Carolina Democracy

Judges Work for You (Including Justice Allison Riggs)!

February 26, 2024 JD Wooten Season 3 Episode 7
Judges Work for You (Including Justice Allison Riggs)!
Carolina Democracy
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Carolina Democracy
Judges Work for You (Including Justice Allison Riggs)!
Feb 26, 2024 Season 3 Episode 7
JD Wooten

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Justice Allison Riggs who is running for re-election to her seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. We also kick off with a short primer on North Carolina state courts for those who may not be familiar with the various levels of our courts and what they do.

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Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we're joined by Justice Allison Riggs who is running for re-election to her seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. We also kick off with a short primer on North Carolina state courts for those who may not be familiar with the various levels of our courts and what they do.

Voting Site Links:

Learn More About Justice Riggs:

Contact Us:

Follow Us:

Support the Show.

Allison Riggs: I want voters to know that the people on the bench at every level, they work for you. We are public servants. Part of my role as a public servant is to educate people about our courts and I think people will be more engaged in voting in judicial elections if we do our job and talk about what does a District Court do versus a Superior Court versus the Court of Appeals versus the Supreme Court? And what should you be expecting out of your judges? 

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today we’re joined by Justice Allison Riggs of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Justice Riggs previously served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and was appointed to the Supreme Court last fall by Governor Cooper. She’s up for re-election to a full eight-year term this year.

But first, here’s your reminder that the primary election is Tuesday, March 5th, only a week away. Early voting is open and runs through Saturday, March 2nd. Even if you missed the regular voter registration deadline a few weeks ago, you can still do same day registration at early voting, so go find a polling place and vote. I’ll leave a link the show notes to find early voting sites near you. I want to emphasize, if you’re not already registered to vote, and you do not go to an early voting site to complete a same day registration, you will not be able to vote on March 5th. And of course, assuming you’re already registered, you can go vote on Tuesday, March 5th at your local precinct voting site. I’ll leave a link in the show notes to help you find your precinct polling place as well.

Now, since we have Justice Riggs as a guest today, and her seat is the only state supreme court seat on the ballot this year, I thought we could do a quick tutorial on the North Carolina court system rather than news updates.

So first, before even getting to our state courts, let me also note that like everything else about our system of government, we have both state and federal courts. State courts are considered courts of general jurisdiction, meaning just about any dispute could theoretically be heard, at least initially, in our state courts. There are a few limited exceptions like copyright and patent cases that can only be heard in federal courts, but otherwise state courts can hear the vast majority of cases that occur. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning that they are limited to hearing only certain disputes. Those include disputes that arise primarily under federal law or the U.S. Constitution, disputes between the states (like the State of North Carolina sues the State of Virginia over something related to a border dispute), and disputes between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy is over $75,000. Those are the general contours of the differences, but like anything legal, there are plenty of exceptions and special circumstances. Also, even if a matter may be heard in federal court, again with limited exceptions, state courts may also hear those cases if no party tries to move the dispute over to federal court.

Now, back to our state courts. There are three divisions to the North Carolina Courts, and in ascending scope of jurisdiction, those are the District Court Division, Superior Court Division, and the Appellate Division. 

Starting with the District Court Division, at the lowest level are our magistrates. Magistrates are not elected, but rather appointed by the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge. Magistrates hold court in both civil and criminal matters as officers of the district court under the authority of the chief district court judge. In the civil context, magistrates are generally assigned to preside over “small claims” court which hears disputes for claims under $10,000. For criminal matters, magistrates conduct certain preliminary proceedings and are authorized to dispose of some cases by pleas of guilt or trial. 

Next up, our District Courts hold trials and empanel juries to determine the facts of specific cases. District courts handle misdemeanor crimes and civil cases between $10,000 - $25,000. The District Courts also hear family law and juvenile cases. District Court judges are elected to four-year terms in North Carolina.

