Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens will retire Nov. 1, the state court system announced Tuesday.
Under state law that sets 72 as the mandatory retirement age, Stephens must leave the bench by the end of October. He is 71 and his birthday is Oct. 9.
With more than three decades of experience on the bench, Stephens played a large role in the opening of the Wake County Justice Center four years ago. As the senior resident superior court judge for the 10th judicial district, Stephens helped develop a plan so that in the move from the courthouse on the opposite side of Salisbury Street to the new justice center there was little interruption in holding court.
“Judge Stephens has served with integrity, with excellence, and with an unwavering commitment to the rule of law and justice,” Chief Justice Mark Martin said in a statement.
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Stephens said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he is looking forward to being able to express his opinions again about things going on in North Carolina once he no longer is a judge.
“After 47 years of continuous government service as a lawyer and judge, I am looking forward to not being in the middle of someone’s dispute,” Stephens said. “I look back over the years at all the complex and demanding criminal cases over which I presided including Anne Miller, Jason Young, Kawame Mays, Grant and Amanda Hayes, Robert and Elmer Ray McNeil, Leroy Mann, Mathew Grant and so many other homicides and wonder how I managed the physical and emotional stamina and enthusiasm to be in the middle of all that.”
Stephens said he is confident in the judges who will be in the Wake County courthouse to whom he will pass the baton and is ready for others to take on the difficult cases.
“I take great comfort in the fact that we have fine young superior court judges in Wake County led by Judge Paul Ridgeway who are well qualified to handle any case that comes to our superior court,” Stephens said.
In many judicial districts across the state, the chief resident Superior Court judge is the longest serving judge in the district. Wake County’s process is different, though, and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court makes that appointment.
Martin has yet to announce publicly who he plans to tap for that leadership role. He will make that announcement on Wednesday, spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell said.
Next to Stephens, Ridgeway is the longest serving judge in Wake County Superior Court.