N.C. Appeals Court chief hopes to bring judges together after COVID, elections

Chief Judge Donna Stroud of the N.C. Court of Appeals speaks during her Jan. 9, 2023, investiture ceremony. (Image from the N.C. courts YouTube channel)

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  • N.C. Appeals Court Chief Judge Donna Stroud began her new term by emphasizing bringing people together after COVID shutdowns and the recent judicial elections.
  • Stroud, a Republican, leads a court in which Republicans outnumber Democrats, 11-4.

N.C. Appeals Court Chief Judge Donna Stroud emphasized bringing people together as she took her oath of office before the full court Monday afternoon.

“Over the past couple of years, COVID has separated people — literally and physically — with distancing and isolation,” Stroud said during a public investiture ceremony. “Elections can also separate people — socially, politically — as we each support our favorite candidates and party.”

“These types of separation and division can hurt us by reducing public trust and confidence in our courts,” Stroud added. “The forced physical separation of the pandemic is mostly over, and the election is over. But many of our separations and divisions continue.”

“We may not always agree on how this court or other courts decide a legal issue, but we all must work together,” she said. “My hope is for us to come back together after the recent years of separation — figuratively and literally.”

Stroud, a Republican, first won election to the Court of Appeals in 2006. She has served as chief judge since 2021. She had to win a GOP primary election in 2022 as she pursued a third eight-year term.

Stroud defeated District Court Judge Beth Freshwater Smith, 59% to 41%, in the primary. Stroud beat Democrat Brad Salmon, 54% to 46%, in the November general election.

Republicans swept all four Appeals Court races in 2022. They increased their majority on the court to 11-4. Appeals Court judges typically decide cases in three-judge panels.

Full N.C. Court of Appeals sits en banc
The full N.C. Court of Appeals sits together during Chief Judge Donna Stroud’s investiture ceremony. (Image from the N.C. courts YouTube channel)

“I want people to know that I take our constitutional duty to provide justice without favor, denial, or delay very seriously and that we are working together to carry out that duty here at the Court of Appeals,” Stroud said. “You may not agree with all of my opinions or this court’s opinions, but I assure you that I will consider each case fully and carefully, and that I will follow the law as it has been set out by our legislature or prior decisions of the Supreme Court or this court.”

Stroud noted that the Appeals Court has continued to hear cases since March 2020, when the COVID pandemic first struck North Carolina, “and to issue our opinions without any interruption or delay.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby administered Stroud’s oath of office. Fellow Supreme Court Justices Trey Allen, Tamara Barringer, Anita Earls, and Michael Morgan sat in the front row of the audience for the ceremony.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, now founding dean at High Point University’s law school, praised Stroud in introductory remarks.

“We’ve had a lot of changes in our state since the time I served on this court,” said Martin, a state Appeals Court judge from 1994 to 1999. “But the character and the integrity of the esteemed jurist we are here today to honor has remained the same. She is an example to us all, regardless of our party affiliation, judicial philosophy, and background.”

Mark Martin speaks at N.C. Court of Appeals
Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin speaks during the investiture ceremony for N.C. Appeals Court Chief Judge Donna Stroud. (Image from the N.C. courts YouTube channel)

The Appeals Court holds its first oral arguments of 2023 on Tuesday. Stroud will lead a panel with Judges Valerie Zachary and Allegra Collins.