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Steven Storch 2014 PA-PAC Questionnaire

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Steven Storch, candidate for NC District Court District 14 Justice, 2014 People's Alliance PAC Questionnaire

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Steven Storch 2014 PA-PAC Questionnaire

  1. 1. 1 PEOPLE'S ALLIANCE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE QUESTIONNAIRE FOR LOCAL JUDICIAL CANDIDATES 2014 Steven Storch 8530 South Lowell Road Bahama, NC 27503 (919)210-1656 District Court Judge, (Evans Seat), 14th Judicial District, Durham, NC 1) Where were you born and where have you lived? When did you make Durham your home? I was born in New York City. My wife, Dr. Madeline J. Serrano, and I moved to North Carolina in 1990 so that she could attend the Orthodontic Residency Program at UNC in Chapel Hill. During this time, I secured several adjunct positions within the Philosophy Departments at several Universities, including Elon, Appalachian State, and NC State Universities while completing my Ph.D. in Philosophy. We decided to move to Durham in 1994 upon the completion of Madeline's residency because Durham had everything we desired. It was the ideal community not only for a start-up business, but for our family as well as our first child, Joseph, was also born in 1994. Durham, quite simply, was where we wanted to raise our children and we have been residents of Durham ever since. 2) Are you conservative or liberal? Please choose one and explain your answer. I tend toward a liberal perspective. Being a first generation American (my parents were WWII concentration camp survivors) I am grateful for the social programs that were available for my parents so that they could start a new life in the U.S. They came to the U.S. with literally no resources. But, with the help of several charitable organizations, they were able to learn English and secure jobs almost immediately. I am also very mindful of the resources that were available to me as a child of a lower income family (excellent public schools, food stamps, and free school lunch) as well as a young adult (Regents Awards, TAP and Pell Grants enabled me to attend college). But for these programs established by liberal democrats in the late forties through the sixties, I would not be where I am today. Because of my firsthand experience, I strongly believe that federal and state governments do have a clear obligation to help those most in need and to provide equal opportunity for all citizens, especially for education, housing, and healthcare. 3) Please describe how your religious and philosophical beliefs may affect your conduct and decision making if you are elected?
  2. 2. 2 I believe that one’s religious views do have a direct effect on one’s actions, and consequently, on others. They help lay the foundation of our moral views, of what is right and wrong. However, there is a sharp separation of church and state within our constitutional system and I vow to continue to recognize that separation by keeping my own religious views personal and private (unlike my opponent Pat Evans, who publicly states in her campaign materials that she is on a Christian mission for justice and claims that “God will not be absent when His people are on trial; He will stand in court as their advocate, to plead on their behalf”). 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. 1. Governor’s Domestic Violence Commission (past member and legislative subcommittee member) 2. Salvation Army (donor) 3. Durham Rescue Mission (donor and volunteer) 4. Food for the Poor (donor) 5. Kiwanis Civic Organization (past vice president) 6. Southern Society for Psychology and Philosophy (past member) 7. American Philosophical Association (past member) 8. Durham County Bar Association (past board member) 9. Orange Women’s Center (past volunteer counsel) 10. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (parishioner) 5) If you have had an occupation other than law, please describe the occupation and the work you performed. Who were your employers? As I mention above, I did not have a privileged childhood. My father was a maintenance worker in the local hotel workers union in NYC and my mother died when I was 15 years old after many years of suffering from poor health. I learned early on that if I was to make a better life for myself, I had to take an active role. Therefore, I have worked many jobs to help put food on the table since my early teen years. These early jobs included: paper route (12-15 years old), carpenter’s helper, printing press operator, stock boy, delivery boy, bus boy, and waiter. In my late teen years, I worked two part time jobs, one as an assistant manager at the local movie theatre, and the other as an exterminator on weekends. When we moved to North Carolina in 1994, I was able to work on my doctoral dissertation in absentia (my coursework at the University of Buffalo was complete) while teaching part time at Appalachian State University, Elon College, and NC State University. At the same time, I also drove full-time for Chapel Hill Transit in the evenings while my wife was in her four-year residency program at UNC (I still have my CDL certification). I continued to teach philosophy at various Universities and Colleges after completing my dissertation in 1997. These included adjunct/visiting professorships at Guilford College, North Carolina Wesleyan College, North Carolina Central University, and Elon University through 2007. 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.
