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Durham judge hopes to take voices of the people to General Assembly as new lawmaker

Marcia Morey

Durham County Chief District Judge Marcia Morey became unemployed as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. It didn’t last long.

The General Assembly officially appointed her today to fill the late Rep. Paul Luebke’s seat in the House and she will be sworn at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Durham County Courthouse. Her first day at the legislature will be Monday.

The longtime judge spoke via phone to NC Policy Watch on Thursday as she cleaned out her chambers. It was a weird feeling, she said, but “kind of nice.”

She’s excited for the challenge ahead.

“I’ve been a swimmer my whole life and it’s like I’m being plucked out of the pool and thrown into the second half of a rugby match,” she said of the career change. “It will be learning a lot of new people and new protocol procedures, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Morey’s top priority this session will be House Bill 280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, better known as “Raise the Age” legislation. Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina who are charged with a crime are punished through the adult system.

It’s a policy she’s always been a critic of and as a judge, she established a misdemeanor diversion program to help kids move through life without the burden of an adult criminal record.

“I’ve always had a big, passionate interest in any of the bills that affect children,” Morey said. “Raise the Age is a top priority, to do it right, do it well, have it adequately funded; it’s been a long time coming and I’m very optimistic that it will pass.”

She’s also planning on paying close attention to school issues, particularly public school funding, and bills that impact children in the foster care system.

And as only the second person in the General Assembly with experience as a judge, Morey plans to study any bills that have been introduced affecting the North Carolina courts.

The skills she’s honed as a judge that she believes will make her a successful lawmaker include listening, trying to weigh both sides of issues and coming up with the best, fair results that meets voters’ values.

“I know how to read laws, understand them, look out for unintended consequences and will try to bring those forward to help other people make good decisions when deciding on votes,” she said.

Morey said she is humbled and honored to be appointed to the legislature. She’d thought about that type of public service, but said she never even could have predicted being a judge for 18 years, much less a lawmaker.

“I’m going to take it very seriously, do my very best, probably start slowly, listen and learn and hopefully gain some momentum so I can be an effective representative and leader,” she said. “I just love to work for people who don’t have a voice, and so to be able to have that opportunity, I take it seriously. Being a judge, you see everyday the individual struggles of people, and I hope to take that experience, their voices, to the legislature, where other people may not have heard the hardships, how laws impact [people].”

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