Judicial Candidate Questionnaire
Name _Pennie M. Thrower____________Party Affiliation __R____Incumbent N
1. Why do you want to be judge?
Because it’s my responsibility as a lawyer to improve our legal system, and it’s time.
From a very early age, my Mother instilled in me that we all have a duty to make the
world we live in a better place. I have tried to do this when I prosecuted domestic
violence cases as an Assistant District Attorney, in my private practice, and through the
numerous community service organizations I have been engaged in since I moved to
Gaston County in 2001. I see serving as District Court Judge as the next step in my
legal career, and a higher level of community service.
2. What sets you apart from the other judicial candidates?
My integrity and fairness, and belief that judges and our legal system should be held to
the highest standards possible. As I have stated in the past, there is a reason Lady
Justice is blind – it shouldn’t matter who the plaintiff, defendant, victim or lawyer is in
front of you, all should be treated fairly and equally. I have been a lawyer since 1996,
and have 12 years of experience in the Gaston County court system; as an Assistant
District Attorney and in private practice. I have tried to follow the example set by the
late judge Harley Gaston by taking a leadership and volunteerism role in service to
Gaston County. Through my involvement in organizations such as Gaston Family
Health Services, the Dallas Optimist Club, the Junior League and Cancer Services, I
have gained an understanding of the good people of Gaston County and the
challenges they face. My unique experience as a domestic violence prosecutor, and
working in drug court and juvenile court have given me close-up experience with many
of the issues that are addressed in district court on a daily basis, in both criminal and
family court. As an attorney in private practice and taxpayer, I appreciate the need to
be as expeditious as possible with court time and taxpayer money. Lastly, I have had
leadership roles within the Gaston County Bar in an effort to improve our Bar, and am
proud to have served as President of the Gaston County Bar.
3. To what extent have you practiced in the area of criminal law? Family law?
Complex civil legislation?
I started my legal career as an associate for a family lawyer in Greensboro, NC. In the
area of criminal law, I have served as both an Assistant District Attorney, and as
counsel for those charged with crimes, in adult and juvenile court. As the attorney for
the Town of Dallas, I have assisted Dallas with their civil litigation. I also have
experience in the areas of real property, business corporations, wills, estates, and
foreclosures, all of which are matters subject to be handled in district court.
4. What do you see as the biggest problems within our judicial system?
Specifically within District Court, we have backlogged dockets, and I personally know
of cases that have taken years to resolve. It’s hard to explain to a friend who is
experiencing this frustration why this is so, and I feel responsible to do something
about it. We have too many repeat offenders that cost all of us – over and over and
over again. Most importantly, citizens are losing faith in our judicial system; that they
will receive swift and fair treatment. Shows like Judge Judy are perhaps fun to watch,
but they damage our court system by citizens expecting the same “drama and circus
atmosphere” in our courts.
5. What do you believe are the limitations judges face with regard to the penal system?
The sentencing guidelines set by the NC legislature sets parameters around actions
judges can take. Additionally, judges have a stewardship role to play in the
administration of justice. They should balance the costs associated with the
incarceration of criminals against the threat they pose to society.
6. What is your opinion of plea bargaining?
It is a necessary evil. A docket could have as many as 100 cases scheduled for one
half day session. Accordingly it’s not a reasonable expectation to try every case. Plea
bargains can benefit the taxpayer by moving cases through the system more quickly,
and they let the victim go on with their lives. Also, there are cases where a defendant
is charged with a more severe crime than what they are actually guilty of, and offering
a plea to the correct charge gets them to accept responsibility.
7. What tools would you like to see our society to give judges to better help them do
Feedback – individuals should educate themselves on the judges and the court system
to encourage a more familiar, transparent court system. Also, sentencing charts do
provide consistency in sentencing, but they also tie judges’ hands to fashion a
sentence to a specific case.
8. Should judges legislate from the bench? If so under what circumstances is this
It is the job of a judge to interpret and apply laws. It is never appropriate for a judge to
legislate or create laws from the bench.
9. Do you see the NC and US Constitutions as “living and breathing documents”?
The core principles espoused in our Constitution, upon which our country was founded,
do not change - a limited federal government, separation of powers, and freedom of
10. How can we keep repeat offenders off of our streets?
There is a saying around the courthouse that there are certain individuals who are
doing “life sentences 30 days at a time”. That is, as soon as they are released from
jail, they are arrested and incarcerated for another offense. Many of the repeat cases
are drug related. If we could get a better handle on our substance abuse problem in
Gaston County, we would decrease the number of repeat offenders. Lengthier
sentences keep offenders off the street, and give the incarcerated individual an
opportunity to better themselves, i.e. through drug treatment or GED classes.
11. Do you see ankle bracelet monitoring as an effective deterrent for violent or repeat
No, I do not think they are a deterrent.
