Reception celebrates history of NC courts

Published 7:11 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It’s been half a century since district courts were created in North Carolina, standardizing the court system throughout the state. On Friday, Beaufort County judicial officials will be celebrating the anniversary and are asking the public to join them.

“North Carolina has 50 years of having a court system that’s unified from Murphy to Manteo. We did it. It’s worked well, and we’re celebrating 50 years of this,” said retired Beaufort County Clerk of Court Tom Payne.

At 3 p.m. Friday, the public is invited to a reception honoring those 50 years since the General Assembly established district courts and did away with the assortment of county-defined courts — recorders courts, domestic relations courts, mayor’s courts, Justice of the Peace courts — that had grown over the state’s history. It was consolidation of recordkeeping, and a way to make sure that all residents with court business got equal treatment regardless of which county they happened to reside.

The reception will take place in the old county courthouse at the corner of Market and West Second streets, upstairs from the BHM Regional Library headquarters. Speakers at the event include attorney Billy Mayo, who served as Beaufort County attorney for several decades, and District Court Judge Michael Paul, in addition to Payne.

Payne said he will talk about what courts were like before the system was unified statewide.

“When I first started as a probation officer in 1974, we always referred to it as the ‘new court system.’ Of course, the Second Judicial District did not come into it in 1966; it came into it in 1968,” Payne said.

The new plan was rolled out gradually starting in 1966. Prior to 1968, there were three recorders courts in Beaufort County: in Aurora, Washington and Belhaven, Payne said. The county government was responsible for funding the counts, right down to printing its own forms, but the Judicial Department Act of 1965 consolidated the courts and the forms, as well as creating the Court of Appeals and the Administrative Office of the Courts. It was a move that made North Carolina a leader among states, Paul said in an earlier interview.

“A lot of states don’t have a unified court system now — 15 years ago, I went to a seminar in Florida and Florida didn’t have one,” Payne said. “They handle the laws like the legislature says, but it’s not a unified recordkeeping in all the counties.”

Judicial districts across the state are finding ways to celebrate the anniversaries, from receptions like Beaufort County’s to elaborate dinners.

The old courthouse is located at 158 N. Market St., Washington.