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A Tale of Two Courts: Settling In After a Season of Change

Students of history will remember a bygone era known as late 2018, when Mark Martin was Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the median judge on the shrinking Court of Appeals was elected in 2012, and your parents had purchased enough CDs to elevate the quaint twangs of Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line to the top of the country music charts.

In just a few short months, a trifecta of retirements from the Court of Appeals, an active election season, and a round of musical chairs resulting from Chief Justice Martin taking the Deanship at Regent University Law School have changed the makeup of North Carolina’s two appellate courts significantly. Today, Cheri Beasley sits as our new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, nearly half of the no-longer-shrinking Court of Appeals was sworn in in 2017 or later, and your kids have streamed the “country trap” of Lil Nas X to the top of the country music charts.

Most recently, Governor Cooper yesterday tapped Reuben Young and Chris Brook to fill the two open seats on the Court of Appeals.  Judge Young has had a long career of public service, including leadership within the Department of Public Safety, wearing the robe as a Special Superior Court Judge, and serving as Chief Legal Counsel in the Office of the Governor. Chris Brook likewise has had a career focused on advancing justice, from his time with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to his leadership within the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

Now, before we look too far ahead to 2020—when at least three Supreme Court and five Court of Appeals seats will be on the ballot—let’s take a breath and see how far we’ve come:

The Supreme Court of North Carolina:  Comparing April 2019 to December 2018

Incumbent as of December 2018 Joined the Court Law School New Incumbent as of April 2019 Joined the Court Term Ends Law School
Mark Martin, Chief Justice 1999 UNC Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice 2013 2020 Tennessee
Paul Newby 2005 UNC 2020
Robin E. Hudson 2007 UNC 2022
Barbara Jackson 2010 UNC Anita Earls 2019 2026 Yale
Cheri Beasley 2013 Tennessee Mark Davis 2019 2020 UNC
Sam J. Ervin, IV 2015 Harvard 2022
Michael R. Morgan 2018 NC Central 2024


The North Carolina Court of Appeals:  Comparing April 2019 to December 2018

Incumbent as of December 2018 Joined the Court Law School New Incumbent as of April 2019 Joined the Court Term Ends Law School
Linda M. McGee, Chief Judge 1995 UNC 2020
Wanda G. Bryant 2005 NC Central 2020
Donna Stroud 2007 Campbell 2022
Chris Dillon 2013 UNC 2020
Richard Dietz 2014 Wake Forest 2024
Lucy Inman 2015 UNC 2022
Valerie Zachary 2015 Harvard 2024
John M. Tyson 2015 Campbell 2022
Phil Berger Jr. 2017 Wake Forest 2024
Hunter Murphy 2017 McGeorge 2024
John S. Arrowood 2017 UNC 2026
Robert N. Hunter, Jr. 2008 UNC Chris Brook 2019 2020 UNC
Rick Elmore 2002 NC Central Allegra Collins 2019 2026 Campbell
Ann Marie Calabria 2002 Campbell Toby Hampson 2019 2026 Campbell
Mark Davis 2013 UNC Reuben Young 2019 2020 NC Central

If you’ll forgive a pedantic moment, I want to note that these 22 posts are quite difficult and demanding jobs, with salaries far below what any of these jurists could earn in the private sector.  These are public servants.  I’m grateful for all those who have served, and continue to serve, our State in this way.

Here’s to a calm balance of the year!

–Matt Leerberg

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