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Nancy Gordon 2014 PA-PAC Questionnaire


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Nancy Gordon, candidate for NC District Court District 14 Justice, 2014 People's Alliance PAC Questionnaire

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Nancy Gordon 2014 PA-PAC Questionnaire

  1. 1. People’s Alliance PAC 2014 Questionnaire for North Carolina Trial Division Judicial Candidates The Durham People’s Alliance Political Action Committee will make endorsements in the upcoming elections for seats in the Trial Division of the North Carolina Courts. So that we can make the best possible decision, we would like to hear more about you and your candidacy. Please complete the following questionnaire and return it to Tom Miller not later than March 17, 2014. You may submit your completed questionnaire to Tom’s e-mail address,, or you may deliver it to his home at 1110 Virginia Avenue, Durham, NC 27705 before 11:00 a.m. on the morning of the 17th. If you would like to have an electronic copy of this questionnaire, send Tom an e-mail at the address above. Your failure to provide us with responses to the questions below will not disqualify you from consideration for our endorsement, but it may place you at a disadvantage. When completing this questionnaire, please begin your response to each question by repeating the question as it is set out below and underlining or italicizing it to distinguish the question from your answer. If the complete answer to a question is contained in your resume, you may respond to the question by noting “See attached resume.” Please provide us with a copy of your resume. Please make your answers complete, but concise. Your responses will not be treated as confidential. Candidate’s name NANCY E. GORDON Residence address 3608 Stonegate Drive, Durham, NC 27705 Cell-phone Number 919-270-9079 e-mail About you: 1) Where were you born and where have you lived? When did you make Durham your home? I was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 6, 1954. Having moved to Durham in 1981, I have now lived here for more than ½ my life. 2) Are you conservative or liberal? Please choose one and then explain your answer. It’s difficult to characterize my personal political beliefs because I’m kind of issue specific: on many fiscal
  2. 2. issues, I’d characterize my personal views as conservative and on social and criminal justice issues, I’d say I’m liberal. I would characterize my personal political beliefs as progressive. 3) Please describe how your religious and philosophical beliefs may affect your conduct and decision making if you are elected. I work very hard to leave my personal religious and philosophical beliefs at the courthouse door. It is undeniable that my compassion for people and children, my ethic of hard work, belief in fairness and justice spring, at least in part, from my social justice and religious values. 4) Please list the organizations (educational, social, charitable, cultural, political, religious, etc.) you have joined or supported. If you have held an office in any of these organizations, please describe. Jewish Federation Durham-Chapel Hill (present board member) Judea Reform Congregation (past board member) Hadassah (life member) Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham (member) Exchange Family Center (present board member) NC Association of Women Attorneys (member) Durham County Bar Association (past president) North Carolina Bar Association (member Family Law Section, past Vice President) NC Chapter of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (Fellow, past president) American Civil Liberties Union (member) Planned Parenthood (member) Lillian’s List (member) People’s Alliance (member) Durham Animal Protection Society Ears, Eyes, Nose & Paws Genesis Home Urban Ministries 5) If you have had an occupation other than law, please describe the occupation and the work you performed. Who were your employers? Not applicable 6) Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense other than a minor traffic offense (such as speeding)? If the answer is yes, please describe the circumstances and the outcome. No. 7) Have you personally ever been the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit? If the answer is yes, please explain the circumstances and the outcome of the case. Yes. I was named in a lawsuit filed against our sheriff, several bondsmen and others: Carver v. Gordon 2013 CA 005392. Plaintiff is a sovereign citizen. The case was dismissed. About your practice of law:
  3. 3. 8) Please describe your practice as a lawyer. Be specific. Describe the areas of your practice and your specialties. If, over time, these have changed, describe the changes. Describe your client base as a part of your answer. I was in private practice for just over 26 years before I became a District Court Judge. After graduating law school in 1979, I worked as a tax lawyer at a Big Eight accounting firm. I left that job to run the John Anderson for President Office in Detroit, MI. After relocating to Durham, I worked for brief periods of time at NC Prisoner Legal Services (project related to the use of psychotropic drugs on incarcerated juveniles) and Powe, Porter & Alphin (ERISA law). In 1982, I hung out my shingle and engaged in a general practice where I took on court-appointed criminal work, represented parents in Abuse. Neglect & Dependency Court, prepared Wills & Trusts for small estates and started a family law practice. I found that I had a talent for family law. After 1991, when I became the first Board Certified Family Law Specialist in Durham, I limited my practice to family law and domestic relations. I was elected to the Durham District Court in 2006. 