Who'll Win the Superior Court Judge Lottery?

Will Joe Buckner not have to wait until Wade Barbour retires before getting a seat on the Superior Court bench? Conventional wisdom has been that Buckner, our local Chief District Court Judge, would be a strong candidate to replace Barbour sometime in the future; but the General Assembly might have given him an early chance at it if Easley is willing to appoint him to the newly-created seat in the Orange-Chatham Judicial District.

Adam Stein, Steve Bernholz, and Jill Cheek have other ideas.

Adam, a long-time Chapel Hill resident, is a partner in North Carolina's premier civil rights firm and was our State's first Appellate Defender. He and his partners -- who have included James Ferguson, Julius Chambers and Mel Watts -- were the attorneys responsible for school desegregation in North Carolina. (When I was a 9th grade civics teacher in the 90s, I used to teach the landmark case -- Swann v. Bd of Education). The firm also argued the constitutionality of North Carolina's minority influence congressional districts. Adam's reputation extends beyond civil rights. Over his decades in practice he has become well known as a formidable advocate on both criminal and civil cases

Steve, also a long-time Chapel Hillian, was the youngest Chapel Hill Town Councilmember circa 20 B.C. (Before Chilton). He has practiced in the local courts for decades and probably longer than any of the other candidates, along with Joe, has a very strong case for knowing most about our local courts and the people they serve. He has an outstanding reputation with the bar, and has been very involved in the local community.

Jill is a little different. Locals might remember her challenging Carl Fox for District Attorney in 1998. Word on the street is that she came closest to knocking off the popular DA -- He still won 2 to 1. I've never met her personally, but I do know her professionally. She's currently with the AG's office doing criminal appeals and was on staff during Easley's second term as Attorney General. She spends a lot of time arguing for the death penalty. (Full disclosure alert: My job is to spend a lot of time arguing against the death penalty)

So how do we handicap this? Who'll get the nod? Who should get the nod? The appointee has to stand for re-election in 2 years. Will this process create an instant electoral opponent for the appointee 2 years from now? Could the field get bigger?



I wonder: if Joe Buckner gets the seat, will this be the same process for filling his current position? Will the same people be in the running?

I love the idea of Adam Stein being a judge. In fact, now that I think of it, I'd like to see him on the U.S. Supreme Court, but he's probably not pro-establishment enough to qualify.

Steve Bernholz wouldn't be bad either. I've known him for a long time, but I don't know as much about his legal/political work.

I would be very unhappy to see Jill Cheek get the judgeship. Perhaps she should relocate to a different district...

I think Judge Buckner is quite a visionary. At a recent forum on mental health reform he spoke powerfully abou the potential for the court, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems to work together. He said that a great majority of the criminal cases in his court have a root in either mental health or substance abuse. He challenged the leaders at the forum to consider what the courts could do differently for people with mental health issues. I was excited that he was willing to change his system while supporting the changes that others are trying to make in theirs.

So I'd support his move up, but miss his presence in the district court.

There is an open house at the OCDP office Thursday, 9/2 7-9 PM.
Democratic Judges in the non-partisan judges races will be featured. Several judgeship candidates will attend.

Unfortunately, Judge Buckner wants to deploy SCRAM , another gizmo in the current trend of remote monitoring of parolees and those awaiting trial. On the surface, it seems like a great idea and hard to argue against. This remote monitoring technology allows parolees a level of freedom they might not otherwise have without the system. Given a choice between wearing an ankle bracelet that tracks your location and sobriety or sitting in the local pokey, I'd definitely opt for the bracelet. But, given the number of cases where bracelets incorrectly indicated the absence or presence of a parolee, such a system should never be a substitute for hands on policing.

While he promotes their initial use only for parolees, which seems reasonable on the surface, he still should look a little closer into the policy implications of deploying these type devices. He's already suggested using them in a broader context, like in high schools or for parents under DSS supervision. That seems extraordinarily broad.

