January 19, 2006: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Jurisprudence: Charlotte Observer: Turkey RPCV Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge

Peace Corps Online: State: North Carolina: February 8, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: North Carolina : January 19, 2006: Headlines: COS - Turkey: Jurisprudence: Charlotte Observer: Turkey RPCV Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge

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Turkey RPCV Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge

Turkey RPCV Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge

After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, she taught English in Turkey as a member of the Peace Corps. Back in North Carolina, she went to law school and later returned to Charlotte to launch a 15-year career in private practice. In 1984 she was named to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Turkey RPCV Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge

Charlotte native
to be chief justice
Sarah Parker tapped to head N.C. Supreme Court

Charlottean Sarah Parker will be North Carolina's next top judge.

The 63-year-old native Charlottean will replace I. Beverly Lake Jr. as chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. Gov. Mike Easley announced the appointment Wednesday.

"It's a privilege of a lifetime," Parker told the Observer. She will be the third woman to head the state's highest court.

Lake, who is stepping down at the end of the month, has been chief justice since 2001. He turns 72 on Jan. 30, and by state law, must retire.

Parker is taking a risk by accepting the chief justice's appointment. She was re-elected to her Supreme Court associate justice seat in 2004, for an eight-year term. She'll now have to give up her current seat and run for election later this year for the chief justice's post.

There had been widespread speculation that Parker, who has served on the Supreme Court since 1993, would be tapped to replace the Republican chief justice.

Parker, like the governor, is a Democrat. She is the only Democrat among the high court's seven members. And she has more experience on the court than any of the other justices.

"As a former prosecutor, attorney general and as governor, I can say that Sarah Parker is one of the most well-respected justices on the bench," Easley said in announcing the appointment. "She is well known for her fairness and independence, which is necessary for an effective judiciary."

Lake also praised Parker.

"Sarah is the logical choice and I think highly of her," Lake said.

North Carolina's chief justice earns an annual salary of more than $123,000. The state's two previous female chief justices were Susie Sharp, elected in 1974, and Rhoda Billings, appointed in 1985 by Gov. Jim Martin.

While growing up in Charlotte in the 1940s and '50s, Parker didn't give much thought to the law, she told the Observer in 1993. She was a member of Garinger High's first graduating class ("I'm the first Garinger graduate to become a member of the Supreme Court," she joked at the time). When she headed for college, she thought about becoming an educator.

After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, she taught English in Turkey as a member of the Peace Corps. Back in North Carolina, she went to law school and later returned to Charlotte to launch a 15-year career in private practice. In 1984 she was named to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Over the next eight years, Parker heard more than 2,500 cases and wrote some 800 opinions. Among them was her 1988 opinion reversing the murder conviction of a woman who had been abused by her husband for 20 years. The Supreme Court reversed Parker's opinion, but Gov. Martin commuted the abused woman's sentence and set her free.

Parker was elected to the Supreme Court in 1992. She had campaigned on the theme that the judiciary needed input from women, especially when it came to interpreting the law and reviewing lower-court decisions.

Bob Orr, a former Supreme Court justice and now executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law in Raleigh, had speculated earlier this week that the governor would appoint Parker to the chief justice's post. He served on the appeals court and Supreme Court with Parker.

"I think it will be a challenging nine months for Justice Parker as she juggles what I consider three full-time jobs -- the work on the court, handling the administrative responsibilities of the chief justice and running a statewide campaign," Orr said.

"While it's a tough challenge, she is as well prepared as anybody could be to undertake the responsibilities of chief justice."

Parker told the Observer Wednesday that she had written the governor informing him of her interest in the chief justice's post. She said she recognizes the risks of taking the job.

"Sure there are some risks," Parker said. "If you don't take risks you don't have the opportunity to make the contributions you want.

"I had a lot of people calling me and telling me to go for it. I concluded it was the right thing to do."

Sarah Parker

Born: Aug. 23, 1942, in Charlotte.

Education: Graduated from Garinger High School in 1960; undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.

Political party: Democrat.

Career: N.C. Court of Appeals, 1984-93; N.C. Supreme Court, 1993-present.

Other work: Member of Governor's Crime Commission. Served on the Board of Visitors at UNC Chapel Hill and on the N.C. Courts Commission. Former director of the Charlotte YWCA.

What others say: "She has no agenda, no personal axes to grind," said former Chief Justice James Exum, also a Democrat. "She has a very calm, deliberate temperament. Good sense of humor. Just very pleasant to work with."
Staff Writers Jim Morrill and Sharif Durhams contributed.

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

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Story Source: Charlotte Observer

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