When one door opens for a judge to become a legislator, another door opens for a legislator to become a judge.
“You know, if that door shall open, then I shall walk through,” McKissick said. “It will be the first day of the rest of my life. And if it doesn’t [open], I will continue working vigorously and aggressively as I have here at the Senate.”
He is one of nine people who submitted their names to the Durham County Bar Association to replace Morey, said Guy Crabtree president of the local Bar and the Fourteenth Judicial District Bar.
McKissick said a number of members of the Bar suggested that with the “breadth and depth” of his background and experience, he would be an excellent complement to the bench in Durham.
“They have some excellent judges, but only one of them has been in private practice, the other ones have backgrounds really well grounded in criminal law from being former prosecutors,” the lawmaker said. “They felt like someone from a strong civil background could definitely bring some skill-set to the bench that would very much complement the existing members.”
He has 33 years of experience practicing civil and criminal matters in both state and federal court, he said. His focus throughout the years has primarily been civil litigation.
McKissick is the son of the late civil rights activist Floyd McKissick, who was also the first black recipient of a law degree from the University of North Carolina. The father and son established the law firm McKissick and McKissick, where the lawmaker still practices.
McKissick sees the bid for judgeship as an opportunity to provide a different form of public service — a form that he also believes he will be good at.
“You have to listen very attentively when people come into that courtroom and not be judgmental,” he said. “You’ve got to really weigh the issues that come before you in a thoughtful and deliberative way, and one thing I’ve learned to do over the years is listen very attentively and to try to make good decisions.
I think that’s critical. You’ve got to have that temperament; you’ve got to have that ability to listen; you have to be able to understand the facts and the law and the issues and I think with 33 years of experience, it’s a point in my career where I possess the attributes that I think would be very helpful in a judge.”
When asked if he’d talked to Morey about filling her vacancy, McKissick said he had and that she was encouraging, but that she won’t be the only judge he seeks guidance from.
“You learn from your other colleagues who are on the bench who have been serving in a thoughtful way; you don’t go there thinking you know it all because there’s a learning curve,” he said. “Whenever you move into a new horizon, there’s always a learning curve, so I would look to really consult with not just Judge Morey, who’s really just extraordinarily experienced, but also the other members.”
And if things don’t work out, McKissick said it just means he hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do yet in the Senate.
“This is the sort of thing where if it’s meant to be then it will occur, and if for some reason it is not, then I continue vigorously representing constituents in District 20 and working as hard and effectively as I can, and continue giving it the amazing amount of time and energy that it deserves,” he said.
Crabtree said voting on the nine candidates is taking place now and ends at 4 p.m. Monday. The names of the five candidates who receive the most votes will be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for him to make the appointment.