Candidte Interview-Linda Stephens, NC Court of Appeals Judge

Interview questions were developed by a Vetting Committee of 10 members of the Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association. All candidates for a particular office were asked the same questions. Interviews were conducted by 3 rotating members of the Vetting Committee. Summaries are the agreed-upon consensus of each 3-member group. Candidates were asked to interview in-person, but phone interviews were offered for candidates living outside Craven County if schedules would not allow travel.
Name, Candidate Position: Linda Stephens, NC Court of Appeals Judge
Interview Date: 10-6-16
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Interviewed: by phone
Name: Linda Stephens
Phone: 919-696-9692
Address: PO Box 12571, Raleigh, NC 27605
Educational Background:
I come from humble beginnings. My grandparents brought me up in South Carolina, and they were not well educated people. My grandmother had no schooling, and my grandfather had a 3rd grade education. I was the first member of my family to graduate from high school, and I was the valedictorian of my class.
I got a full scholarship to the University of South Carolina and graduated magna cum laude in 1973 with a double major in journalism and English.
I moved to North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School in 1979.
I was the first female law clerk for a Court of Appeals Judge when I began clerking for Judge Fred Hedrick in 1979.

Later, I served on the NC Industrial Commission as Deputy Commissioner for 4 years.
I was the first female member of the law firm of Teague, Campbell, Dennis, & Gorham where I worked to defend clients from the mountains to the coast from civil actions.
Demonstrations of Leadership:
I was the first female president of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys.
Following that, the Defense Research Institute awarded me their Exceptional Performance Award for my service as president of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys.
I chaired committees for the North Carolina and Wake County Bar Associations.
While in private practice, I was listed in Best Lawyers in America for 11 years, and was the first North Carolinian and second woman to receive an award for leadership in civil defense.
Last summer, the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys presented me with their highest award, and since then, the North Carolina Advocates for Justice have presented me with their Outstanding Appelate Award.
Memberships and Associations:
I’m also a member of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, and served as chairman of the Judicial Council.
Why are you running for this office?
I’ve served as a North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge since February, 2006. I love the work, so I want to be re-elected.
I believe I’ve proved that I will uphold the laws of North Carolina and that I am fair and impartial.
What is the organizational structure of your campaign, fund raising capability, etc.?
I have an outstanding team. You’ve talked to Lauren who is my co-ordinator. I also have a fund raiser with whom I meet at least twice a week. I have media consultants as well. They’ve worked on videos, literature and the like, and have a TV ad ready to go when the funds are available. I’ve also got a person working on social media, and I’m going to as many events as I can.
I must say it’s challenging for candidates for judge to raise funds in this election because there are so many candidates at the top of the ballot competing for the same funds. My campaign is doing well though. We’ve raised a total of $220,000 so far, and have $110,000 cash on hand.
Which of the Founding Fathers do you most admire? And why?
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m not a history buff. I do have huge respect for our country and our democracy.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “Consensus is a lack of leadership.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
I’m not a student of how she governed. I’m aware that she was controversial, but I have no opinion.
Which President do you most admire? Why?
That’s probably a generational thing. I was in my teens when JFK was elected. I think his short years in office and my youth affected my view, but he’s at the top of the list for me.
Do you believe the Founding Fathers intended the Constitution to be:
            a. An evolving document whose meaning changes with time, or
            b. A permanent set of rules to limit the power of the federal government?
That’s an interesting way to put it. Society evolves. Laws change to address the evolving needs of society. I see it as a living document, but a Court of Appeals judge is not a policy maker. I’m bound by precident. I don’t have the luxury of saying what I think the Constitution means. There’s no personal or political agenda to my work.
Discuss an ethical dilemma you faced. What happened? How did you resolve it?
There were a couple of times when I was in private practice that I filed to be relieved from representing a client because I thought my clients had taken unreasonable positions, and I could no longer represent them. In each case, I was able to withdraw.
Since I’ve been on the Court of Appeals, there have been times I have had to write decisions I did not agree with, but I had to follow the law, so I did it.
Where do individual rights come from?
They come from the Constitution, and from the Bill of Rights, and from statutary law in some cases. States can give citizens greater rights than are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
What do you know about Common Core? What is your position on it and why?
Very little. It has not come before me in court, and I don’t have step-children in school any more. I’m aware there’s a debate about it, but my personal knowledge is very limited.
What is your opinion on gun ownership, registration, and gun free zones?
The 2nd Amendment guarantees rights.
I’ve written some opinions on cases involving restoring gun rights to people who had lost them. Case law provides precedents in North Carolina.
I don’t own a gun. They scare me. I worry about the ease with which people can obtain guns and the kinds of guns they can obtain.
To legally obtain a gun, a person has to have a background check to see that he is not unstable and that there is no other reason they shouldn’t have guns.
As to gun free zones, I’m not sure of the current state of laws in North Carolina; I know that North Carolina has increased the areas in which guns can be carried.
I personally wish we could protect certain areas (schools, for example) from persons carrying guns.
What does the phrase “Separation of Church and State” mean to you?
I have a traditional view. They are separate institutions, and they should remain separate.
It’s not an issue that typically comes before my court. There’s been a recent ruling that members of North Carolina Boards of Commissioners can pray before meetings. All religious views need to be accepted. Beyond that, I don’t have a strong feeling about it.
If elected, what would be your number one priority item during your term in office?
To get my work done timely and well. To continue honoring my commitment to apply the law as it has been established by precedent. To be sure I understand the facts of each case that comes before me.
This interview was conducted by Kathryn Blankley, Hal James, and Raynor James.

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