As technology advances and continuous testing for drugs is added, would he promote their use for high school athletes, say to make sure their compliant with current drug testing provisions. Maybe we should require clients of IFC to wear them?
Where would he draw the line?

He might also want to look into the problems Racine County recently had with this program.

"The consumption of two margaritas and four beers over a six-hour period by the manager, Jerry Solem, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 225 pounds, did not register as confirmed alcohol consumption.

One defendant's bracelet malfunctioned immediately, failed to work throughout the two weeks and was not replaced.

Solem said in an interview that he was confident BioInformation Systems would be able to iron out the kinks."

Like a number of these things, CAPPSII, CALEA, FISA, RLCs, etc. we blindly start with the best intentions only to end up in a hell of a mess.

like Mark Dorosin is throwing his hat in the ring.


You wrote:

"As technology advances and continuous testing for drugs is added, would he promote their use for high school athletes, say to make sure their compliant with current drug testing provisions. Maybe we should require clients of IFC to wear them?
Where would he draw the line?"

I know nothing about this technology or its application, but I do know this: Judge Buckner is not King Buckner, and as a superior court judge he wouldn't have the jurisdiction or authority to implement any of these fearful tactics. Let's stick to the facts.

You're purposely not listening to me. This is useless.

Interesting discussion. The thread I'm seeing run through the recent OP discussions is trust in the government. Some people clearly trust government to generally do right; others trust the government to do some things right; and others don't seem to trust the government to do much of anything right.

I wrote and then trashed something yesterday about the contradiction in some people's enthusiastic endorsement of the leaf blower ban and their unwillingness to discuss Amendment One. We'll let government tell us what yard tools we can use, but yet we don't trust them to make wise financial decisions? I trashed that message after acknowledging the contradition in my own thinking-- enthusiastically endorsing Amendment One and horrified at the idea of a leaf blower ban.

Contradictions in how the general public responds to the role of government are now peering at me around every corner. Will clearly sees no value in surveillance of any type; he questions the foundation of technology solutions that have the potential for stripping away privacy. Duncan trusts officials, judges in particular, to have only limited power and separates out their personal beliefs from their professional reach. Personally, I want government to protect those who can't help themselves--but not to invade my private live. I'm not sure what criteria I give weight to when those two beliefs are in conflict.

Sorry for rambling....

Again, none of that is anything a superior court judge can enforce.

He may believe the earth is flat, but unless he becomes an ecclesiastical judge with Galileo on the trial calendar, it doesn't matter much. You'd be surprised how many judges have opinions you wouldn't like. The question is, does it affect their ability to run a court and apply the law fairly? That's the relevant question.

You also say:

"Besides enforcing the law, a judge also bears responsibility for its just and rightful application within the context of the spirit and intent of our country's founding (you know “liberty, justice, freedom"….just a few little things we used to honor and support in our country."

Although I'm not clear what you mean by the "just and rightful application within the context and ....", but still I say:

Only if it comes up in court.

You're implying that he also has a responsibility to keep parents/schools/health departments from putting SCRAM devices on kids/themselves. I say that's our responsibility, and that the last thing you want is a judge stepping down from the bench and getting involved in matters that might end up being challenged in court, _before_ they reach the court. You could accuse Buckner of doing that now by giving those interviews. But I think a few throw-away quotes about what other people might do with the devices doesn't necessarily predict how he would rule as a matter of law if a child was forced against his will to wear one by a school.

Still, it would probably be better if he stuck to talking about their use in the criminal justice system.

Absolutely, I want my judges to be personally on the side of what's right and good, but first I want them to be fair in court. All this is extraneous. The question that should be asked is whether Judge Buckner is fair in court.

Duncan, excellent point about the throwaway quotes.

What he says outside the court probably shouldn't be used as a litmus test for whether he's fair and just in the court.

My concern is that he's establishing a precedent within his justified legal purview that he's already suggesting should be utilized in an extra-legal context (high school team suspensions, DSS and pregnant women).

