RALEIGH, NC – In an unconventional move, North Carolina’s chief justice has replaced the next leader of the state’s intermediate-level appeals court. The Court of Appeals typically follows a tradition where the most senior judge assumes the role of chief judge. However, Chief Justice Paul Newby has appointed Judge Chris Dillon as the new chief judge, taking effect on Monday. This decision has raised eyebrows and prompted speculation about potential political motivations.
The chief judge of the Court of Appeals is responsible for overseeing the court’s administration, including assigning members to three-judge panels and scheduling sessions for oral arguments. This court plays a crucial role as its rulings can be appealed to the state Supreme Court. State law does not provide a specific method for choosing the chief judge or a term length for the position.
Judge Donna Stroud, who has been the chief judge since January 2021, remains on the court but expressed surprise and suggested that her removal may have political undertones. She mentioned that Chief Justice Newby informed her in December that Dillon would be replacing her. Stroud, Newby, and Dillon are all registered Republicans.
Stroud’s appointment as chief judge was made by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, as she left her position in 2020. Beasley narrowly lost the statewide chief justice election to Newby. Stroud’s primary challenger in the 2022 Republican primary had support from GOP legislators and judicial officials, which may have contributed to the partisan battle surrounding her.
The transition from Dillon to Stroud has been swift, without any formal announcement from the state court system. Republicans hold a significant majority in both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in North Carolina. Stroud acknowledged the lack of rules or laws for an orderly transition between chief judges in the state, emphasizing her commitment to ensure a smooth functioning court despite the sudden change.
Dillon, who joined the Court of Appeals in 2012, will be replaced by Judge Jeffery Carpenter as the chair of the Judicial Standards Commission. The political implications and motivations behind Chief Justice Newby’s decision continue to be a point of speculation. However, the ramifications of this change in leadership on the state’s Court of Appeals remain to be seen.
In summary, the chief justice of North Carolina has made an unprecedented decision to replace the chief judge of the state’s intermediate-level appeals court. The move has raised questions about potential political influences on judicial appointments. The impact of this change on the functioning and dynamics of the Court of Appeals is yet to be fully understood.