Our Superior Court Division includes our state Superior Courts, which are still a trial courts, and these courts hold trials and can empanel juries to determine the facts of cases. The Superior Courts hear cases involving felony crimes, civil cases involving $25,000 or more, and appeals from district courts. These are generally the busiest of all our state courts in North Carolina, and Superior Court judges are elected to eight-year terms.

Finally, we have the Appellate Court Division, which includes both the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Whereas both the Superior and District Court divisions are trial court divisions that hold trials and empanel juries to determine facts of cases, the courts of the appellate division only decide questions of law when a party appeals a case from a lower court.

The first level of our appellate courts is the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals can only decide questions of law, not questions of fact. So for an easy example, take a car crash case where the parties dispute whether the stop light was red or green. The trial court, usually through a jury, would hear witness testimony, review any camera footage, and consider any other evidence, and then the jury decides the factual question of whether a stoplight was red or green. Then, a judge decides what that means legally – was someone a negligent driver, do other legal reasons bar recovery like the parties took too long to bring the lawsuit, etc. Barring an obvious and egregious error, the Court of Appeals will not second guess the decision on whether the stop light was red or green. But, it will often reconsider questions like whether a plaintiff took too long to bring the suit, because that generally turns only on legal theories. If the Court of Appeals disagrees with the trial court, it can reverse or overrule the trial court and send the case back for reconsideration. The Court of Appeals can also, and probably more often than not does, simply agree with the trial court and affirm the ruling. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has 15 judges, who sit a panel of three to hear cases, and they rotate those panels so the same judges are not always hearing cases together. Judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals are elected to eight-year terms.

Finally, the North Carolina Supreme Court. Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court is an appellate court which only decides questions of law, not questions of fact. This is our state’s highest court, and cases that make it to the Supreme Court are usually cases involving novel legal theories that haven’t been decided before and questions of state constitutional interpretation. The court has a Chief Justice and six associate justices, who sit in a single panel to decide cases appealed from the lower courts, primarily the Court of Appeals. Again, the Supreme Court has no jury, and it makes no determinations of fact. Instead, it only considers questions of law, such as deciding whether there were errors in legal procedures or judicial interpretation of the law in the trial court or the Court of Appeals. For most cases, this is the last stop unless a case involves a question under the U.S. Constitution, in which case it could theoretically, although very rarely, still go up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Notable recent cases from North Carolina which have gone on from the state Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court have been those involving gerrymandering and voting rights. Our state supreme court justices are elected to eight-year terms.

And a final note – when a vacancy comes up in our judicial system at any level, the governor appoints someone to fill that vacancy until the next election. Then, the person filling the vacancy must run for a full-term on that court to keep the seat to which they were appointed. That’s why Justice Riggs is now running for re-election despite having just joined the court last fall after being appointed by Governor Cooper.

Alright, I think that’s enough to set the stage for today’s interview with Justice Riggs. Hope you enjoy and thanks for tuning in!

[music transition]

JD Wooten: With me today is Justice Allison Riggs of the North Carolina Supreme Court. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Roy Cooper in 2023, and is up for election to a full term this year. Welcome, Justice Riggs. It's an honor to have you with us today. 

Allison Riggs: Thanks for having me, JD.

JD Wooten: Absolutely. So let's start in the same place I do with all my first time guests. What's your earliest memory of politics or being aware of politics? 

Allison Riggs: So I grew up in West Virginia which was, it still is a very, blue collar state labor politics were actually my first politics I was ever introduced to, which was, you know, an understanding the state changed a lot since when I grew up there, but when I grew up, everyone had a father, a brother, a cousin, a grandfather who worked in the mines and who was a union member. And so just the conversations that happen in the school, you know, about what does it mean to be in a union? What does it mean for workers? What does it mean just for daily life? So I think that was my, my first recollection. My, my introduction to progressive politics was this idea that, people organizing together, working together to advance their own interests was a good, a normal thing, a powerful thing. There wasn't and didn't have to be any demonization on the other side, but that there was power in that organizing and that thread has played an important role throughout my career and to now, as I run for statewide office. 

