BEAUFORT — The superior courtroom in the 1907 courthouse was filled to capacity Tuesday as the N.C. Court of Appeals came to town.
It was history in the making as lawyers, judges, students and members of the community witnessed the first-ever session of the state’s appellate court to be held in Carteret County.
The appellate court is celebrating its 50th anniversary with events statewide.
Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Benjamin Alford said the event was the perfect opportunity to bring the court to the county so the community could learn how the state court system works.
“For a long time, we felt it would be a great opportunity for the community and especially with two of the judges who have ties to Carteret County,” Judge Alford said, referring to Court of Appeals Judge Robert Hunter, a part time resident, and Judge Douglas McCullough, a permanent resident.
“A letter was written to appeals court Chief Judge Linda M. McGee requesting that a session be held in Carteret County and she graciously agreed,” he said.
Judge Alford said in his 40 years on the bench in this district, he didn’t recall the appellate court ever being held here.
The state’s appellate court is comprised of 15 judges who serve eight-year terms and hear cases in panels of three.
Chief Judge McGee and judges Hunter and McCullough heard two oral arguments Tuesday, one criminal and one civil.
In the criminal hearing, Special Deputy Attorney General E. Burke Haywood represented the state and David Weiss from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham represented the defendant. Each attorney was granted 30 minutes to make their arguments.
In April 2015, a grand jury in Mecklenburg County indicted Christopher Antonio Ervin Jr. for felony break-in. He was later tried and found guilty and sentenced to 97-127 months in prison.
On Dec. 22, 2016, Mr. Ervin filed his appellant brief. His issues on appeal included his counsel rendered ineffective assistance, the trial court erred in allowing victim impact testimony during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, the trial court erred in permitting testimony about the defendant’s mother’s apology and whether the trial court erred by not instructing the jury on the option of a misdemeanor break-in charge.
Judge McCullough said during the opening of the proceedings the three judges were to hear the arguments, consider all points of fact and render a written opinion. No findings were to be delivered in the hearing Tuesday and the process could take anywhere from 30
to 90 days.
For Natasha Deloatch of Morehead City, who is pursuing her paralegal technology degree at Carteret Community College, the hearing was an eye-opener.
“This is very lengthy and very precise,” she said.
She said it shows great care must be taken to abide by the laws to ensure a fair trial.
“You have to make sure you follow the statutes and the rules exactly as they have been set out for you,” Ms. Deloatch said.
She noted that it is very important especially for anyone facing a trial.
Lisa McIntyre, an attorney who chairs the legal studies for the college, said this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her students.
“I want them to see what an oral argument is like and what it takes to get a case from the trial court to the appellate court,” she said prior to the opening of court.
Retired Superior Court Judge Ken Crow, who is now in private practice, said it’s very important for the community to understand what the appellate court does.
“Their work is very important,” Mr. Crow said. “They grade the homework of all we trial judges. What we do as trial judges is incorporate the wisdom of the Court of Appeals back into our day-to day-function of our courts. For the most part, they determine how we run the court at the trial level. I think having them here is a wonderful thing. This is business.”
Decisions of the appellate court can be appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court.
According to the N.C. Court of Appeals’ website, the state’s supreme court was one of the busiest in the country during the late 1950s and early 1960s. That led the 1965 General Assembly to submit a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution authorizing the creation of an intermediate court of appeals to relieve pressure on the Supreme Court by sharing the appellate caseload.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the recommendation in the November 1965 election. The 1967 General Assembly enacted the necessary legislation establishing the N.C. Court of Appeals, which became operational on Oct. 1, 1967.
Judge McCullough, who will be retiring from the court in May, was also recognized Tuesday for his service following the hearings.
Contact Helen Outland at 252-726-7081, ext. 211; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @helenccnt.