From the Salisbury Post by Shavonne Walker
It’s not often that the North Carolina Supreme Court justices leave Raleigh to hear cases.
In fact, state law mandates that the only two cities that are exceptions are Morganton and Edenton. However, on Monday, all seven justices were in Salisbury to listen to a pair of cases as part of the court’s bicentennial celebration.
The General Assembly granted the request for the justices to convene in cities across the state. Later this week, they will meet in Asheboro and Winston-Salem. The two-hour sessions were held in the Rowan County Administration Building in what was a former federal courthouse and Post Office.
In attendance were current and former judges, court personnel and others in the legal community as well as students from local colleges and other interested observers. Hundreds more were able to watch the proceedings unfold online live on Facebook.
The justices heard from attorneys in the first session about a 2013 Alamance County case that was brought before the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2018. The case originally went to trial in 2016, and the defendant, Rontel Royster, was found guilty of trafficking in cocaine. On appeal, Royster’s defense said the trial court erred in denying his request to dismiss the trafficking charge.
Evidence showed Royster was knowingly in possession of a black box that was found in a wooded area by investigators 18 hours after he produced the same box in exchange for his kidnapped father.
The justices heard from Assistant Attorney General Kristin Uicker followed by defense attorneys Jay Ferguson, who provided a counterargument, and James Williams.
The argument was whether Royster knew he was in possession of cocaine since there was a lapse in time between when he had the box and when the box was discovered by investigators. In addition, none of the witnesses ever saw cocaine in the box, but there were prior discussions about $160,000 worth of missing cocaine.
Chief Justice Cheri Beasley presided over the court session with Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby and Associate Justices Robin Hudson, Samuel Ervin IV, Michael Morgan, Anita Earls, and Mark Davis.
Beasley was appointed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court after the retirement of Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson in 2012. Timmons-Goodson visited Rowan County last week for a forum sponsored by Catawba College and the Rowan County Bar, along with former Justice Bob Orr.
With her appointment by Gov. Roy Cooper in March, Beasley became the first African American woman in the Supreme Court’s 200-year history to serve as chief justice of the state’s highest court and only the fourth African American woman to lead a state’s highest court in the nation.
Salisbury attorney Darrin Jordan said he found both attorneys’ arguments incredible.
“It’s a great honor and in this historical building,” Jordan said.
Jordan, who is is a nominee for vice president of the North Carolina State Bar, said he was very interested in the case, and he thanked Judge Anna Mills Wagoner, the State Bar and others for helping organize Monday’s sessions.
Marcus Fairley, chairman of religious affairs with the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP chapter, said he, too, was excited about such a historic opportunity.
“I’m excited about seeing them in town,” Fairley said.
He said he felt all the justices were fair in their questioning.
Attorney James Davis, whose law firm and staff were in attendance, said the historic event is great for the community and gives people an opportunity to see the inner workings of the court system.
Former Superior Court Judge Thomas Seay, who attended the second session, said it was “delightful” that the justices would hold court in Rowan County.
To see both sessions of Monday’s proceedings, https://www.facebook.com/NCcourts/.