JD Wooten: So let's stay with background for a little bit, then, before moving to the current campaign and judicial service. So you, you grew up in West Virginia, and then you went off and got a bachelor's, a master's, and your law degree from the University of Florida. So, let me ask this first. I'm sure we have some listeners considering a legal career. What led you to law school originally, and why the University of Florida?

Allison Riggs: Well I'll start with the University of Florida. I was the oldest of four kids and my dad said to me pretty early that I can't do for you what I can't do for all of them and so I I can't send you to college and pay for it because I don't know if I'd be able to do that for the other four. That equity lens started early for me as well. And so back then Florida prioritized higher education. They were recruiting national merit scholars to their state universities and the University of Florida is their flagship state university down there. And so they offered me a free ride, a stipend to attend there as an I'd done well in school. I'd excelled and it was further away from home than I wanted to be. But that's how I ended up being a girl from West Virginia going to a really big state school in Florida, a thousand miles away from my family and everyone I knew. 

But I didn't know I wanted to be a lawyer right away. I was a microbiology major in undergrad. I thought I wanted to be a scientist. For folks who may be thinking about a future in the legal career, the thing that I always say, in particular, when I talk to younger audiences is it's okay to not have it all figured out from day one. I don't think it's realistic to expect an 18-year-old to know, have everything figured out. Now, Judge Carolyn Thompson, who's running for the Court of Appeals who I'm working very closely with on the campaign trail, knew she wanted to be a lawyer since she was five years old. And I think that's great too, but some folks may feel that calling early on and that's great. And if you don't feel that calling early on, it's, it's wonderful as well. 

But I, I got into the law gradually. I was a microbiology major. I thought, well, you know, I care a lot about the environment. I have some background in some of the technical aspects of it. Maybe being an environmental lawyer is what I want to do and so that's, you know, when I applied to law school, I was like, oh, I have the science background and I care about the environment. I understand sort of how our understanding of the environment has changed over time.

So I went and in my first week of law school, I went to a meeting about a restoration of civil rights clinic that a professor at the University of Florida was running. And what the clinic did was it students helped people who were applying to have their rights restored by the state of Florida. At the time, Florida permanently disenfranchised anyone who had had a felony conviction, and the only way they could have their civil rights restored was to go through this administrative bureaucratic process where they petition the board of executive clemency in Florida to restore their civil rights.

And so I went to this meeting and there were two whole people in that meeting and the other one left midway and the professor who is a is now a judge in Florida Mishon Rawls she's like, well, my student coordinator just graduated and the university doesn't pay me to do this. So we may not be able to keep doing it. And I was like, well, I don't know what a student coordinator does, but I like being helpful. If there's no one else to do it and I might not be your first choice, but I'll do it. And so I was a first year, I was a 1L first week and became the student coordinator for that program and learned so much working with our clients. You know, I approached it with this is about voting. This is about the right to vote. It's a fundamental right. It's so important. And almost everyone who came through our clinic was not coming there because they wanted to vote. They wanted to have an economic future. So this, having your civil rights in Florida also meant having the right to receive from the state licensing.

And so if you wanted a barber's license, if you wanted a roofer's license, a plumber's license, a law license, the state of Florida wouldn't give it to you unless you had your civil rights. And so you had just so many people who'd either made a mistake or been pulled into a discriminatory criminal justice system who were returning citizens, had served their sentence, had done what they were supposed to do, and were returning citizens and could not economically get their feet underneath them.

And so that was an important lesson for me over those 3 years, because I did this my whole 3 years. This is what, this was my, my extracurricular in law school was the restoration of civil rights clinic. It's certainly why I wanted to work for Anita Earls at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice was I saw there's an idea of using your law degree. It's a privilege to have a law degree and what we do with it, you know, everyone's going to do what's best for them and their family and that's great. 

