Superior Court Judge J. Marlene Hyatt, whose district stretches across the western part of the state, will retire from her post March 1.
“I am retiring as a senior resident Superior Court judge effective March 1, 2009,” Hyatt, 54, wrote in a letter on Dec. 29. “Making this decision has been a difficult one. Being a Superior Court judge is interesting, challenging work.”
Hyatt, a Waynesville native, is the resident Superior Court judge for District 30B, comprised of Haywood and Jackson counties. She was elected to her position in 1986 and is one of only seven women Superior Court judges currently serving in North Carolina.
Incoming Gov. Beverly Perdue will appoint Hyatt’s replacement, who will hail from either Haywood or Jackson counties. A local committee has formed to suggest names to Perdue.
Elections for the non-partisan post are held every eight years, the next one occurring in 2010. Whoever is appointed will have an edge over other candidates going into that election by hanging their campaign on experience already serving in the post.
Legal circles are buzzing with speculation about who will fill the seat. The replacement will have big shoes to fill — Hyatt is widely respected for her fair stance on cases.
“I always found her to be very balanced and fair. I’ve both prosecuted and defended in front of her, and felt my client would have a fair day in court,” said Haywood County attorney Bob Clark, who once worked as an assistant district attorney.
District Attorney Mike Bonfoey also had only good words for Hyatt.
“She’s been an excellent judge. She’s served the people of Haywood and Jackson county very well during her years,” he said.
The jury is still out on who will replace Hyatt. Bonfoey said he won’t be vying for the seat.
“I’ve been elected to serve as DA and I think I’ve been effective in this job and plan to continue to serve the people of Western North Carolina and Haywood County as District Attorney,” he said.
Candidates will have to be highly qualified with a lengthy legal background, as the Superior Court judge position is demanding. The Superior Court has jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases. Generally, the court tries civil cases involving more than $10,000 in money and all felonies.
“It takes a high level of legal knowledge, and a strong personality because you often times deal with many of the top lawyers, not just locally but across the state,” said Clark. “It really takes someone with intelligence, common sense and backbone.”