Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed Mecklenburg Chief District Judge Lisa Bell as a special N.C. Superior Court judge.
Bell has served as a District Court judge since 1998, and she’s been Mecklenburg’s Chief District Court judge since 2008.
“I am thrilled and honored to be able to continue my judicial service as a Superior Court judge,” Bell, 46, told the Observer. “I have been interested in a seat on Superior Court for more than five years, but my commitments to District Court and my family have prevented me from pursuing this professional dream until now.”
Bell has been responsible for administering the largest District Court system in the state, with 21 judges, 27 magistrates and more than 240,000 civil and criminal case filings annually.
Her new appointment means N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker will select a new chief District Court judge. The Mecklenburg County Bar will hold an election to fill her seat on the District Court bench. The names of the top three vote-getters will be submitted to the governor, who will then select the new judge.
Special Superior Court judges are appointed by the governor to five-year terms and can be assigned to any Superior Court case across the state. They hold regular court, help with special hearings, step in to help other judges avoid conflicts, and otherwise are assigned to alleviate backlogs or cover for absences.
Bell wrote a letter to the governor’s office in February expressing interest in a Superior Court judgeship. She pointed out that she has handled jury trials as both a lawyer and a judge.
“I have tried felony cases, including murder, manslaughter, rape and armed robbery in juvenile court,” she wrote. “I have presided over domestic trials that have gone on for weeks, with millions of dollars at stake.”
In December, Bell was named Woman of the Year in the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s inaugural Women of Justice Awards.
She was among 25 women from across the state who received awards in categories ranging from public service and legal scholar to rising star and business and litigation practitioner.
In announcing the Women of Justice Awards, Lawyers Weekly provided short profiles on the winners.
The profile noted that Bell might be “the only chief District Court judge in the state who dropped out of high school.” Her SAT scores and grades were good enough to get her accepted to Wake Forest University.
In 1998, at the age of 31, Bell won a seat on the Mecklenburg District Court bench. Ten years later, Parker appointed Bell Mecklenburg’s Chief District Court judge.
In 2002, Bell presided over juvenile court hearings in the prosecution of a teenager accused in the strangling death of 8-year-old Justin Marlow. Bell had to decide whether the courtroom should be closed or open to the public. She ruled that the doors to her courtroom would remain open.
“I think that when you’re not transparent, when you’re too close to the vest with what you do it causes distrust,” Bell was quoted in the profile as saying.