And if you're going into civil rights work, there was just a way I wanted to do it, which recognize the intersectionality of systems of oppression, of, you know, structural challenges of reality, right? So like the same people who are being involved in a criminal justice system that I believed was very problematic had no vote on the policies that were impacting them. So it was a very, it's a very circular problem. I think you have to address any problems like that with an understanding that it's not just a voting problem, or it's not just a criminal justice reform problem, or it's not just an economic justice problem. It's all of those things. But it, you know, all of this is like really how I, I got to where I got in the kind of line ended up practicing for so long. 

JD Wooten: So with all of that background, let's stick on the Southern Coalition for Social Justice for a moment, because that's where you ended up right after graduation, I believe, and you started off as a staff attorney, and after more than 13, almost 14 years there, you rose all the way to be the Co-Executive Director, and I'll ask you about one particular aspect of it in a minute, your arguments at the Supreme Court, but aside from that, I'm very curious, what are some of your more memorable experiences you had along the way working at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice?

Allison Riggs: I joined SCSJ because I believed in their mission and their approach, and I really enjoy being part of building something, and when I started there, we were a very small organization I think I was maybe the fourth, or 5th person. I like getting in on the ground and building things. And so, you know, we had this teeny tiny office in downtown Durham and everyone was double bumped in an office and we didn't have a paralegal for years. You were doing all your own filing, all your own copying, all your own phone calls, you name it. But we were working with community-based groups that were doing the same, right? 

I think we were very relatable as attorneys, and we wanted to be more than just attorneys. We wanted to be partners in a long-term change effort. So, you know, lots and lots of funny stories about what happens when you like, put three lawyers in an office and they're all trying to do work and make phone calls and all that. But I was lucky enough to do work all across the South as well. So it was just traipsing all over the South in late 2009, 2010, trying to encourage and equip groups with what they needed to push a very robust 2010 census participation. 

So we had a lot of information about where census undercounts had been problematic and I went down with an organizer who got a terrible flu and I was like, well, he was the organizer and I was the lawyer and we were having these events in Louisiana and Florida and we were flying all over the place and my organizer was down for the count and so I was trying to dump him at the hotel get him some soup and then figure out how to conduct a meeting where we connect folks with the resources and give them the, the talking points that they need to encourage their communities to get counted in the 2010 census and with an understanding that redistricting follows a census like that.

I did multi week trials in Florida and Texas in just the absolute worst time of the year to be doing anything in those states. And so, you know, you go to trial and you've got boxes of stuff and there's a lot of stuff when you conduct a, a trial. And I was the lead counsel for both of my client groups there. And I just, I have a lot of fond memories, not only of getting those experiences I got but doing it with an eye towards being frugal, that resources are limited, but I don't want the resources being limited to affect the quality of the representation that my clients get, because my clients were just absolutely the best amazing groups and trying to make such change in their communities. And I wanted them to have the best. 

JD Wooten: Well, I had a multi week trial just last December down in New Bern and the number of banker's boxes full of paper copies of exhibits was something to behold. And I am extremely glad that we were in New Bern in December and not in Texas or Florida in August, because we would have been so disheveled trying to start off arguments after carrying all those boxes. 

Allison Riggs: There's nothing like starting your day drenched in sweat and then being like, all right collecting myself it's going to be a long day in the freezing cold courtroom. Folks may not know for some reason and actually I do know now it's really hot under those judges robes. So they keep they almost always keep the temperature ice cold in those courtrooms and they're like why is it so cold? My guess now is so the judges stay comfortable.

JD Wooten: That could very well track with my experiences some of the least comfortable buildings I’ve ever been in are federal courthouses, other courthouses, and to boot in the New Bern Federal Courthouse in December, the boiler was broken. So Judge Flanagan actually instructed the jury if you need to, you're welcome to bring your mittens and your, your hats and your jackets to sit in the jury box. And I'm just sitting there like, oh my gosh. We're going to have a hard enough time trying to get these poor people to pay attention for two weeks and now they're going to be over there shivering. This is not going to go well, but thankfully they got that fixed.