9) If you are a judge in the trial division, please describe two trials over which you have presided which best illustrate your abilities and temperament as a trial judge. Explain why you selected the cases you describe. I was the first judge to preside over the child custody dispute between Derek Walker and the mother of his son, Ethan. Derek was the young man who was shot and killed on the CCB Plaza this past year. When the litigation started, Ethan was an infant. Derek was self-represented; he came into court in a suit or in his work uniform; he was unfailingly polite and respectful to the Court and to Ethan’s mother. It was fairly clear from early in the case that the mother didn’t want Derek in Ethan’s life and that Derek was equally determined to be a father (in the best meanings of that word) to Ethan. We started with visits that were in blocks of 2-3 hours several days a week. That shortly progressed to overnight visitation and finally to shared legal custody and equally shared parenting time. Derek was a devoted Dad. I was struck by the repeated efforts made by Ethan’s mother and maternal grandfather to put obstacles in the path of Derek’s parenting of Ethan. When I began practicing family law in 1982, fathers really didn’t want custody. Over the past 30 years, the family and the roles of parents has changed. Fathers didn’t tend to want custody whereas now they want to parent and, in some cases, make the choice to be a stay at home parent. Mothers and fathers – even different people in parenting roles--bring different things to their children- one example I’ve observed is that a father will toss a baby in the air making him scream with delight; most mothers wouldn’t dream of doing that and instead shelter their babies from risks. There’s a role for all of those things in a child’s life and development. And they are equally important. I was beyond sad to learn about Derek’s situation the day he died, particularly since he said that he was motivated by the efforts of Ethan’s mother to keep him from his son. I wasn’t in domestic relations court at that time. The echoes of his distress, the recollection of Derek’s devotion to Ethan and Derek’s ability to balance making a life for himself and his son will always be with me. I keep his thank you note, with a picture of him and Ethan, in my office. Derek made it so easy to respect him as a person and young man—it brought out the best in my judicial temperament.
  4. 4. Another case which challenged me, was Snyder v. Giordano, also a child custody case. Mr. Snyder sued his wife for custody of their children. It was a complicated and lengthy trial with two excellent trial lawyers. My decision is commemorated in a 27 page opinion. I was surprised when the decision in this case went viral. I learned that Ms. Giordano had undertaken a public relations effort to lionize her case when I saw an article in a UK publication. Giordano’s viewpoint of the case was covered world wide in publications from the Durham Herald to Time Magazine to MS Magazine. Giordano was interviewed on the Today Show, Dr. Drew and Anderson Cooper. Her take was that my decision was based on the fact that she had breast cancer. She rallied support with a FaceBook page and online petitions which exist to this day. I remember the day my mother called to say that her bridge ladies were talking about the case. Because of the Judicial Canons I couldn’t comment on the case even though I felt strongly that my ruling and the facts of the case were being misrepresented. I received many, many very ugly emails, was the subject of petitions and blogs calling for my removal and still had to maintain the dignity of the court when I entertained motions concerning the appeal. I was lucky when the Judicial Response Committee, through former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, communicated with the Anderson Cooper show defending my decision and characterizing my opinion as one of the best he’d ever read. I found dealing with the public scrutiny, which I thought was unfair, challenging. It was very, very difficult not to comment or get angry in public about the case because the litigation was ongoing and because the children deserve privacy. Since the decision in June 2011, Ms. Giordano has, unfortunately, died. Nevertheless, the online presence and other publicity dominates my history if you Google me. I am gratified to hear that the children are doing well with their dad in Chicago. I am also gratified that Snyder’s lawyer (Laurel Solomon) and Giordano’s lawyer (Bill Cotter) are both supporting my reelection efforts. I can think of many more family law cases which I think demonstrate both my ability and my temperament in court. For the entire time that I’ve served in District Court, I’ve been in one or the other Family Court courtroom. Most of our judges find these cases too complex, or too messy or too difficult or too “something” to handle and they avoid serving in these courts. For the first 18 months on the bench, I found being in domestic relations court both gratifying and painful. Gratifying because I had the opportunity to use my experience and knowledge of the law and families in a way that, I believe, benefitted families and children. Painful because it was hard for me to find my footing in a courtroom where I had been an advocate and, with many of the attorneys who appeared before me, an adversary. I used that time to work on patience (not always my strong point), letting go the advocacy role I had played for 26 years and being respectful of the parties in the courtroom. As a result of my efforts in Durham’s family courts, families and children have the opportunity to have cases heard by a judge who wants to be in that courtroom, their cases are decided efficiently and promptly, they are heard by a judge who is willing to stay current on the complex law in the area and a judge who works hard every day to make sure that all of the sides of those highly contested cases is heard.
