Thursday, May 29, 2014

District Court Judge Doretta L. Walker Vs. Henry Pruette for District 14 Court Judge in North Carolina

Full Legal Name: Henry Wolfe Pruette
Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Henry Pruette
Office Sought/District: 14th Judicial District (Walker Seat)
Party: Democrat
Mailing address: P.O. Box 61018, Durham, NC 27715
Date of Birth: 12/05/1955
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: Attorney, Self-employed
Years lived in Durham: 28 years
Work Phone: 919-294-8412

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Court? What are your top priorities or issues of concern for the coming term?
The overwhelming number of cases the District Court has to resolve on a daily basis in an efficient and fair manner is the most important issue facing the court. District Court faces all of society's challenges every day by default, including but not limited to domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, drugs, alcohol, mental health, and family law matters. Each case has the right to be heard. The challenge is to process and prioritize the cases in an expeditious manner to accomplish this difficult goal.
My top priority is to support any and all viable efforts at alternative sentences, especially with respect to juveniles, defendants with drug and alcohol issues, and mental health needs. Unfortunately, the jail has become the modern catchall for all of our social ills, which it is not equipped to handle. I will continue to volunteer in the Durham community, trying to prevent any of these above problems from making their way into the court system.
2. What qualifies you to serve?
I have practiced law since 1989. I have extensive experience in every area of District Court, including civil lawsuits and criminal defense work, civil commitments, traffic, juvenile, IV-D child support, Department of Social Services cases, adoptions, and family law matters. I have had the opportunity to learn from outstanding District Court Judges from the past and present and all of my colleagues over the years. I will apply my training, experience, and accumulated knowledge to the District Court in a fair and impartial manner.
3. How do you define yourself politically? How does that impact your judicial approach?
I am a registered Democrat, but partisan politics have absolutely no place in District Court. It is my duty to apply the law to the facts in a fair and consistent manner and I will do so.
4. FOR INCUMBENTS: What have been your most important decisions in your current capacity?
FOR CHALLENGERS: What decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with?
In the month of August 2013, Judge Walker was reversed twice by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In both cases, I strongly agree with the Court of Appeals.
In the first case, Willis v. Roberts (00 CVD 2860), Roberts was held in civil contempt for failure to pay alleged child support arrearages. Because the record contained no effective order that required him to pay arrearages, the court reversed Judge Walker's contempt citation.
Next in, Wood v. Orr, Jr. (92 CVD 5241) Judge Walker held the Defendant in contempt after summarily concluding that he had the present ability to pay child support. The Court of Appeals reversed on a host of reasons, including the trial court's own findings that the Defendant was unemployed and that the Defendant was using his $430 a month SSI check (his only source of income) to contribute to his current household expenses. In a footnote to this unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals noted that "baby" and "child" referenced by Judge Walker as needing the child support in the contempt proceeding was twenty-one at the time.
5. What do you feel was the U.S. Supreme Court's most important recent decision? Did you agree with the majority?
Did you agree with the majority? McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572U.S.___ (2014) strikes down the cap on the total amount of money an individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election period. I disagree with the 5-4 majority, which effectively further opened the door to influence brought not by public opinion but bought by money alone.
6. Have you ever pled guilty or no contest to any criminal charge other than a minor traffic offense? Please explain.
7. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
As a District Court Judge, it is imperative that those before me are not only treated fairly but that their sentences meet the expectation of justice. For example, I have a principled stand that the mentally ill and those suffering with addictions should not just be dumped into jail and forgotten. I will constantly look for sentencing alternatives that may cost me popularity points with voters.
8. What improvements can be made in terms of the juvenile justice system? What are the weaknesses or constraints in the court’s handling of juvenile offenders?
I believe that Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey has worked tirelessly over the years to improve Juvenile Court. I congratulate her on the recent Juvenile Diversion Court that has come to fruition through the efforts of so many people dedicated to that cause. I will support all efforts to find alternative sentencing and help to juveniles.
The weaknesses and constraints in handling juvenile court are obvious: too many cases, too little money, and too few diversionary courts.
9. What do think the priorities should be for Durham law enforcement?
The Durham Police Department would better serve the community if they followed the Sheriff's Department's model. The Durham County Sheriff's Department has done an excellent job moving toward community based law enforcement and prevention .
10. What additional resources would you like to see implemented for defendants? Is there a need for more diversion courts or sentencing services?
There is a definite need for more diversion courts and sentencing services. However, the state legislature is not moving in this direction with appropriate funding levels. Within the reality of the monetary constraints, I will attempt to marshal already existing community resources to fill in these gaps, as well as continue to utilize and increase the number of diversion courts and sentencing alternatives now available.
11. Many people complain that the criminal justice system is clogged with defendants suffering from mental illnesses. How would you like to see this problem addressed?
I would like for the mentally ill to be treated by mental health experts. The sad reality is that the services are not fully funded or in place and the mentally ill have no resources to turn to. I would like to see this problem resolved with diversionary courts and creative sentencing that addresses the underlying problems.
12. Durham Public School suspensions are on the rise, and many people worry about the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Can anything be done to remedy the problem on the judicial side of things?
The Juvenile Diversionary program is a big step in the right direction. Also, Judges can go into the community to educate both juveniles and the greater population on the court system and its negative impact on them. The "school to prison pipeline" is a waste of potential and talent. I will do all I can to reverse this tragedy.
13. Persistent domestic violence calls-for-service have befuddled law enforcement, women’s advocates and criminal justice officials across the state. What role can you play to help the situation?
This is a serious issue that needs the full attention of the community. I will listen carefully to all of the above groups and support their efforts, while applying their collective knowledge to my own to do the absolute best to deal with this persistent, tragic, and volatile issue.