But enough about me and my trial. You had the chance to argue at the U. S. Supreme Court multiple times and small point of privilege and aside, I remember being in the courtroom with then Allison and Anita arguing one of the many gerrymandering cases, I believe this would have been the fall of 2017, thereabouts. It was the racial gerrymandering case. It had just come back down. It was in front of the three-judge panel here in Greensboro. My office is a block away. So I said, you know what, I'm going to go over and listen. And y'all were making your arguments. And so I've had the pleasure of hearing you in action. And I wish I could have been there at the Supreme Court for any variety of reasons, not the least been to hear the arguments you were presenting there, but I'm really curious, what was it like in terms of preparation beforehand, the day of that sort of thing? 

Allison Riggs: Yeah. So arguing in the Supreme court is, is a dream. It is the just pinnacle of a legal professional career. And it meant more to me than I could have ever imagined because I was up there representing groups and clients that had fought for me to be the one to make the argument whose work was fundamental to an inclusive, multiracial, healthy democracy. Being in the U. S. Supreme Court arguing is always going to be incredible, but doing it for clients that that meant that much to me. It was Texas NAACP the first time and it was the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and individual voters the 2nd time, and you are well prepared by the time you make your appearance in the U. S. Supreme Court. 

When lawyers are going to have a big appellate argument, they usually do something that's called the moot argument and practice argument and you do a lot of those, I would say I had about 6 to 8 each time and they're great experiences. I was very lucky to have a lot of folks be generous and interested in hearing my arguments develop and giving me feedback. And Georgetown does this incredible U. S. Supreme Court moot program where a very good chunk of the cases that are argued in front of the U. S. Supreme Court, the final moot for that will have been at Georgetown in front of former solicitors general, former judges, Department of Justice officials, like folks who spend a lot of time in those hallowed halls and so really know what they're doing. And so both of my Supreme Court arguments where I argued I was lucky to get to do that and many others. But it was a great experience and I came out after my first argument and got into the cab to head to lunch afterwards and I was like, that was great. Let's do it again. And I did 9 or 10 months later have my next Supreme Court appearance. 

JD Wooten: So after several years at SESJ, you went from being on that advocate side to being on the other side of the bench in the robe because Governor Cooper appointed you to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and you serve there for nearly a year. But before you could even get to your one-year anniversary, you then got appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. So I'm kind of curious, how was that initial experience on the Court of Appeals and that transition across the street as it were. 

Allison Riggs: I'm not a job hopper. I had the same job for 14 years and then change jobs twice in a year. So it was, it was a different pace for me. I'm so grateful to have gotten to serve on the Court of Appeals before serving on the Supreme Court. We have a unified court judicial system, but the courts still have different dockets and have different paces and I learned so much serving on the Court of Appeals and getting to grapple with the caseload that they have a little bit more heavy of, which is a lot of criminal cases because of the right of appeal in so many cases. And then the Court of Appeals docket is so heavy with family law cases right now, most specifically termination of parental rights and abuse neglect and dependency cases. Not surprising to anyone, there's an opioid crisis right in in the state in this country, and it is not just affecting the people who may be having addiction issues, it's their family, it's their children, and it's ending up in our court system. And so getting to appreciate North Carolina's laws and what, what discretion judges have to effectuate the legislature's intent of reunifying families is was incredible to me.

And during my time on the court of appeals, I wrote nearly 50 opinions, had to make decisions and way more than that. But had to build bridges and win votes from folks who have a different party affiliation than me and recognized the reality of the demographics on the court and just, you know, I don't want to spend in my judicial career being in the dissent. I want to try and find some common ground and make sure that our court system is working for the people of North Carolina. So my time at the Court of Appeals is very precious to me. I think I'm a better Supreme Court justice for it, but I know that I bring to across the street with me my all that I learned about how to be efficient and effective as an appellate judge.

