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Judge Barbara Jackson


Biography

I am (almost) a Wake County native, having moved here at age three with my family.  I attended the Wake County Public Schools and graduated from Athens Drive Senior High School in 1980.  From there, I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I majored in English literature and history, graduating in 1984.  In 1986, I attended the Legal Assistants’ Program at Meredith College and worked as a paralegal in the Special Litigation Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, assisting with complex litigation prior to attending law school at the University of North Carolina.

Happy Day!  Judge Jackson with fellow law school graduate Kristin King.
Happy Day! Law School Graduation with
fellow graduate, Kristin King.

After graduation from UNC law school in 1990, I practiced law here in Wake County.  I was fortunate to begin my career clerking for former Chief Justice Burley B. Mitchell, Jr. of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.  Not surprisingly, I received an excellent education in criminal law and procedure during my clerkship!

From there, I went on to serve as Governor Martin’s Assistant Legal, then Associate General, Counsel.  Much of my time in the Governor’s office was devoted to matters of Executive Clemency, dealing with individuals in the penal system and their families.  In addition, I had the opportunity to work with attorneys and staff dealing with issues affecting all of the Governor’s Cabinet Departments.  Included among the issues our office dealt with were the Voting Rights Act, the Hatch Act, state and federal constitutional issues, issues of riparian rights, state personnel issues, state contracts, and public records issues.

Judge Jackson with Chief Justice Burley B. Mitchell (Retired).
Judge Jackson with Chief Justice
Burley B. Mitchell (Retired)

In 1992, I joined the staff of the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities (GACPD) as Deputy General Counsel.  GACPD is the federally mandated protection and advocacy agency for the state of North Carolina and is charged exclusively with representing the civil rights of persons with disabilities in areas such as special education, prevention of abuse and neglect in institutional settings and ensuring access to government services.  For example, GAPCD represents disabled persons so that they are permitted to bring an assistance animal into a courtroom or to have an interpreter present. 

I spent over four years with GACPD, primarily representing students whose school systems were not meeting the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.    In addition, my experience representing patients at the state’s four psychiatric hospitals afforded me the opportunity to visit each one of them on numerous occasions.  This was a unique experience which I valued greatly.

I left GACPD for private practice at the end of 1996 and joined the law firm which became Holt York McDarris & High and later merged with Smith Moore Leatherwood.  While there, I continued representing parents of children with special needs and also represented builders and property owners in rezonings and other land use matters, represented clients in state and federal court in commercial litigation and administrative hearings, prepared commercial leases and conducted commercial and residential real estate closings.  I believe my four years in a varied, private practice added to the experience I gained in my years of public service and has proved invaluable during my service on the Court of Appeals.

Judge Jackson at Carolina Hurricanes Military Appreciation Day supporting the troops of the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade who were deployed to Iraq at the time
Judge Jackson at Carolina Hurricanes'
Military Appreciation Day, supporting the
troops of the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade,
who were deployed to Iraq at the time

In February 2001, I joined the North Carolina Department of Labor and served as General Counsel for Cherie K. Berry for the following four years.  As General Counsel, my office was responsible for providing all in-house legal services for the Department of Labor.  In addition, the Legal Affairs Division interacts with, among others, attorneys and members of the public who require services or information, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Board, the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Rules Review Commission, and the United States Department of Labor.  My role was particularly interesting because Commissioner Berry is the first Commissioner of Labor in some time who is not herself an attorney.

In November 2004, the citizens of North Carolina elected me to the North Carolina Court of Appeals with fifty-five percent of the vote.  I cannot overstate how overwhelmed I was with gratitude at this outpouring of support.  Since taking office in January 2005, I have done my best to live up to the trust that the citizens placed in me when they voted in November 2004.  I have participated in writing and sitting on hundreds of cases that are important to every citizen in this State.  In every decision, I have sought to follow through on my longstanding judicial philosophy that it is the duty of the judicial branch to judge fairly and impartially, and within the limitations provided by the constitution and laws of the State.  Put simply:  Judges should judge; legislators should legislate.

Statement of Integrity, Professional Competence and Judicial Temperament

During the course of my fourteen years practicing law and five years as a judge, I have  had the opportunity to practice in a wide variety of legal and professional forums.  As an attorney, I appeared most extensively before the Office of Administrative Hearings representing students with disabilities, the Private Protective Services Board and the Alarm Systems Licensing Board.  Although I was fortunate to settle my education law cases before hearings on the merits, many cases for the occupational licensing boards went to hearings before Administrative Law Judges. 

In addition, I represented clients in District Court, Superior Court, and before the State’s appellate courts.  Most of my trial court experience was been in motions practice, arguing complex matters in Superior Court.  I also represented clients in both disability rights and land use matters before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and in appealing disability rights cases to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  I led GACPD’s (unfortunately unsuccessful) effort to petition the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in one of these matters—Beaufort County Schools v. Roach, 513 U.S. 989 (1994).  Notwithstanding our lack of success, this was a great professional moment and I was very proud of the work product we produced in support of our effort.

In addition to these traditional legal forums, I have had the opportunity to practice extensively before municipal Boards of Adjustment—quasi-judicial bodies—and elected city councils, county commissioners, town boards of aldermen and the like while an associate in private practice.  This was interesting work in that it requires being prepared to deal with a variety of different opponents and situations.  Sometimes your opposition is an attorney; sometimes it is a well educated and well prepared citizen group; other times it may be an ill prepared individual who requires a gentle touch, and, although you usually know who the opposition is and can prepare going into a meeting, sometimes, it is impossible.  This experience provided excellent training in working on the fly and developing spontaneous—and creative—solutions to complex problems—problems that often involved people’s homes, and therefore, heightened their emotions.  The flip side of this issue was always working with your client to make sure he or she could better understand what those individuals were going through and how best to achieve a solution that would allow the client to accomplish his or her goals, while taking into account the complex mix of individual concerns and political issues that faced the decision makers.

When asked during job interviews over the years what my greatest strength is, I consistently have responded, my integrity.  I always have strived to conduct myself in a manner that will reflect well both on myself as a person and as a member of the legal profession.  Our profession is grounded in the imperative that attorneys abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct—rules that require us to maintain that sense of integrity and to be as straightforward and honest in our dealings with our colleagues as possible while maintaining our obligations of client confidentiality.  I have followed those rules, tenets and principles assiduously throughout my legal career—and frankly, it has not been difficult because those are core values with which I was brought up and which I was expected to follow.  I have found that this course of conduct has served both me and my clients well throughout my career, and I have continued to conduct myself in this manner on the Court of Appeals bench.

Finally, I am a fair and even-handed person.  I think that is a central characteristic that one should look for in seeking a candidate for a judicial office.  In addition, with the breadth and depth of my personal and professional experience, I have the legal ability to form a carefully considered opinion, based upon both the facts and the law and render consistent justice to the citizens and the attorneys of the State of North Carolina.  I am always courteous to others, although I would expect to maintain a reasonably orderly courtroom.  I think my career choices have demonstrated a commitment to equal justice under law, freedom from bias, and compassion.

I think you can see from the career path I have chosen during my fourteen years practicing law here in Wake County  and my five years on the Court of Appeals that my commitment to public service is strong.  I hope to take that commitment to the next level in my bid for the Supreme Court of North Carolina.