12. How can we expedite criminal cases in our justice system?
First, reduce the number of times cases are continued. Every continuance costs the
taxpayers money, and judges should be mindful of that. There are DWI cases that
continue on the dockets for years, and that is far too long. That means both sides of a
case are held to the same standard – if a defendant doesn’t appear for court, then they
need to “feel the pain” by having an order for his/her arrest issued, and if a police
officer or State’s witness doesn’t appear, then the district attorney needs to dismiss the
case. The entire criminal system has to work together for cases to move at a pace
they should – everyone needs to remember it’s about resolving cases as quickly and
fairly as possible, not just pushing paper around the courthouse.
13. What are your thoughts on TORT reform?
We need some type of method to limit excessive suits that cost us all, and tort reform
seems to be the best way to go about this. Punitive damages do play an important role
in protecting the public, but I think that lawsuits were never meant to be the equivalent
of hitting the lottery that they have become. I see tort reform as an efficient cost-
14. What do you believe to be the root causes for the high numbers of juvenile
offenders? What changes can the court system make to reduce these numbers?
I have represented kids in juvenile court, and a couple of things come to mind. First,
too often a child charged has very little parent involvement in their life. With no
guidance in their lives, kids make poor decisions, and many times find themselves in
front of a judge. As an attorney representing a juvenile, many times I have been
amazed on what I see on (public) Facebook pages that parents have no clue are out
there – far too little oversight. Second, it would reduce numbers in the court system to
bring formal charges on juveniles less frequently – for example it would appear many
types of charges that used to be handled in the schools through various punishment
methods are now sent to court, costing the taxpayers money in court personnel,
juvenile personnel, attorneys, deputies, judges, etc. Honestly, I’m not sure a fight at
school warrants court involvement.
15. Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at
large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this?
Jury pools are in fact reflective of society as they are totally random based on voter
registration and department of motor vehicle records. It is a judge’s responsibility to
oversee the jury selection process within a trial to assure a fair jury. But it is also each
individual’s responsibility to serve proudly when called, as opposed to attempting to
evade jury service. Many years ago, I served on a jury and you feel so American when
you serve – just like when you vote.
16. In the area of hate crimes, what are some of the issues in balancing free speech
rights against the need to control offensive activity?
Hate crimes poison our country, and the effects go on long after the punishment is
meted out. Our country is based upon freedom of the individual, including free speech,
but no one should have their safety or well-being threatened so someone else can
express them self.
17. What criteria would you use for deciding whether to impose or affirm sentences
outside of standard ranges?
Unfortunately, in district court there is a sentencing grid, set out by the legislature and
all sentences must be within that grid or range so judges have little leeway. Within that
range, the criteria I would use would be the criminal record of the defendant, the
violence of the crime, whether the defendant knew the victim, the defendant’s efforts
before court to right his wrong, the age of the defendant and the age of the victim, and
of course victims need to be heard as to sentencing. As an attorney, I also appreciate
judges that can be creative with their sentencing where they can – i.e. can the
defendant perform community service, can parties mediate to settle a difference, etc.
18. Do you believe there is such a thing as a "victimless crime?" If so, what offenses
would you place in this category?
There can be no crime without a victim. Sometimes, the victims are a little harder to
spot, i.e. with a traffic violation, but they are there. When someone chooses not to be
in compliance with the law, for example speeding, we are all the victim by being put at
risk. I find it interesting that some people refer to prostitution as a victimless crime. As
someone who has worked in the legal system here in Gaston County and had
experience with individuals charged with these crimes, I disagree – the impact on the
women charged, their children, and our county as a whole is heartbreaking.
19. How could the costs of judicial administration be reduced? Can you give us a
specific example of how you have reduced costs in your law practice/court?
Reducing costs means controlling cases better. The more times a case is put on, the
greater the costs in court personnel to administer the case as it winds its way through
the system, so reducing continuances is a must. Making sure that everyone who is
appointed free counsel is truly indigent, and asking them to share in the costs of their
defense where possible is a savings to the taxpayer.
I have my own practice, so I know what it is to try to minimize costs. For 8 years, I
have not known at the end of the month what my paycheck would be, I have had to
work for every dollar I pay myself. Because I have been on this side of things, as a
small-business owner and taxpayer, if I am elected it will make me more aware of the
importance of saving taxpayer dollars where I can.
20. What is your opinion on the 10th Amendment and State’s Rights?
The Tenth Amendment makes clear that powers not reserved to the Federal
government belong to the States. The Fed only has limited specific powers – although
you wouldn’t know it by the ever-increasing intrusion into our daily lives. Limited
government means getting back to the core meaning of the Tenth Amendment, and I
support limited government.
I hereby attest to the fact that I have answered these questions truthfully, completely,
and to the best of my ability. These are my official positions in seeking this office.
I understand that my answers may be published via e-mail, website, and printed
Signature____ ____ Date 04/20/2012