And now I'm, you know, still five, six months in but have heard 58 cases now from the bench. And the Supreme Court decides on a lot of petitions and motions beyond the cases that are orally argued and it's, it's different. A lot more of those matters of first impression that we get to but it's, it's just fascinating work and I'm privileged to do it and I hope to keep doing it.

JD Wooten: Well, in addition to what you mentioned about the workload, any other major differences between your Court of Appeals experience and your Supreme Court experience? For example, the listeners may not realize the Court of Appeals itself is made up of over a dozen judges, but then when y'all hear oral arguments, it's just three judge panels, rarely en banc, but then over at the North Carolina Supreme Court, there are seven of you, and barring exceptional circumstances where somebody needs to recuse themselves or otherwise be absent, it's all seven for every argument.

Allison Riggs: So there are 15 Court of Appeals judges, and you're right, we sit in panels of three. And so that was, it's fun because you. You're constantly circulating there. There's a goal to make sure that you serve evenly with your other colleagues. It makes it really fascinating because you are talking with a different set of colleagues. And yeah, when you get to work with all of your colleagues, all of the time, versus only seeing some of them, some of the time, it changes how you build relationships, how you build trust, how you learn to understand their thinking. I mean, this is nerdy, but I like that appellate judicial work is definitionally it's group, group decision making, right? So you have your understanding of the facts, your understanding of the law, but you have to come to some accord and there's a greater number of people with, with whom you have to come to accord at the Supreme Court, just the math. It's work to take the time to thoughtfully understand what your colleagues' concerns might be their understanding their background, right? I find it interesting they're just, they're very different spaces to work at. One's not better than the other, but I'm very grateful and privileged to have gotten to work at both.

JD Wooten: Well, that's wonderful to hear, and I wish you all the best on trying to help some other people come to see things certain ways. But I will move on to saying that at this point for most candidate guests, I would ask about their platform. But as a judicial candidate, it's a little different in the sense that you obviously can't speak to anything that is either before y'all or may come before you. So what I like to do with judicial candidates is ask instead, what are some of your guiding principles that you use to think through these issues as they come before you in an appellate case? 

Allison Riggs: So this is where I really call upon a few things. One is my, my being a scientist as background. I think there's a methodical way to approach how you see the facts, and understand the law and then apply the law to the facts. Justice Jackson, and her confirmation hearings, talked about on the US Supreme Court, talked about I don't have a judicial philosophy, I have a judicial methodology. And that was very helpful to me, because, you know, it wasn't about brand or sending smoke signals about what you would do. It's about this is the discipline that I'm going to apply to this profession. This is the way that I'm going to start. And starting from a place of committed undecidedness and curiosity. Not necessarily like by the time you get to oral argument, but you get a case and you're like, I want to be open to everyone's argument. I don't want to go in with any preconceptions that affect my ability to understand and apply the law. So I've really tried to fully embrace that. But I also know that our justice system is one that has not been equally accessible and fair. That we have real, real problems in our criminal justice system with racial disparities, with access to justice in our civil and criminal systems, which is to say, as appellate judges, we're lucky when we've got cases that great lawyers have worked on and everything's been fleshed out and that's not always how matters of dispute start, right? And that you know, the ability to afford a really talented, well-paid lawyer is not equally open to everyone. And so like, in rendering the decisions start from beginning to end, I think being mindful of the fact of the ways in which our justice system has not always been just, continues to not deliver on the promise of equal justice for all is, is something that I think is mindful as well. 

And so, you know, making sure that when you apply the law, biases aren't creeping in based on how you grew up, how you lived, right? Well, as a parent, would I have done that? Maybe not. But is that my lived experience talking? You want it to be the law that's talking, not your, your personal biases.

So I think that compassion, that understanding of having spent a career working with folks who would not have had representation, but for what we were doing at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice informs my understanding of the judicial system how I'm serving in my role as a judge.