May1, 2014 - The Triangle Tribune (the Voice of the Black Community) announced its endorsement of Henry Pruette for the 2014 Primary Election over incumbent Judge Doretta Walker.


April 23, 2014 - The Indy Week announced its endorsement of Henry Pruette for the 2014 Primary Election over incumbent Judge Doretta Walker.   For more on this endorsement, see my Home Page.


April 23, 2014 -  Henry Pruette received the endorsement of the Concerned Citizens of Durham for the Walker seat. 


April 22, 2014 - The NC Bar Association released the results of a survey conducted among the members of the bar regarding the candidates for District Court Judges.  Henry Pruette significantly outscored the incumbent in each of the six categories. 

Name as it appears on Ballot: Doretta Walker
Seat/District: McKown seat/14th district
Partisan Affiliation: Democrat
Date of Birth: 11/13/1967
Home Address: 7 Cedar Bluff Ct
Durham, NC 27704
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 753
Durham, NC 27702
Occupation & Employer: Assistant District Attorney
Durham District Attorney's Office
Bachelor's Degree Year & institution: BS in Criminal Justice and Psychology, 1990, UNC-Chapel Hill
JD Year & School: JD, 1993, UNC-Chapel Hill
Years lived in North Carolina: Lived in North Carolina all my life (42)
Home Phone: 919-672-4249
Work Phone: 919-564-7100
1. The most important issues facing the District Court are overcrowding and security, and recidivism.
2. I have over twelve years of trial experience and I have tried over a hundred cases before juries. Additionally, I spent more than seven years working in District Court and handling huge dockets with efficiency and respect for others. I am more than ready to take on the challenge of handling daily caseloads of two to three hundred people. I am a native of Durham County and have a deep appreciation for the issues and concerns that affect our judicial system. I have also spent considerable time mentoring many of the youth in our community for over ten years. I have worked with the elderly to ensure that they are aware of the various issues affecting them such as crime prevention, health care aide exploitation, and avoiding fraudulent schemes. My work also allows me to work closely with law enforcement and other court personnel to facilitate greater efficiency in our judicial system. I believe I have the requisite temperament and demeanor to handle cases that affect the lives of others in a fair and impartial manner.
3. Judicial races are nonpartisan. Thus, I would say that how I define myself politically would not impact my judicial approach. The fact that I define myself politically as a democrat would not influence my decisions one way or the other. My judicial approach would be defined by the laws and the facts of the case balanced carefully with what is fair and a particular set of circumstances. I pride myself on being fair and honest, and my approach would be the same. I live my life to be impartial and fair and to follow the laws of the land. I intend to temper the law with compassion and recognition of the individuals' failings, accomplishments and backgrounds.
4. I really do not have any negative opinions to offer regarding decisions made by Judge McKown who currently holds this seat and has chosen not to seek re-election.
5. One of the most important recent decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court was the landmark ruling on campaign finance. In this case, the Court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. The argument was that government should not regulate free speech (political speech) under the First Amendment. As a result of this ruling, it is more likely that corporate monies will exercise undue influence on our political system and corrupt our sense of democracy. I can already envision big banks, health insurance companies and other powerful special interest groups being able to buy advertisements to a degree that ordinary citizens cannot. For this reason, I do not agree with the majority ruling in this case, and fear that this result may be used by big corporations to influence the outcome of the elections in a way that effectively disenfranchises the majority of voters.
6. I do feel that North Carolina's current system of judicial elections serves the state well. Election by the people is always the best system for judges because it gives each citizen a voice in deciding who serves on the judiciary and allows for accountability to the electorate. There are other forms of selecting judges that function differently from our current system such as appointments and merit based selections, or nominating committees. These options remove candidates from the influence of campaign contributions and day to day politics. However, in a way it is another form of influence peddling because it becomes political when you consider how appointments are made. Ideally, judges should be insulated from politics and subject only to the law and facts. Unfortunately, in all of the scenarios listed above politics are still involved. Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recently spoke in North Carolina about this very issue and made a pitch for appointing judges as a way to alleviate this issue. Notwithstanding, the truth of the matter is that all methods of selecting judges tend to be imbued with a political element.
7. No.
8. I am a community oriented person who works to give back every day. I teach at Durham Technical Community College in its Criminal Justice Program. I am a member of SALT (Seniors And Law enforcement Together), where I work with senior citizens in making sure that they are educated on issues pertaining to crime and victimization. I have been a mentor with Partners for Youth for over a decade where I provide guidance to young people about activities, education and social skills. In addition, I serve on several nonprofit boards whose objectives are to build a stranger Durham community.
9. A principled stand that I would be willing to take if elected that may cost me popularity points with voters is to actually remove kids from homes that are doing more harm than help to the young person. It is always great to try to keep the child with a parent or family member but sometimes the parent is the problem and can lead to the child being worse off than ever and being led into a life of crime or deprivation. In those circumstances, being with someone that will nurture the child and make sure that their emotional, financial and physical needs are being met are more important than the biological toxicity of an uncaring and absent parent.
10. The main improvement that needs to be made in the juvenile justice system has to do with providing sufficient services for the youth who come into contact with the courts. For instance, the mental health system has failed to keep pace with the need for out of home placements. There are few placements available between home and training schools. This lack of resources results in children being sent off to training schools and institutionalized rather than being treated in the community. Other needed improvements in the juvenile justice system would be the education of officers and other officials as to how to diffuse various situations in certain communities in order to decrease the disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system. As to weaknesses or constraints in the court's handling of juvenile offenders, the biggest issue has to be the lack of resources for the treatment and rehabilitation of youth.