Article from Mountain Times by Brian Miller

We are taught not to judge our neighbors — that’s best left to the professionals.

Having formed in 1967, the North Carolina Court of Appeals is celebrating 50 years of upholding law in the state, currently under the leadership of Chief Judge Linda McGee, a former resident and legal practitioner of Boone.

According to information from the North Carolina Court System, McGee is a native of Marion and a graduate of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the UNC School of Law. She served as executive director of the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers (now Advocates for Justice) from 1973-78, after which she practiced general law for 17 years on Depot Street in Boone with di Santi, Watson and McGee.

In 1995, she was appointed to the court of appeals and elected to eight-year terms in 1996, 2004 and 2012. McGee has served as chief judge since August 2014.

Considered among the most powerful and influential courts in the United States, the court of appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court. The court has 15 judges who serve eight-year terms and hear cases in panels of three. According to North Carolina Courts, the court is led by a chief judge who is appointed by the chief justice of the supreme court.

The court of appeals decides only questions of law in cases appealed from superior and district courts and from some administrative agencies of the executive branch. Appeals range from infractions to noncapital murder cases.

If there has been a dissent in an opinion of the court of appeals, the parties to the case have the right to have the supreme court review the decision. If there is no dissent, the supreme court may still review the case upon a party’s petition.

“Chief judge is more of an administrative kind of role,” said McGee. “I’ve had the opportunity to assist in the administration of the court, I help set the tone for the court, and most importantly, I assist in making (legal) processes as efficient and effective as possible.”

Having been in the court for 22 years, McGee said she is extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve as chief judge.

“It’s a role that’s an honor to have,” she said. “Fortunately, in our courts, the opportunity to become chief normally occurs based on seniority, so longevity has been a pretty important part of it.”

Tracing back to her roots, McGee said the majority of that time was spent in Boone, an area she is still in connection with today. McGee’s husband, Gary, served as the first county manager of Watauga where he stayed for seven years, and her oldest son was born in Boone.

And as someone who has been practicing law since she was 23-years-old, McGee notes firsthand that the court has been evolving and expanding regularly.

“One of the strongest changes I’ve seen is the fact that more women started to become involved in the practice of law,” she said. “When I came to (Boone), there was only one woman lawyer at that time. Today, you see a substantial number of women lawyers in town.

“When I came to the court of appeals in 1995, I was the only woman on the court — there were 12 of us then. About eight years ago, the majority of the people on the court were women, and now we go back and forth, which is very appropriate. It’s amazing to see how quickly things change over such short periods of time.”

Even through all of the changes, priorities within the court continue to remain the same, as McGee said, since the beginning, the court takes very seriously its mission to be effective, efficient and fair to all who bring their cases to the court of appeals.

As for this special anniversary, McGee said the court of appeals isn’t the only court in the state celebrating a milestone, either recently or in the near future. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the district court, the superior court is celebrating its 240th anniversary this year and the supreme court will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year.

“I’ve had the opportunity to chair the ‘Celebrate N.C. Courts Committee’ that is assisting in planning celebrations for all of these events,” said McGee. “For our 50th anniversary, we have offered all of the judges serving on the court of appeals a special session in their hometown.”

One of those special sessions will be held at the Watauga Courthouse in Boone, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 25.

“We will be orally arguing two cases at the court session,” said McGee. “This one is being held in my honor as judge on the court of appeals, as Boone was such a special place to me, having practiced there for 17 years.”

For more information, including celebration dates and articles about events and future programs across the state, visit http://celebrate.nccourts.org.

Court Categories: Court of Appeals