JD Wooten: Well, I've certainly had plenty of cases where a decision was rendered in one part of the case or another. And I, I get to the end, I kind of say, yeah, I don't like that outcome, but that's probably the right outcome, at least legally speaking. And that's a tough thing for, I think, non-lawyers to appreciate that within the context of the rule of law and the importance of precedent and predictability and consistency of our decision making that litigants know what to expect, even if it may not be what they want, at least it's some sort of fairness. So I really appreciate all the time you've spent with us, and I want to be sensitive to your valuable time. Maybe one last substantive question, in the sense of, what else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign going into this election cycle? 

Allison Riggs: I want voters to know that the people on the bench at every level, but certainly the ones that I've been privileged to serve on, your appellate courts, they work for you. We are public servants, and it doesn't mean, obviously, you know, especially your lawyer or future lawyer listeners know, we are meant to rule without fear or favor, without any sense of, I went to this event with you, and so that means that you have some say in what I do. That's not what I mean, but our constitution promises open courts. And so I take that very seriously in terms of, there's lots about what I do in my judicial service that is confidential that I can't talk about, but I need to be thoughtful and thinking about what I can talk about and that part of my role as a public servant is to educate people about our courts and our judicial system. 

And so I go to festivals and, and, you know, I ask folks, what do you think about our courts? And, you know, pretty routinely, I get, oh, that's where you go when you're in trouble. And I think that's important feedback for me to hear that people don't appreciate that courts can also be a place where you go where you've been harmed. When you've been shorted what you were due, when you've been injured in an accident. There's a whole world outside of criminal court that we play a part in that is due to the people of North Carolina, and I think people will be more excited about and engaged in voting in judicial elections if we do our job and make what we're doing accessible to them and connect them and talk about what does a district court do versus a superior court versus the Court of Appeals versus the Supreme Court? And what should you be expecting out of your judges? 

So it's an element of transparency and public education that I'm bringing to the campaign trail, but it's something I plan to do beyond just that because, I think there's a certain element of, too much element, both from judges and people expecting this of Wizard of Oz expectations for your judges. Which is to say, you know, judges get elected or get appointed and they're in eight-year terms and they pull the curtain back and get to do whatever they want with no accountability and people don't understand what what's going into the decision.

I think I want to bring the transparency in my written word and making sure my opinions explain every element of how I got to where I'm going. And when I'm out talking to voters, constituents really, like every North Carolinian is a constituent of mine in a non-typical sense. That within the confines of what I'm allowed to do under our judicial conduct cannons and, you know, with respect to confidentiality for the judicial decision-making process that I want people to see and know what we're doing.

I tell people all the time, all of our oral arguments are live streamed and kept on our YouTube channel. So the North Carolina Supreme Court and the North Carolina Court of Appeals both have a YouTube channel. And I don't mean to say like, I think every North Carolinian wants to crack a beer at the end of the day and watch an oral argument, but it's important that they know that this is out there and that there are folks watching and learning and understanding about the temperaments of the judge and how they conduct themselves and do they treat the people in front of them with respect and do they ask thoughtful questions like this is all in the public domain as it should be. 

JD Wooten: I don't know where else better to go from there than perhaps our most important question of the day. Where can people go to learn more about you and your campaign and the work you're doing for North Carolina? 

Allison Riggs: So, my website is, for is F O R, and on that website, I've got information about me, what I'm doing, my opinions, my background and I hope folks will take advantage of that. I have a decent number of opinions now, so they're not all up there, but I try and highlight the ones that I think reflect how I approach different problems, really complex, messy ones, statutory cases versus constitutional cases. And I want everyone to be able to read what I do and hold me accountable.

JD Wooten: Well, thank you so much Justice Riggs. We really appreciate having you here today. 

Allison Riggs: Thank you, J. D.

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JD Wooten: Thanks again to everyone for listening. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, please send me an email at And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!

Interview with Allison Riggs
Closing Notes