  3. 3. 3 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. No. About your practice of law: 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. I received my law degree in 2003 from North Carolina Central University's evening program and immediately opened a general practice law firm on Broad Street in Durham. As a solo practitioner, I became proficient in many areas of law including family law; real estate; personal injury; consumer protection; special education and disability law. While real estate transactions provided a steady income and made up half my caseload, family law and consumer protection/disability issues provided a deep sense of satisfaction by helping others who could not help themselves and in most cases, could not afford to. Most of these cases were done either pro bono or at reduced rates. When my wife became seriously ill in 2007 I was forced to close my office doors. However, I was fortunate to secure a job with the Durham District Attorney's Office as an Assistant Prosecutor as this provided much needed health insurance and a more stable monthly income. 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. N/A-not a trial judge 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. While in private practice, I had a client who was the longstanding victim of physical and emotional abuse by her husband. For years, he would denigrate her with constant insults and beat her. Her face bore scars of dozens of cuts around her eyes and mouth. Things escalated to the point where he would routinely threaten to kill her and the children with the revolver that he kept with him at all times. All financial accounts were kept in his name and although she worked two jobs, she was not permitted to keep any of her earnings. Things came to a head when he threatened to shoot her in their bedroom. The noise from the arguing was heard by neighbors who called the police. He was promptly arrested, the gun removed, and a domestic protective order was issued, preventing him from returning to the house.
  4. 4. 4 Since all the money earned previously was kept by him, she didn't have the resources to hire an attorney. When I learned of the details, I agreed to represent her in the divorce and equitable distribution. The divorce was straight forward but the property division posed a problem for her. The house was a Habitat for Humanity home for which they built substantial equity over the previous decade as the loan was a 0% loan. Normally, marital assets are divided equally, which meant that the husband was entitled to half the equity in the home, which would have to be sold. This would have left my client homeless with three children. What was most unfair was that it was her income that was used to pay down the mortgage. After careful review of the husband's financial affidavits I was able to uncover hidden assets that the husband was hiding from a second source of income. As a result, we were able to secure the marital home for her and her children. Although this pro bono case was supposed to be a simple divorce matter it became much more complicated and involved than either party thought. Nevertheless, it sealed my interest in protecting victims of domestic abuse. I soon after began volunteer work with the Orange Women's Center, offering free legal advice to women who were not aware of their options to escape abusive relationships. And this has taught me the power of compassion and how a little bit of work can literally change the lives of others for the better. In the following years, I eventually joined the judicial system as a Magistrate and was able to serve a term on the Governor's Domestic Violence Commission. Here I helped to change the law to broaden the protection offered by the Domestic Violence Statutes to include domestic partnerships. There really isn't a second case, but hundreds of similar hearings that all stand together. Although I am not a seated judge I am a judicial official who shares many of the same duties as a District Court Judge. Among these are the holding of probable cause hearings for domestic violence protective orders. As a Magistrate, I am usually the first person the victim seeks out for legal help. The application package for a protective order involves many pages of forms, affidavits, requests for relief, and other resource forms. For a person who has typically just come from a violent encounter, this can be overwhelming, especially given all the legal jargon and the formality of the process. The worst thing that could happen is for the victim to return to her violent situation because she was intimidated by the legal process. In my 5 years as a Magistrate, I have been involved in hundreds of these situations with very emotionally fragile victims and I have learned the value of compassionate listening and providing reassurance that there are very real options available. As a District Court Judge who will preside over these same proceedings but at later legal stages, as well as in other emotionally charged settings like Family and Juvenile Courts, I am capable to preside over these matters with the necessary demeanor and professionalism. 11) If you are a sitting judge seeking re-election, are you satisfied with your JPE scores? Do you think the evaluation process is valid and the results a fair
  5. 5. 5 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. Although I am not a sitting judge, I am subject to the new Judicial Performance Evaluation that will evaluate candidates for judicial seats this year. The second phase of this survey is currently underway through March 24, but the results will not be released until mid-April, several weeks after the People’s Alliance requested the return of this questionnaire. Although I don’t yet know my results, I am quite confident that they will be substantially higher than my opponent’s (Pat Evans) given that she received the second lowest score of the 120 judges evaluated statewide. I would expect my results to be in the “4” (good/excellent) range and will forward those results to the PA when they are released in April. 