Considering the respect the community usually places in the position of a Superior Court judge, his comments could convince the community that the extra-legal usage of these devices is hunky-dory - that their spread into our daily lives warrants no concern and carries with it no dangerous burdens.

If a respected Superior Court judge thinks its OK to monitor my kid, my employee, my DSS client, etc. then I won't have any moral or ethical qualms about the chilling impact of that monitoring.

But I shouldn't burden him with the damage his tacit commendation of this system might bring to our community.

Hell, in these Ashcroftian times, I guess it really is too much to expect those entrusted in enforcing the laws to carefully nurture and protect our liberties - now and for the anticipatable future.

I guess I'll just sit back and watch more or our quickly eroding 'rights' continue to dissipate either as a consequence of 'legal' diminishments ala the Patriot Act or as a consequence of the questionable suasion of our 'authority' figures.

From the HeraldSun:

"He also believes it could be helpful for monitoring high school and college underage drinkers who may be showing signs of a drinking problem. For example, if members of a boys' soccer team drank alcohol after a big game, they could be required to wear the bracelets rather than be suspended from school, Buckner said.
"This is not about rights," he said. "This is about protecting them in a critical
developmental period."

This is not about rights?

Buckner said the SCRAM device also has health advantages.

"We know women should not drink when they're pregnant," he said. "Maybe the Health Department wants to use this as a tool."

When asked someone can make a pregnant woman wear such a device, Buckner said: "You might have a woman who voluntarily wants to wear this. We learned from some of the exit interviews that people in voluntary recovery said: 'I was able to look at this bracelet, and it reminded me that I couldn't drink.'"

The SCRAM device is monitored around the clock, and it gives a real time account of a person's intake. Buckner said he is going to use them in his drug court in Chatham and Orange counties, as well as for repeat DWI offenders."

Voluntary now, voluntary later?

As Mr. Doak recently pointed out: in a letter titled "Tyranny is blowing our way...."

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." - C. S. Lewis

Of course, he's talking about Cam's effort to remove his weapon of choice - the leaf blower - from his arsenal, but still an appropriate quote.

Besides enforcing the law, a judge also bears responsibility for its just and rightful application within the context of the spirit and intent of our country's founding (you know "liberty, justice, freedom"....just a few little things we used to honor and support in our country).

Considering that the SCRAM technology is a harbinger and that it already appears that Judge Buckner is already endorsing broad application of these technologies, it's relevant to ask how he squares his duty to uphold our founding principles with indiscriminate usage of this technology.

By the way, you really might want to become acquainted with this and other technologies of its ilk as the trend is to insinuate more and more of these intrusive gimmicks under the rubric of greater safety.

I'm expecting that within 5 years some fool will try to mandate mandatory tracking and monitoring of any person convicted of any offense - no matter how minor - for longer and longer durations (lifetime parole for a parking ticket?) as an effective tool to reduce recidivism.

When that day comes, which side of the debate will Judge Buckner be on?

Terri, I think that you are on to something about the inherent conflict between the roles that we ask our elected legislative officials to play --- serving as the delegate "of the people" or acting as the representative "for the people."

Since it's never clear that all of the people agree on what role should apply in which situation, we have this constant tension. This gives rise to conflicting hypothetical statements by legislators like, “this is what citizens tell me that they want,” vs. “even though it is very popular, we must do what we think is the right thing rather than the popular thing.”

An even better dichotomy than the leaf blower - Amendment One situation is red light cameras and leaf blowers. Try to sort through the public good vs. public desires vs. role of government issues in this one and you'll probably end up with a massive headache.

This is truly an opinion-gifted community!

Terri, if the SCRAM device operates as advertised, I believe it can be used effectively within specific, legal, contexts. For instance, to monitor pre-trial defendants as a condition of reduced bail or to monitor parolees as a condition of their parole.

Before we drop $8K per unit, I would hope for a measured debate and examination of their usage in our community, hopefully resulting in clear, specific guidelines that tightly circumscribe what circumstances they can be used for - both now and in the future.

