In North Carolina, we have two appellate courts that review family law cases appealed from our district courts: the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, the chief judge of the NC Court of Appeals, the Honorable John C. Martin, announced that he will retire effective August 1. Judge Martin has served on the Court of Appeals for nearly 25 years and has served as its chief judge for the past 10 years. During his tenure, Judge Martin has overseen a dramatic increase in the efficiency of the Court, making it one of the most efficient appellate courts in the nation.
As our appellate practice attorney, Edward Garrett, attests after years of working at the Court, Judge Martin—or, respectfully, “the Chief”—is ever mindful of the Court’s caseload and its duty to the people of North Carolina. Consequently, Judge Martin frequently checks in with the other judges on the Court, their law clerks, and the staff attorneys to see how “that case” is coming along.
As judges in North Carolina are elected officials—and November’s general election is rapidly approaching—at least two candidates have announced their intention to run for the vacancy that will be created upon Judge Martin’s retirement on August 1st. Without a primary election, all eligible candidates will be vying for votes in the November election, and the winner will begin his or her term on the Court in January 2015. Meanwhile, Governor Pat McCrory will have the opportunity to appoint a successor to fill the vacancy on the Court for the remainder of 2014.
In all, this November, voters will have the opportunity to elect four judges to the 15-judge Court of Appeals, as well as four justices to the 7-justice North Carolina Supreme Court. (See the State Board of Elections website).
Due to the limited number of cases that the North Carolina Supreme Court decides, the Court of Appeals is effectively “the court of last resort” for the majority of family law cases. If you decide to appeal the decision of a district court judge, the Court of Appeals will most likely have the final say in your case. Even if you don’t appeal the trial court’s decision in your case—or you don’t have any litigation pending in court—the judges at the Court of Appeals are deciding other family law cases that establish legal precedent by which all trial court judges must abide in deciding matters of spousal support, child custody, and child support.
Admittedly, it is challenging to keep up with the numerous judicial elections on the ballot this fall. But, given the significant impact that these judges have on the daily lives of North Carolina families, it is incumbent that each of us take the time to pay attention to our judicial elections, make an informed choice between the various candidates, and vote.