The day after announcing that Wake County Judge Donald W. Stephens will retire from the bench in October, N.C. Chief Justice Mark Martin selected the county’s next chief resident judge.
Starting Nov. 1, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul C. Ridgeway, who described Stephens as a mentor and colleague with whom he has been privileged to work, will fill that administrative role.
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“Judge Ridgeway has served with distinction as superior court judge, dispensing fair and impartial justice without regard to the political implications of his decisions,” Martin said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Experience is often the greatest teacher, and Judge Ridgeway is the longest-serving resident superior court judge in Wake County. I am confident that under his leadership the superior courts of Wake County will operate with fairness and integrity to ensure the proper administration of justice in our courts.”
Ridgeway, a graduate of Campbell University law school with degrees from N.C. State University in public administration, has been a judge in Wake County since 2007. A Democrat, Ridgeway has been elected to the bench in nonpartisan elections. His current term expires in 2022.
Ridgeway has presided over high-profile criminal cases such as the trial of Jonathan Broyhill, who was convicted of murdering Democratic strategist Jamie Hahn; the murder trial of Crystal Mangum in Durham; and civil matters related to Duke Energy and the Dan River coal ash spill in 2014.
With his experience on such matters and presiding over administrative appeals that arise from various state agencies, Ridgeway has been assigned by the chief justice in the past to serve as judge on exceptional and complex commercial and constitutional matters throughout the state.
Though many counties select senior judges to carry out various administrative duties, Wake County is in a different situation.
North Carolina’s state Supreme Court chief justice is required by law to make the appointment.
State law also requires that any time there is a challenge to the constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly in any of the 99 other counties in North Carolina, the case is transferred to Wake County Superior Court.
The same goes for challenges in state court of redistricting plans.
Wake County Superior Court judges routinely process governor’s warrants on extradition, and handle requests from state-level investigatory agencies, such as the State Bureau of Investigation and the attorney general’s office.
On Wednesday, Ridgeway said he planned to continue the administrative model that Stephens has used in the Wake County courthouse for years. He praised Stephens, saying he has “had the privilege of serving more than a decade as his colleague.”
“He is truly a remarkable judge and is a mentor and role model to many judges across the state,” Ridgeway said.