12) Have you ever been publicly or privately disciplined by the NC 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. I have always held myself up to the highest standards of professional conduct. As a result, I have never had a complaint filed against me with the North Carolina State Bar nor the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission. This is something my opponent cannot claim. I have never been found in contempt of court 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? I have mentioned above some of the pro bono work I did in my family law practice from 2003-2007 and my volunteer work with the Orange Women's Center. I also counselled clients on various consumer protection cases for predatory collection practices in violation of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a service for which I never charged a fee. These were hardworking people who were hoodwinked into signing questionable contracts; victims of bait and switch tactics by less than reputable salesmen; or simply people who fell on hard times and could not keep up with their financial obligations. They were in need of relatively simple help and I was glad to provide it as a courtesy. Concerning law and policy:
  6. 6. 6 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? The death penalty should be abolished as it has been in most developed nations. Too many innocent people have been convicted as our national and local innocence projects have demonstrated. All those involved in the criminal process, from witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, judges, and juries are human, and therefore capable of error. When a life is at issue, there are simply too many opportunities for errors to compound and the wrong person to be found guilty. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Although an innocence commission can exonerate the wrongly sentenced, it cannot bring back wrongly executed. Therefore, the death penalty should no longer be an option and only our legislators can bring about that change as our Supreme Court is yet to find the death penalty a cruel and unusual form of punishment. 15) Do you perceive any racial discrimination in the criminal justice system? If you answer is yes, what should be done about it? No. Minorities do make up the majority of defendants in Durham. However, in other geographical areas, whites do. I strongly believe that the disparities in a given community are more a function of socio-economic factors than an underlying intentional racism on the part of the judicial system. 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? As a Magistrate, I have married countless couples since 2009. If given the legal authority by our legislature, I would be honored to be the first Magistrate in Durham County to perform a Civil Union. Consequently, I did not vote for Amendment One and was sorely embarrassed as North Carolinian when it passed. 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 NC Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission and in the North Carolina judges conferences? Absolutely too many people are incarcerated in North Carolina. As a Magistrate, I see firsthand the consequences of a failed mental health system. But because mental health facilities are simply not available, these individuals are diverted through the criminal justice system where their underlying illnesses are not treated. Sadly, many become repeat offenders and residents of our county jails and state prisons. In addition, our jails are occupied by defendants who are charged with victimless crimes. And because they generally lack the financial resources to secure a bonded release, they must remain behind bars until their next scheduled hearing. I have even seen people held in the Durham county jail for several weeks on simple traffic offenses because of the delays involved in getting court appointed attorneys. As an Assistant District Attorney (2007-2009), I served on the Jail Population Reduction Committee which had as its objective, helping to secure the release of people who simply did not belong in jail, i.e., they posed no danger to the community and were not a flight risk. But this approach is applied only after the fact. Changes to our criminal code and more funding for pre-trail release programs are necessary to
  7. 7. 7 prevent these needless incarcerations in the first place. And these are changes I would advocate for before any appropriate audience. 18) If elected, will you support the following programs: the Drug Treatment Court, the Criminal Justice Resource Center, STAR[R], the Mental Health Treatment Court, the Veteran’s 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. I have served on the Adult Drug Treatment Court in Durham from 2007-2009. I have seen how successful these programs are as the Drug Treatment Court made regular use of the resources of the CJRC and STARR and STARR Grad programs. An overwhelming majority of participants left the revolving door of the criminal justice system in Durham because their underlying addiction was addressed and treated. I am therefore, in full support of the refunding North Carolina's Drug Treatment Courts (they were recently defunded by our legislature). And for similar reasons, i.e., treatment is better than punishment, I am in support of a Mental Health Treatment Court as well as a Veteran’s Court. 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 currently registered as Unaffiliated since I do not subscribe entirely to either the Democratic or Republican Party platforms. I have been a registered Democrat for most of my adult life. 20) Who did you vote for in the 2008 and 2012 presidential and gubernatorial elections? 2012: Obama/Biden 2008: Obama/Biden 2008: Purdue 2012: Dalton 21) Have you ever been active in the campaign of a candidate for elective office (by active we mean acted as the campaign manager, treasurer, or paid staff, or contributed more than $2,000)? If the answer is yes, please explain that involvement. Yes, I ran for District Court Judge in Durham four years ago. I was both candidate and treasurer. 22) If you are elected do you envision any community involvement beyond the specific duties of the office? If yes, please describe that involvement. I plan to continue to support local charities like the Durham Salvation Army and the Durham Rescue Mission as well as remain involved with the neighborhood Partners Against Crime (PAC) neighborhood groups.
