The North Carolina Court of Appeals held a special session in Boone earlier this week with the Watauga County legal community to celebrate the Court’s 50th anniversary. The event was held in the commissioners board room in the Watauga County Administrative Building.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals heard local cases as part of the special session. In addition to celebrating the anniversary, this event also educated those in attendance, including a couple college classes, about the function that North Carolina courts serve throughout the state and to acknowledge Chief Judge Linda M. McGee, a Marion native who practiced law in Boone for 17 years. Chief Judge McGee began her service on the Court of Appeals in 1995.
The two other judges that were present were Judge Lucy N. Inman and Judge Valerie J. Zachary.
Round Boys, LLC v. Village of Sugar Mountain was one of the two cases heard. This case involves a permitting application to alter a slope-side property adjacent to Sugar Mountain Ski Resort. Round Boys LLC purchased the property in 2012 with the intent to build an open air deck to the structure. Sugar Mountain Resort challenged a Board of Adjustment decision essentially allowing this addition because the company claimed it would interfere with skiing operations. This case has gone to Avery County Superior Court, back to the Sugar Mountain Board of Adjustment and is now in the Court of Appeals.
The other case heard on this special session involved a custody dispute in Watauga County. After a child’s mother died, her father remarried and the new wife legally adopted the child. The child’s biological maternal grandmother was awarded visitation rights under a state law, but the father and adoptive mother appealed the order.
The Court of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court that decides questions of law in cases appealed from superior and district courts, and from certain administrative agencies of the North Carolina Executive Branch. This special session provided a unique opportunity for attendees to see the Court in action.
The establishment of the N.C. Court of Appeals was part of court reform in the ’60s. Before the re-ordering of the courts and the establishment of an appeals system, the court system wasn’t unified like it is today and consisted of more than 1,400 local courts. Here’s an excerpt in High Country Magazine’s article about court reform in the December 2016 issue:
“With a myriad of courts and no uniformity of jurisdiction, rules, fees and the like across North Carolina, the court system was nearly a metaphorical zoo. Towns and cities across the state operated and funded their own lower courts. Appellate courts, district courts and much more didn’t yet exist. For example, hundreds of Justices of the Peace, who are similar to today’s magistrates, performed on a fee-bases, meaning they only got paid for finding the defendant guilty.
“‘They didn’t get paid a dime, not a dime for handing criminal cases. They got paid only if you were found guilty, and then they got a piece of the action,’ said local attorney Charlie Clement, who was on the frontline of court reform as a page in the N.C. Senate. ‘Those of us who started practicing under this [old] system, which i did, fondly referred to JPs as Judgement for the Plaintiff.'”
The 50th anniversary of the Court of Appeals continues to unite members of the legal and judicial community with North Carolinians across the state. For more information on how the Court of Appeals is commemorating this historic anniversary, or to request a speaker to discuss the role and importance of the Judicial Branch at your next event, please visit Celebrate.NCcourts.org.