Monday, March 01, 2004

Doug Berger Responds

We posted an item about Doug Berger on January 21st, taken from the Raleigh News & Observer, which revealed that fellow Democrat, Judge Linda McGee, against whom Berger is running this year, had filed a complaint against him with a judicial ethics panel.

We have heard from Berger about our posting, and we are happy to pass along his comments here (and pleased, incidentally, to have our error about a Democratic primary in this race corrected -- judges in N.C. now run in non-partisan contests, though both contenders for this Court of Appeals seat are Democrats:

Hi, I just happened to come across your commentary concerning my race for the Court of Appeals. I recognize that Judge McGee is from your area and likely enjoys widespread support there. I respond only so that you as a fellow progressive Democrat will understand why I am running for this seat. I do want to point out that this race is non-partisan, and to date no other candidate has announced any intentions of running. Over the past few years, we have witnessed many shocking cases come to light where an innocent person has been convicted and sent to prison. Most recently the Hunt case out of Winston-Salem and the Gell case here in Raleigh have shaken the public's confidence in our criminal justice system. As you may know the state Supreme Court established an Innocence Commission to examine what reforms need to be made to protect the innocent. I was involved in the main case that led to the creation of this Commission. Terence Garner, a young black man was sentenced to 40 plus years for an armed robbery he did not commit. He was convicted with perjured testimony and denied a new trial by Judge Knox Jenkins, even though the perpetrator to the crime confessed within days after the trial. Judge Linda McGee was one of the three judges who held the responsibility to review this case. She voted to deny him a new trial. I ask you to compare her decision with the decision that Pickering made in the cross burning case. We Democrats used Pickering's involvement in that case to justify stopping him from serving on the federal bench. Terence Garner lost 5 years of his life as a result of the decision that Linda McGee made. The only reason Garner is free today is because of a PBS documentary and the grassroots response to that documentary. I drafted a complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission against Knox Jenkins that was signed by all but one of the elected African-American officials in Johnston County. Jenkins recused himself from the case and within a month Garner was released and charges dropped. Please show me a case in NC history where a citizen was wrongfully convicted, lost his appeal to the Court of Appeals and was subsequently freed by public opposition to the conviction. Why did McGee and her fellow judges deny Garner a new trial? Ann Saker, a progressive journalist for the N&O, who played a major role in the development of the documentary, had this to say:

ANNE SAKER: The system protects itself in the same way that doctors protect each other and lawyers protect each other, and in some instances, the way journalists protect each other. Lawyers- judges protect each other. And this was a case where there's this formalized system of judges overlooking each other's work, and unless there is something that in the legal world is called "shocking to the conscience," they're very reluctant to change anything that a judge did in a trial.

McGee let Jenkins run roughshod over Terence Garner much like the state Democratic Party let him do on the issue of redistricting. In my own county I have been involved in a year-long battle on redistricting and yet unlike the state Democratic Party we won the fight against the same lawyers who successfully won the redistricting battle in the last election.

We need judges who are willing to protect the innocent, not the system itself. I will be that kind of appellate judge.

Doug Berger

P.S. The following blog may be of interest to the progressive Democrats in your area.

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