  5. 5. 10) If you are not a trial judge, please describe two of your cases that best illustrate the abilities and temperament you would display as the holder of the office you seek. Not applicable 11) If you are a sitting judge seeking reelection, are you satisfied with your North Carolina Bar Association Judicial Performance Evaluation scores? Do you think the evaluation process is valid and the results a fair indication of your performance? Using the survey categories in the evaluation, please indicate what steps, if any, you plan to take to improve your scores. If you are not a sitting judge, please evaluate yourself as the judge you think you will be if you are elected. Please use the five survey categories and in your answer take into account how you think other attorneys would evaluate you. No, I was not satisfied by the rating-- in fact, I was shocked. My evaluation occurred at a time when one lawyer, who had represented another lawyer I held in contempt of court for being two and a half hours late to court, was actively seeking support to oppose my reelection. I hold lawyers to task if they are chronically late (and I don’t mean 15 minutes) to court, if they are unprepared and if they shirk their professional obligations. I am struck by the fact that my scores are “outliers” in the entire state—no other judge received scores below 3.0. In 2010 I ran unopposed; my Martindale Hubbell rating is AV. Four years later, my JPE score was the lowest in the state, even lower that a judge who was censored and suspended for fixing traffic tickets. Addressing each scale: I am unaware of any complaints to Judicial Standards or my Chief District Court Judge concerning my honesty or my inability to hear cases impartially. In fact, I believe that personal and professional integrity means that one is honest, has strong values, work ethics and principles and I have that in spades. Since I spend a lot of time studying law, teaching law and attending seminars about law, it eludes me why some lawyers question my legal ability; in fact, if I don’t know the law, I learn the law. For example, I had to learn about Summary Ejectment law and I read the materials I had and called experts at the UNC Institute of Government when I had questions; that was also true with the law of contempt. I make it a practice to read court files before a hearing, to read any legal memoranda that are submitted, and sometimes to solicit them, and, if I am unfamiliar with the particular area of law, to review case law that I anticipate will relate to a case that’s coming up. My legal ability is strong and if there are any questions or concerns by lawyers who have appeared in my courtrooms they have been free to bring cases or statutes that they believe control that particular law to my attention. It seems to me that there’s an impression in some circles that I consider myself an expert in family law; on the contrary, while I have a significant background in the area and stay current on reading cases, there are many lawyers who know more than I and the designation “expert” has always made me uncomfortable. If the definition of professionalism encompasses “patience,” I confess that’s my shortcoming. I try every day to be more patient and I’ve learned, over the past seven years, that expecting the best of lawyers and being impatient when it’s not what happens are not the same thing. My score on communication and administrative ability also puzzles me. The latter I suspect is directly related to a hearing where I held a lawyer in contempt of
  6. 6. court. I have, however, never been late to court, am prepared, work hard to write and render opinions promptly and rarely fail to resolve all of the resolvable cases on my calendar. Since I’ve presided in our Family Court courtrooms, we have meaningful pretrial hearings at which time the parties assess how many witnesses they will call, what issues are contested, how much court time they will need, etc. Since I’ve been in Abuse, Neglect and Dependency court we’ve had a court-controlled calendar, not a lawyer-driven calendar and we now meet best practice timelines over 75% of the time when we were at 35% previously. I understand and appreciate that a court- controlled calendar is not necessarily a popular thing with some lawyers, however, in my estimation it best serves the public, families and children. I have given the evaluation a lot of thought and, to the extent that I think it reflects a fair judgment of deficits in my courtroom persona, I take it to heart. I have heard the evaluation characterized as a personality contest and there is some aspect of this evaluation that, in my opinion, falls into that category. The sample is lawyers who take the time to fill out the evaluation—50% of the lawyers appearing in my courtroom leave dissatisfied with the outcome. Bottom line, I work hard every day to serve the public, the families and the children who come into my courtroom to have their legal disputes resolved. I have high expectations of the lawyers who appear in my courtroom. I work hard to be patient with lawyers who are ill-prepared or who demonstrate a lack of professionalism, and I do find that challenging—some days more than others. All the same, I am a fair, efficient, committed and intelligent judge with a track record of sound decisions and myriad efforts to improve and elevate the profession of law. 12) Have you ever been publicly or privately disciplined by the North Carolina State Bar or any other professional or occupational licensing authority in North Carolina or any other state? “Disciplined” should be read to include reprimands, censures, and warnings in addition to license suspension, surrender, revocation, and disbarment. Is the State Bar or any governmental authority considering a complaint against you at the present time? Have you ever been found in contempt of court? For each “yes” answer, please provide us with a full description of the action taken, when it was taken, the authority in question, and a statement of the facts and events giving rise to the action or complaint against you. No. 13) Please describe the nature and extent of any pro bono work you have done. Is there a pro bono matter to which you have contributed that best illustrates your values? Not applicable Concerning law and policy: 14) What are your views on the death penalty and the way death penalty cases are handled in North Carolina? As a matter of the administration of justice, what should the courts and legislature do about the death penalty? My personal views on the death penalty aren’t at issue for several reasons: 1) it’s not an issue that confronts a district court judge and 2) I would
