N.C. Supreme Court, agriculture commissioner candidates visit Rowan
By Mark Wineka
N.C. Supreme Court candidate Suzanne Reynolds says the seven-member high court has been shirking its responsibilities in recent years and leaving most of the written opinions to an overworked Court of Appeals.
When the N.C. Supreme Court does hear a case, it often is giving a decision affirming or reversing the appellate court without attaching an opinion. It leaves attorneys for both plaintiffs and defendants scratching their heads over what the law really is, Reynolds told a Rowan County audience Thursday night.
The court’s opinions should teach the law, and the court’s not writing enough opinions to do that, Reynolds charged.
“The opinions that I’ll write need to be written,” she said.
Reynolds, a longtime law professor at Wake Forest University, and Ronnie Ansley, Democratic nominee for N.C. agriculture commissioner, were guest speakers at the monthly meeting in Salisbury of the Rowan County Democratic Party.
Ansley, who just launched a 100-hour statewide tour in which he’s trying to reach 25 different counties, delivered a strong message for moving bio-fuels production to a level beyond corn and soybeans and improving food safety within the state.
The Nov. 4 ballot in North Carolina has only one race for the N.C. Supreme Court. It’s a non-partisan race, and Reynolds is seeking the seat held by Justice Robert Edmunds. Justices serve eight-year terms.
A Davidson County native, Reynolds practiced in civil litigation in Greensboro but has spent most of her career teaching at Wake Forest, where she also earned her law degree.
She has never been a judge, Reynolds said, but teaching the law often has been a bridge to positions on the higher courts. Her three-volume work on family law in North Carolina has become the authoritative source for lawyers and judges in the state, Reynolds said.
She also has drafted statutes that modernized the law of both alimony and adoption, besides co-founding a nationally recognized domestic violence program that provided legal assistance to the poor.
Reynolds said that while she has never been a judge, she writes more law in a week than the present Supreme Court has written in a year.
“The court I’m seeking to join just hasn’t done its job,” she said.
Reynolds has a bachelor’s degree from Meredith College, a master’s in English and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a law degree from Wake Forest.
She has taught more than 2,000 lawyers over her 27 years at the university.
Last year, the N.C. Supreme Court wrote only 32 opinions ó less than five per justice.
Over the same period, the N.C. Court of Appeals wrote some 1,700 opinions or more than 100 per justice, Reynolds said.
Where the Supreme Court has been most silent or unclear has been in family law, her area of expertise, she said. Family law is an area in which most of the conflicting opinions are coming from the lower court, she added.
Reynolds said she is troubled by research suggesting that 30 percent of the North Carolinians who cast ballots Nov. 4 won’t vote in the judicial races. If she were elected, it would give the court a majority of women for the first time in its history.
In the N.C. Voter Guide, Edmunds of Greensboro says he’s the only candidate in his race who has been a judge, a partner in a law firm, a board-certified specialist, has an advanced law degree and has served in the military.
Ansley, the candidate for agriculture commissioner, likes to give audiences the answer to his own “Jeopardy” type of question first. “Naked and hungry” would be he answer to, “Where would you be without agriculture?” he said.
Ansley has an undergraduate degree in agriculture education from N.C. State University and a master’s degree in agriculture education from Clemson University. He earned a law degree from the Mississippi School of Law in 1991 and serves as president of the National Future Farmers of America Alumni Association.
Ansley speaks of using agriculture to grow the state’s economy, address rising fuel costs, make food costs affordable and make North Carolina the No. 1 state in biofuels.
He said the state can develop renewable, sustainable green energy sources for fuel production and make North Carolina energy-independent, while lowering fuel costs. And it can be done without using corn and soybeans, which should be fed to people and animals, he said.
Republican Steve Troxler is seeking re-election as agriculture commissioner.
On food safety, Ansley said products should show the state and country of origin with bar codes to say what farms they came from.
Ansley said he would work with the Legislature to place a moratorium on the inheritance tax so family farms could stay on the land.
“Don’t put American farmers out of business because they can’t pay the inheritance tax,” Ansley said.