Unfortunately, there's a broad range of surveillance technologies, from data mining to cameras to biologic sampling, being deployed for many questionable and unexamined reasons. As a society, we've been able to deal effectively with a range of maladies without creating an overly intrusive surveillance infrastructure. Just because the means have become economically expeditious should we deploy them without due caution? Should we deploy them like a fishing net, hoping to tease out the most minor of infractions (or, as with the RLCs, non-infractions), with an aim to incarcerating or penalizing abusively?

Mr. Murrell doesn't think I'm listening...I am.

I'm concerned that instead of circumspection and an objective review of the impact SCRAM will have on our liberties, Judge Buckner seems to have succumbed to the lure of a technologic fix. His enthusiasm seems to have prompted him to suggest using the system in extra-legal venues (high school, etc.) without a concomitant enthusiasm for explaining how he thinks the system should be regulated. This is what I've heard and this is why I'm concerned.

As a country, we've thrived without an oppressive surveillance infrastructure, yet, like the frog in the slowly heating pot of water, many of us sit placidly by as an integrated surveillance society is constructed - piece by piece - either on a foundation of good intentions (as is the case with Judge Bruckner) or, worse, on cynical manipulations for the most venal of reasons. I doubt all, except maybe the most freakish of control freaks or neo-cons, would welcome this brave, new world.

Again, I applaud Judge Bruckner's initiative, I just hope he tempers his personal enthusiasm for SCRAM with the calm objectivity we expect of any judge, especially of a judge aspiring to sit on the Superior Court bench. I look forward to hearing his ideas on how to regulate the appropriate use of this technology.

Until then, I'll be interested in hearing how Mr. Dorosin, et. al. plan to fulfill their obligations as a Superior Court judge without inflicting too much damage on our Constitutional protections.

Fred, we either conserve liberty or we don't.

If you're really interested in improving Estes/Airport intersection, I suggest asking the council why proven engineering counter-measures haven't been deployed there instead of continuing with your RLC pretense. I mean, really, how many times do you plan to try to resurrect the RLC issue in an attempt to bash those on the council you disagree with? Do you really think you can use it as a political bludgeon, now or for the 2005 election? If so, I think you'd better examine the
Greensboro study showing a %40 increase in accidents at RLC intersections while there's been an average %5 reduction at every other intersection. Or maybe you should reminisce about the shameful behavior of Ms. Verkerk and Mr. Clapp at the vendor's Astroturf orchestrated PR event and decide if you really want to be identified as supporting that type of behavior.

Will, I never cease to be amazed at how you can take what people write and build a full scenario out of it to fit some beliefs that you must hold about their desires or intent. I mention what I think is a policy dichotomy and you tie it to some future election. Give me a break! And while you're at it, tell us this time your source who is willing to confirm your allegation against the mayor pro tem demanding things, or apologize for making a false allegation.

Let's see if in fact you do listen.

I agree wholeheartedly with the first section of Will's message from last night. There is waaaaay to much easy acceptance of technology without thought for the long term impacts it could have. I also agree that what a judge says outside the courtroom probably indicates beliefs that will transfer into decision making. Technology has potential to make our lives easier and sometimes safer--at the same time it creates the potential for further erosion of our civil liberties. These are, as Will says, issues that need public discussion.

My caveat to all of this is that a judge looks at the world from the perspective of making it safer. It's up to individual citizens to raise the dark side of the tools that may have both positive benefits and negative implications for our society.

I apply that same skepticism about technology to digital communications vehicle such as OP. What you write may not be what others read. It would benefit everyone who participates here if we would all understand that technology mediated communication is deficient in providing many of the communications cues we use in regular face to face conversations.

To overcome the imperfections of this medium, we should all consider asking for clarification when someone says something we take as criticism, contradiction, etc. instead of taking on the combative stance too often seen here. Questions are good...so is turning the other cheek (sometimes).

Terri, well put.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Fred, I was refering to the permanent "mayor pro tem" sign request of this year.

This thread has spun way off course so I'll end it there.


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