  7. 7. enforce the law if I presided over a death case. I have, as a District Court Judge, enforced laws I don’t agree with because my job isn’t making the law, it’s applying it. In private practice I didn’t handle capital cases because the stakes were way too high. The justice system is not perfect and the life or death of a person shouldn’t be decided in a system where innocent people are convicted in error. 15) Do you perceive any racial discrimination in the criminal justice system? If your answer is yes, what should be done to combat it? There is racial discrimination in society and that applies to the criminal justice system, too. I’d like to see a mandatory training in cultural bias at one of the two annual judge meetings on an annual basis. I think there’s much to learn about racial and cultural bias. 16) What are your views on the rights (including whether any such rights exist) of homosexual persons to marry? Did you vote for or against Amendment One? My personal views, again, are personal and not part of my judging in a courtroom. My personal views are inclusive, not exclusive. I think that family is fundamental to everything- our work ethic, our sense of justice, an individual’s self esteem and well being, one’s success and failure…I voted against Amendment One. Family is where you find it and marriage is a civil contract defining certain rights and obligations between the parties to the marriage and the State. I support the right of gay people to marry and the right of people whose religious views do not support same sex marriage to deny those same people the privilege of marrying in their church or religious institution. 17) Do we incarcerate too many people in North Carolina? Do we incarcerate the right people? Please explain your answer. What sentencing policy changes would you support in your role as a trial court judge? Would you advocate for these policy changes publicly and to the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission and in the North Carolina judges conferences? I support alternatives to incarceration. We are incarcerating the mentally ill and the drug addicted because we don’t know what to do with them. Incarceration does not result in a healthier post- incarceration individual and it’s not a smart use of tax-payer money. The State of North Carolina should fully fund therapeutic courts including Adult and Family Drug Treatment Courts. These are intensively supervised criminal courts which, instead of incarcerating people, change behaviors through accountability, sanctions and incentives. We need to fund a Veterans Court to accomplish the same kind of result for people who have sacrificed and served our country. In Durham we have a Community Life court to try to connect the homeless who are charged with soliciting alms and similar misdemeanors to services that could change their behaviors and their lives. And we are about to undertake a diversion court for 16 and 17 year olds so that they can, with work, avoid being charged with crimes and being convicted of them. All of these innovations are important and I’m gratified to be a part of them.
  8. 8. 18) If elected, will you support the following programs: the Drug Treatment Court, the Criminal Justice Resource Center, STAR, the Mental Health Treatment Court, the Veterans’ Court, the misdemeanor diversion program for 16- and 17- year-olds, and the newly established pretrial services program? If you have reservations about any of these programs please explain them. Yes, I will support those courts and will work to find other alternatives to incarceration for people who can be diverted and/or served outside the criminal justice system. At present, I am leading the effort to get a Veterans Court in Durham and on March 31 will be visiting with a Mentor Veterans Court in Rochester, NY (paid for courtesy of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals). Your politics: 19) How are you registered to vote? Have you ever changed your registration? If you have changed your voter registration, please explain why. I am a registered Democrat. 20) Who did you vote for in the 2008 and 2012 presidential and gubernatorial elections? I can understand why you would ask this question, but I decline, respectfully, to answer. I believe that my election decisions are private. 21) Have you ever been active in the campaign of a candidate for elective office (by active we mean acted as campaign manager, treasurer, or paid staff, or contributed more than $2,000)? If the answer is yes, please list the candidates and the offices they sought. Yes, I ran the John Anderson for President office in Detroit in 1980. 22) If you are elected, do you envision any community involvement beyond the specific duties of the office? If yes, please describe that involvement. Yes. A judge is a community leader and a public servant. I will continue to be involved in our community as I have in the past. Thank you for your prompt and thoughtful response to our questionnaire. THE DURHAM PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE