District Courts in North Carolina turn 50

Published 6:11 pm Friday, July 22, 2016

North Carolina District Court judges are doing something more than disposing cases this year: they’re celebrating.

2016 marks 50 years since the Judicial Department Act of 1965 was passed by the General Assembly, and district courts were established across the state in an effort to unify a court system consisting of localized courts — recorder’s courts, domestic relations courts, mayor’s courts, Justice of the Peace courts — so that all judicial processes were equal.

“That meant you’d get the same treatment in Currituck County as you’d get in Wake County as you’d get in Buncombe County,” said Judge Michael Paul, Chief Second Judicial District Court judge. “North Carolina, at the time, was a leader. … That was a very wide, progressive view that has served North Carolina well.”

In 1966, the state began rolling out the new system that also included the creation of the Court of Appeals and the Administrative Office of the Courts, which provides support services for the courts. In 1968, the Second Judicial District Court, covering Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties, was established in the second phase of the plan. By 1970, the new system was in place statewide, and localized courts and the offices of Justice of the Peace were abolished and replaced by District Court and magistrates.

In the Second Judicial District, two judges were initially appointed, Paul said: Chief Judge Hallet Ward and Judge Charles Manning. In 48 years, only six more District Court judges — Samuel Grimes, James Hardison, Paul, Darrell Cayton, Chris McLendon and Regina Parker — have served in the district.

“Since its inception to present, (the Second Judicial District Court) has had the fewest number of judges and the longest-serving judges,” Paul said. “I like to think that’s because we’ve always done a good job, and folks are satisfied with us.”

District Courts carry the majority of North Carolina’s approximately 3 million cases filed per year. In fiscal year 2014-15, District Court judges disposed 2,588,957 cases.

On June 20, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a proclamation stating that 2016 is a year for celebration — in addition to District Courts, the Court of Appeals and the Administrative Office of the Courts turning 50, the 200th anniversary of N.C. Supreme Court will happen in 2017 and 240th anniversary of N.C. Superior Court in 2019. Events will be held at courthouses across the state, ranging from a Wake County gala to afternoon receptions, Paul said. A reception will be held at the Beaufort County Courthouse at 3 p.m. on Oct. 1, and the public is invited to attend.

“It’s just to give people the opportunity to meet some of us; answer any questions they have; have some refreshments,” Paul said.

Paul said he’s also trying to track down the first cases heard in the five District Courts in the Second Judicial District, and so far has succeeded in Tyrrell County.

“William Hoke had the honor of being the first one to appear in District Court,” Paul said.

Receptions will also occur at the Tyrrell County Courthouse on Aug. 26; Washington County Courthouse on Sept. 23; Martin County Courthouse on Sept. 9; and Hyde County Courthouse on Oct. 3. All events begin at 3 p.m.