New Year 2021 concept with hourglass falling sand taking the shape of a 2021

Over the weekend, the last undecided race for North Carolina’s appellate courts was resolved when Chief Justice Cheri Beasley conceded the race to Senior Associate—and Chief Justice-Elect—Paul Newby.   The race was extraordinarily close, with Chief Justice-Elect Newby ultimately prevailing by a margin of 50.0037% to 49.9963%.

After two rounds of recounts, and with various protests still pending, Chief Justice Beasley and Chief Justice-Elect Newby announced the amicable resolution on social media.  The Justices’ dignified and measured responses to this most unusual scenario over the past several weeks reflect the high degree of professionalism for which our Supreme Court is known.

With election season now concluded, I want to express our gratitude for those public servants who will be leaving the bench at the end of the year.  Under Chief Justice Beasley’s leadership, the Supreme Court has done remarkable work in keeping the judicial branch and bar safe and functioning during the vicissitudes of this pandemic.  This has been a trying 10 months for all of us, but especially younger lawyers with small children.  (I’m glad to be past that stage, more or less!).  Chief Justice Beasley’s orders extending trial court deadlines and encouraging remote hearings have made this all more bearable.  We are thankful to the Chief for her leadership and thoughtfulness in this unprecedented time.

This month also marks the end of an era in the Court of Appeals, with Chief Judge Linda McGee’s retirement.  Chief Judge McGee has led our intermediate appellate court for over six years now, managing that busy court with warmth and a steady hand.  Like the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals didn’t miss a beat when COVID hit, transitioning seamlessly to a remote format for oral arguments and continuing to issue opinions at the same brisk rate.

I also want to express our thanks to Justice Mark Davis, Judge Wanda Bryant, Judge Chris Brook, and Judge Reuben Young, all of whom will be leaving the bench in a few weeks.  Together with the two Chiefs, these jurists have devoted themselves to justice and to the institutions they served.  North Carolinas are lucky that such talented and sage attorneys still heed the call of public service.

Looking ahead, our Supreme Court will welcome two new Associate Justices as we transition to the Chief Justice Newby era.  Justice-Elect Phil Berger, Jr. will be moving across Fayetteville Street after 4 years of dedicated service on the Court of Appeals.  And Justice-Elect Tamara Barringer will bring to bear her experience as a practicing attorney and as a former North Carolina Senator as she joins our highest court.

The Court of Appeals will likewise welcome four new faces, including Judge April Wood, Judge Fred Gore, Judge Jeff Carpenter, and Judge Jefferson Griffin.  All four bring prior judicial experience to their new posts.  We extend them a warm welcome to the appellate bench and look forward to appearing before both appellate courts in the new year.

While it will certainly be a challenge for our appellate courts to undergo such a significant transition in this pandemic-plagued epoch, I have great faith in the strength of these institutions and their ability to keep the third branch functioning smoothly throughout.  And when it is safe to do so, I very much look forward to the opportunity for the appellate bar and the newly constituted appellate bench to convene in person!

–Matt Leerberg