LAURINBURG — An attorney who has practiced law across the state of North Carolina for 19 years was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week to the District Court seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge John Horne, Jr.
McCrory officially announced the appointment of Michael A. Stone, who owns a private legal practice, on Monday. Horne retired on July 1 after serving for seven years on the 16A District Court bench.
Stone received the call from the governor’s office last Wednesday, near the close of business.
“I’m just taking in the news,” he said the following day as he and his assistant Sylvia Panky worked to organize case files. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”
Stone, who lives in Raeford with his wife and daughter, is based in Hoke County but has an office on Laurinburg’s Main Street. He will need to finalize or withdraw from pending cases before his appointment officially begins.
A swearing-in date has not yet been set.
Requests for comment to McCrory’s press office were made twice last week by the Laurinburg Exchange, but no one from that office contacted the newspaper with information.
According to Russell Rawlings, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Bar Association, judicial selections are handled mostly by local bar associations, which vote on a handful of picks that are then sent to the governor’s office — but recent changes in legislature mean that the governor’s choice is not restricted to those recommended locally.
Stone was one of four candidates named by the 16A Judicial District Bar Association, with fellow Republican Michael Schmidt and Democrats Philip McRae and Ida Baker comprising the other three. McRae was re-elected earlier this year as Scotland County’s Clerk of Superior Court. Baker works at the Pembroke office of Legal Aid of North Carolina and Schmidt is an attorney based in Laurinburg.
McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez told the Associated Press on Monday that among the candidates, Stone received the most votes. Multiple messages left over the course of several days for Tim Snead, president of the local bar association, were not returned.
McCrory has come under fire for the appointment because of a blemish on Stone’s record.
Stone was reprimanded by the North Carolina State Bar in 1998 by its grievance committee for the manner in which he and his law partner conducted several real estate closings for a major mortgage company. The reprimand written by T. Paul Messick Jr., available on the bar’s website, states that Stone opened four offices across the state to handle the caseload but allowed non-lawyer staff to conduct much of the closings with little supervision. Messick, in the reprimand, said Stone took on an “excessive” workload which led to the neglect of several cases and a delay in filing of paperwork.
Stone was fined $50 by the bar. He declined to comment Tuesday, saying that it had happened “a long time ago.”
Martinez told the Associated Press that the governor was aware of Stone’s reprimand.
“When you make an appointment you look at the totality of a person, not just one particular incident,” he said. “The bottom line on the whole thing is that this occurred shortly after he got out of law school and he basically got in over his head. He learned a valuable lesson from it and his record since that time demonstrates that.”
Stone received an undergraduate degree in business administration from Methodist University before earning his J.D. at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law. Though Stone said he has always wanted to be a lawyer, having been inspired by the career choice of many of the country’s founding fathers, he says his desire to don a judge’s robes has evolved during his time in the courtroom.
“I have practiced in just about every court in the state,” he said. “I’ve appeared in the North Carolina Supreme Court, I’ve made multiple appearances in the N.C. Court of Appeals, federal court, and of course superior and district court. I’ve had a wide spectrum of cases.
“I’ve seen what lawyers have gone through, what clients have gone through … . I think my experience in private practice has given me a balance of good judicial temperament with judicial leadership.”
On Monday, McCrory also announced the appointment of Republican Charles Gilliam to a seat on the District Court bench in Wake County. Gilliam, who lives in Raleigh, is a faculty member at N.C. State University’s School of Management and previously served as an assistant general counsel for Xerox Corporation.
Gilliam campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat on the Wake County District Court in 2012, losing to incumbent Judge Anna Elena Worley.
Stone will remain on the bench until at least 2016, when he will run for election.
“I will strive to meet the high standards that Judge Horne set for this seat,” he said.