  8. 8. Steven R. Storch, J.D., Ph.D. 8530 South Lowell Road Bahama, NC 27503 (919) 210-1656 Attorney • Extensive criminal law experience as an Attorney, Prosecutor, and Criminal Magistrate. • Superior research, analytical, and communication skills. As a Professor of Philosophy I taught at several of North Carolina’s finest Universities, including North Carolina State University, Appalachian State University, North Carolina Central University, and Elon University. Among the courses taught were Ethics, Medical Ethics, Business Ethics, Critical Thinking, and Logic. Areas of Expertise  Criminal Law  Criminal Process  Family Law  General Litigation  Dispute Resolution  Real Property  Consumer Protection Law  Special Education Law  Public Speaking: 14+ years of university teaching experience Professional Experience Magistrate’s Office, 14th Prosecutorial District of North Carolina Magistrate, 2009-present • Provide an independent, unbiased review of charges and complaints by law enforcement officers and citizens. • Determine appropriate criminal charges based upon the relevant probable cause. • Issue various types of processes including: arrest warrants, summonses, search warrants, subpoenas, and civil commitments. • Conduct bond hearings to set bail and conditions of release. • Issue domestic violence protective orders and civil no-contact orders. • Assigned as Special Magistrate to facilitate high volume Courts by negotiating pleas and entering judgments on misdemeanors; granting continuances and extended compliance dates; and dismissing certain cases for compliance. Office of the District Attorney, 14th Prosecutorial District of North Carolina Assistant District Attorney, 2007-2009
  9. 9. Steven R. Storch, J.D., Ph.D. 8530 South Lowell Road Bahama, NC 27503 (919) 210-1656 • Screening of incoming cases; preparation of cases for trial; legal research regarding any special issues; writing and filing of appropriate motions; preparation of testifying witnesses. • Specific additional duties included the management of the Durham County jail population; coordination of the Adult Drug Treatment Court Program; and volunteer educator for the G.R.E.A.T. program with the Durham Public School System. Law Office of Steven R. Storch A General Practice Law Firm Principal Attorney, 2003 to 2007 • Started the law firm immediately after graduating law school. • Handled cases in the areas of Family Law; Disability and Special Education Law; Contract Disputes; Construction Law; and Real Estate Transactions. North Carolina Central University Professor of Philosophy, 2000-2002 • Taught all the courses offered by the Philosophy Department, including Introduction to Philosophy, Logic, Critical Thinking, and Ethics. SUNY@ Buffalo; Appalachian State University; Elon College; NC State University; Guilford College; and Wesleyan College. Various Adjunct and Visiting Professorships, 1990-2000 • Taught a variety of courses including: Introduction to Philosophy; Applied Ethics; Logic; Critical Thinking; Introduction to Ethics; Professional and Business Ethics. Education North Carolina Central University School of Law J.D., 2003 State University of New York at Buffalo Ph.D. in Philosophy, 1997 Area of Specialization, Ethics State University of New York at Buffalo B.A. in Philosophy, 1987
  10. 10. Steven R. Storch, J.D., Ph.D. 8530 South Lowell Road Bahama, NC 27503 (919) 210-1656 Admissions and Associations • Admitted to the practice of law in North Carolina 2003; New York and New Jersey in 2012 • Governor’s Domestic Violence Commission and Legislative Subcommittee member • North Carolina Bar Association • Durham County Bar Association, Director • Durham County Family Bar • Orange County Bar Association • American Philosophical Association • Southern Society of Psychology and Philosophy Recent Honors and Awards • 2008, Nominee for mid-term replacement for District Court Judge, 14th Judicial District, NC • 2010, Candidate in general election for District Court Judge, 14th Judicial District, NC • 2011, Appointed Special Criminal Magistrate, 14th Judicial District, NC