Timmons-Goodson to leave Supreme Court

Nov. 30, 2012 @ 07:17 PM

RALEIGH — Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, the only black woman to ever serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court, announced Wednesday she'll leave post next month, giving outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue a chance to shape the state's highest court.

Timmons-Goodson, 58, was first appointed to the court by Gov. Mike Easley in 2006 and was elected to her own full term later that year. She didn't give a specific reason for retiring effective Dec. 17 in a Wednesday news release or in her resignation letter to Perdue last week. She joined the judiciary as a District Court judge in 1984 and moved to the state Court of Appeals in 1997.

Timmons-Goodson's eight-year term was scheduled to expire at the end of 2014.

"Understanding there is a time and season for all things, I have concluded that the time has come for me to leave the Court," Timmons-Goodson said. "Service on the Supreme Court is a privilege that has been granted to fewer than 100 citizens in the history of this state, and I thank the people of North Carolina for the honor of serving them as an associate justice."

Perdue said in a statement that Timmons-Goodson is a friend and "I thank her for the invaluable contribution she has made to our great state."

Perdue, a Democrat, plans to pick Timmons-Goodson's replacement before vacating her office in early January, the governor's office said. Otherwise, Republican successor Pat McCrory would get the choice. This would be Perdue's first Supreme Court appointment since taking office in early 2009.

A 2011 Perdue executive order requires her to fill appeals courts and Superior Court vacancies from among three candidates offered to her by a judicial nominating commission whose members she appointed. But Perdue is considering whether to bypass the commission process because there may not be enough time to fill this and other expected judicial vacancies in the final weeks of her term, spokeswoman Chris Mackey said.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a release it would be "rank hypocrisy soiling (Perdue's) legacy" if she failed to follow her own executive order in choosing Timmons-Goodson's replacement. Perdue's office said it had no further comment Wednesday night.

Although the court is officially nonpartisan, Timmons-Goodson is one of three registered Democrats on the seven-member panel. And the partisan makeup of the court received much attention as Associate Justice Paul Newby, one of the court's four Republicans, won re-election in November. Timmons-Goodson also is currently the court's only black justice.

Timmons-Goodson's successor would have to run in 2014 to seek a full eight-year term.

The justice graduated from a Fayetteville high school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the UNC law school. She was a former assistant district attorney and legal aid attorney before then-Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her as a District Court judge. Hunt named her 13 years later to the Court of Appeals, the state's intermediate appeals court.

While on the Supreme Court, Timmons-Goodson often has been part of a two- or three-judge block — along with Chief Justice Sarah Parker and Associate Justice Robin Hudson — that have joined in dissenting opinions to the majority's decision.

She disagreed with the majority opinion in 2010 that ordered a convicted killer serving a life prison term to remain behind bars based on a 1970s law that actually defined "life" as 80 years. Timmons-Goodson wrote the convict had fully served his sentence based on sentence reduction credits and should be released immediately.

Timmons-Goodson wrote a dissenting opinion later that year against the court's decision to void a state senator's adoption of her former domestic partner's biological son. The majority ruling appeared to close a method for same-sex couples to adopt.

But Timmons-Goodson also wrote her share of majority opinions, including one in 2011 that upheld the high thresholds required by the Legislature for minority political groups to become official political parties in North Carolina. She said the requirements allowed for orderly elections and were not unfairly burdensome.