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Paul Newby, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Paul Newby, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court

Paul Newby, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht June 3, 2024

No, North Carolina’s chief justice isn't removing judges from elected positions

The leader of North Carolina’s Democratic Party is accusing state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby of removing elected judges from office.

Anderson Clayton, the state Democratic Party chair, made the accusation in a May 10 X post.

"Justice Paul Newby is out here removing judges who were elected to their positions by the voters of North Carolina!!!" Clayton said. "Don’t tell me Republicans believe in free and fair elections and representation. Their actions say otherwise!"

Clayton’s post included a link to a Charlotte Observer article about Democratic District Court Judge Elizabeth Thornton Trosch.

We wondered: Did Newby remove Trosch — or any other judge — from a position she was elected to? Not exactly.

Newby stripped Trosch of her title of chief district court judge in Charlotte. She was appointed to that position — not elected to it by voters. But he didn’t remove her from the bench.

Asked about the claim, Tommy Mattocks, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Democratic Party cited Newby’s demotions of Trosch and another judge. Newby’s "unexplained changes damage trust in our courts," Mattocks said.

Here’s what happened.

About Trosch

Trosch has served as a judge in the 26th Judicial District in Mecklenburg County since 2009, when she was elected to her first term. She has won reelection three times since then.

In February 2020, Trosch got a new title on the same bench. That’s when then-state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley appointed Trosch to be the chief district court judge for the 26th district. Trosch replaced Chief District Judge Regan Miller, who had announced his retirement.

Trosch was reelected to the bench in November 2020, while serving in that appointed role of chief district judge.

In North Carolina, voters don’t get to pick who serves as chief judge of lower courts. 

So, when Mecklenburg County voters went to the polls in November 2020, Trosch was listed only as a candidate for North Carolina District Court Judge Seat 11. Her title of chief wasn’t mentioned on the ballot.

The chief justice’s powers

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Newby defeated Beasley in the race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court in November 2020. 

The North Carolina State Constitution allows the supreme court’s chief justice to appoint chief district judges. It also allows the chief justice to remove the title from the sitting chief district judge and give it to someone else. In other words, it allowed Beasley to appoint Trosch to her role as chief district judge. It also allowed Newby to give Trosch’s title to someone else.

"When more than one district judge is authorized and elected for a district, the chief justice of the Supreme Court shall designate one of the judges as chief district judge," the state constitution says. 

Newby didn’t tell PolitiFact why he removed Trosch from the leadership role. Graham Wilson, a spokesman for the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, said Newby declined to comment.

Trosch told PolitiFact that Newby informed her of the forthcoming change over a phone call. Trosch said she was shocked and disappointed by Newby’s decision.

"He thanked me for my leadership through the pandemic and backlog reduction and my leadership in the successful launch of eCourts in Mecklenburg," Trosch said, referring to a virtual courthouse document system implemented statewide last year. "He said ‘But I want to go in a different leadership direction in Mecklenburg and I'm going to appoint Roy Wiggins as the chief district court judge, effective May 1.’"

After Trosch was removed from her leadership position, more than a dozen district judges signed a letter praising Trosch for her "collaborative style" and ability to impose the law "without favor."

Nonetheless, Newby’s move was within the bounds of his powers.

Other leadership changes

Trosch isn’t the first judge that Newby has removed from a leadership role. 

In late 2023, Newby stripped Republican Donna Stroud of her role as chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Stroud, who has served on the court since 2006 and has been the chief judge since 2021, remains on the court without the leadership title. 

Newby didn’t disclose his reason for shifting Stroud out of the role. In an interview with WRAL, Stroud recalled her conversation with him.

"He had stated, as a reason for that, that some courts — federal courts for example, and some state courts — do rotate chief judges since there’s an administrative burden on the chief judge," Stroud said. Stroud said she didn’t ask for the change and didn’t feel overly burdened by the job.

In 2021, Newby appointed Ned Mangum to replace Debra Sasser as the chief district court judge for Wake County. Mangum recently retired and Newby appointed Margaret Eagles to be Wake’s chief district court judge.

Our ruling

Clayton said, "Justice Paul Newby is out here removing judges who were elected to their positions by the voters of North Carolina!!!"

Newby hasn’t removed any judge from the bench. He has removed a number of judges from leadership positions on lower-level courts — moves he’s allowed to make under state law. But those judges were appointed to those positions, not elected to them by North Carolina voters.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

X post by Anderson Clayton, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, May 10, 2024.

Email exchange with Tommy Mattocks, spokesperson for the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Email exchange with Graham Wilson, spokesperson for the North Carolina Judicial Branch.

Charlotte Observer, "NC’s chief justice won’t say why he removed Charlotte judge from leadership spot," May 9, 2024.

Telephone interview with Elizabeth Trosch, district court judge.

Press release by the North Carolina Judicial Branch, "Chief Justice Beasley Appoints Chief District Court Judge in Judicial District 26 (Mecklenburg County)," Feb. 28, 2020.

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No, North Carolina’s chief justice isn't removing judges from elected positions

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