2006.02.06: February 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Law: Jurisprudence: The Charlotte Observer: North Carolina's new Chief Justice Sarah Parker (RPCV Turkey) known for integrity

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Law: April 4, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Law : 2006.02.06: February 6, 2006: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Law: Jurisprudence: The Charlotte Observer: North Carolina's new Chief Justice Sarah Parker (RPCV Turkey) known for integrity

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North Carolina's new Chief Justice Sarah Parker (RPCV Turkey) known for integrity

North Carolina's  new Chief Justice  Sarah Parker (RPCV Turkey) known for integrity

Parker, 63, comes to the job with values shaped while growing up in Charlotte and by three and a half decades in the law, more than two of them on the bench. She's also been a pioneer. She was the only woman in her firm and, for all but a few months of her tenure, on either the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

North Carolina's new Chief Justice Sarah Parker (RPCV Turkey) known for integrity

Court's new chief known for integrity: Reputation was built through pioneering rise

Feb 6, 2006

The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Feb. 6--RALEIGH -- Tom Lockhart's Charlotte law firm was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1969 when he interviewed Sarah Parker, a young student about to graduate from law school at UNC Chapel Hill.

The century-old firm had never hired a woman. But Lockhart was impressed, particularly when Parker quoted Shakespeare: To thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not then be false to any man.

"I thought it was a wonderful expression of her perspective on life," Lockhart says.

Parker got the job and, admirers say, kept that perspective as she rose in her profession. Today, the Charlotte native will be sworn in as the 27th chief justice of North Carolina's Supreme Court, succeeding retired Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr.

Parker, 63, comes to the job with values shaped while growing up in Charlotte and by three and a half decades in the law, more than two of them on the bench. She's also been a pioneer. She was the only woman in her firm and, for all but a few months of her tenure, on either the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

Parker was re-elected in 2004 to an eight-year term. Now, by accepting the top job, she faces re-election in November and the prospect of a ninth statewide campaign, even as she adjusts to new duties and oversight of the state's entire court system with its $360 million budget.

"I could have put it on automatic pilot and cruised right into the sunset of retirement," Parker says. "I concluded (taking the job) was the thing for the court and the right thing for me."

Parker says she brings continuity and experience to a court that's seen heavy turnover. And for a woman who spent two years in Turkey as a Peace Corps volunteer, the job offered personal growth.

"If you're going to stay vibrant, you need challenges," she says.

Lawyers and others who know her describe her as smart, hard- working, thoughtful and deliberate.

"There is a quiet dignity about her which never disappears," says Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith. "I've never seen her lose her cool. I've never seen her stoop to conquer, try to outdo somebody, try to show that she's the smartest person in the room. There is nothing showy about Judge Parker."

Sticks to precedent

Former Justice Robert Orr, a Republican and executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, calls his former Democratic colleague "probably one of the more conservative justices that has been on the court in a good long while.""She's very cautious," he says. "She's going to be reluctant to go out on a limb ... My sense is that you would find very few cases that were close to the line where she favored criminal defendants."

Parker calls herself a moderate conservative.

"I tend to stick very closely to precedent and the intent of the legislature as expressed in the language of the statute," she says.

Sticking to tradition comes naturally for a woman shaped by values of her generation.

"I'm a product of the '50s, there's no doubt about it," she says. "The home, the school, the church were the focal points of your life."

Parker was in Garinger High's first graduating class in 1960, active in the Latin Club and National Honor Society. Classmate Ralph Kinsey says Parker helped provide "the heart and soul" of the class.

After two years at Raleigh's Meredith College she transferred to UNC Chapel Hill, a school women generally could not attend until their junior year. She went on to teach English in Ankara, Turkey, for two years. It was there she firmed her decision to go into law.

'Wedded to the law'

Parker was one of a handful of women in law school. The only woman in her Charlotte firm. The highest-ranking woman in the Mecklenburg County Bar.

"It's unfortunate that she left because she would have been a real inspiration and mentor to young women who were coming along in the late '70s and early '80s," says Mary Howerton, whom Parker helped hire as the bar's first executive director.

Howerton and others laud Parker's efforts to maintain old ties. Though naturally reserved, she meets people easily and shows up for professional gatherings or smaller get-togethers with friends and former colleagues. It's a trait that serves her well in campaigns.

"There's a saying around North Carolina that whenever two or three voters are gathered together, Sarah will be among them," says Charlotte lawyer Osborne Ayscue.

Entering her profession at a time when women often had to choose between career and family, Parker has never married.

"Her complete dedication was to the law," says Lockhart. "That was her life. You might say she was wedded to the law."

As Parker sees it, she's done nothing more than follow Shakespeare's advice.

"I have just been myself," she says.

When this story was posted in March 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Charlotte Observer

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