work with the individuals who comprise the justice system to ensure that everyone is treated the same. Our goal is equal justice under the law.
What do you believe the judiciary can and should do to ensure that all residents are afforded equal protection under the law?
The judiciary must continue to consider properly any claim of a violation of the rights under our State and federal constitutions to ensure equal protection of the laws.
Supreme Court candidates now run for office as partisan candidates and are often called upon to resolve partisan political disputes. How can the court ensure that citizens can trust it to resolve all disputes in a fair and objective manner?
Judges must strive to fairly, impartially, and consistently apply the rule of law. The State and federal constitutions must be applied as intended. Judges should not make law. Having a diversity of views on the Supreme Court helps every party believe its position is being properly considered.
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?
An inaccessible justice system denies justice. In this technological age, we need to explore ways to use technology to make the system more user friendly. Statewide implementation of electronic filing is vital. The judicial branch needs to collaborate with local stakeholders about barriers to accessing the courts while keeping in mind the critical need for lawyers to be counselors at law. The stakeholders need to evaluate ways to utilize better mediation and methods of alternative dispute resolution. Statewide implementation of electronic filing should make the justice system more accessible to all.
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?
As a Boy Scout working toward my Eagle rank, I was encouraged to consider the law as a career by Judge Ed Washington. In my early legal career I was mentored at the Van Winkle Law Firm by O.E. Starnes, Roy Davis, Larry McDevitt, and Alfred Adams. When I became a litigator I had two great examples of trial judges: Franklin Dupree and Earl Britt. When I was first elected to the Supreme Court, I was fortunate to work with former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr. I also admire the dedication and ongoing contributions to the legal profession of former Chief Justice Rhoda Billings.
What would you consider to be your proudest day or moment of your career to date?
As the first lawyer in my family, I never had any idea I would one day serve on the State’s highest court. I am truly blessed to have served as a justice for 16 years. During my practice years, my proudest moment was the recovery of North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights. In 2003, as an Assistant United States Attorney, I led the recovery of the document which had been stolen in 1865 by a Union Soldier. The Bill of Rights was very important to North Carolina as it was the only state to refuse to ratify the US Constitution without a Bill of Rights. I coordinated the undercover sting operation which resulted in its recovery. The document now resides in the State’s Archives for all North Carolinians to enjoy.
Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you think it would be good for voters to know to help them make their decision?
I take very seriously the importance of public service. I strive to leave our justice system better than I found it. Since being first elected to the Supreme Court in 2004, I have emphasized civic education about our foundational principles and the distinct role of the Judicial Branch. I’ve mentored numerous law students through my internship program at the Supreme Court and through teaching at Campbell Law School. I frequently judge various moot court and mock trial events. I speak to judges from around the world about the American legal system through the Open World Program, sponsored by the Library of Congress. As an Eagle Scout, I serve the Boy Scouts in numerous ways and have received the National Distinguished Eagle Award because of my service to scouting and the public. I received the Heroism Award for rescuing nine people from a riptide.
I have been married to Macon Tucker Newby (UNC Law 1982) since 1983, and we have four children. We attend Christ Baptist Church where I have served as an Elder and Sunday School teacher. I was born in Asheboro and grew up in Jamestown (Guilford County). My mother was a school teacher; my father was a printer. I graduated from Duke (1977) and UNC Law (1980). I am honored to have served on the Supreme Court for the past 16 years. I ask for your support of my candidacy for Chief Justice. Please visit my website at www.paulnewby.com.