Durham County Chief District Judge Marcia Morey is trading in her black robe and gavel for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.
One of the biggest differences she’ll find, said state Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, is that people will no longer stand when she walks in the room.
In these politically partisan times, they might even grimace.
Durham County Democrats voted to appoint Morey to the House District 30 seat Thursday night. She is a permanent replacement for a vacancy created by the October death of Paul Luebke, 70, a Democrat who represented Durham for 25 years in the state House.
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Luebke had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015 and received treatment, but his cancer returned. He was running for re-election to a 14th term, and his name remained on the ballot for the general election.
Phil Lehman was appointed to the seat the night before the Nov. 8 election to fill the seat temporarily.
Five people were nominated to fill the two-year seat. Morey, 61, received a majority of votes from a subset of the Durham County Democratic Party that included precinct chairs and vice chairs and elected officials who live in the district.
In a speech to Durham Democrats, Morey said she wanted to improve public schools, seek fair elections, improve access to health care and protect the environment.
Her top issue, Morey said in an interview, is to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction.
“So we give kids in North Carolina a chance by not having a criminal record,” she said.
Morey has served on the bench for nearly 18 years. She was a driving force behind the county’s misdemeanor diversion program, which was the first in the state after it was established in 2014 to give 16- and 17-year-olds charged with certain misdemeanors a second chance. The program was later expanded to 18- to 21-year-olds and has been a model for other counties across the state.
Morey said she plans to start in the new position next week, but was unclear when because she is a witness in a federal case in Greensboro.
Morey’s judicial experience will allow her to work across the aisle on justice issues and will round out the Durham delegation, Woodard said.
“When she walks in the door next week, she is going to be in the top two or three top legislators in terms of judicial experience and knowledge,” Woodard said. “That is going to count for a lot.”
Morey said it will take a while to get her sea legs.
“We are so restrained in the judiciary for what we can say,” she said. Now, her job requires her to speak up as she pushes for policy changes.
After Morey’s appointment, a social media post pointed out that Morey is one of the newest openly gay members of the General Assembly.
Morey acknowledged she’s gay but said it’s not part of her public profile or persona.
“I am just a person and a professional working hard to serve the public,” Morey said.
The process to replace Morey starts with the Fourteenth Judicial District Bar calling for a vote for a new district judge. The top five names will go to Gov. Roy Cooper, Morey said. Cooper may choose someone from that list or someone else. However, there is pending legislation that calls for legislators to fill judicial vacancies.