Raleigh, N.C. — Republican legislative efforts to cut the size of the state Court of Appeals took an unexpected hit Monday when Judge Douglas McCullough took early retirement and Gov. Roy Cooper named Judge John Arrowood to take his place.
Lawmakers recently approved legislation that would reduce the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12 in the next couple of years as McCullough and two other judges hit the mandatory retirement age. Cooper vetoed that bill Friday, and neither the House nor the Senate has scheduled a vote to override his veto.
McCullough, 71, a Republican who served on the Court of Appeals from 2000 to 2008 and again since 2010, disagreed with lawmakers' attempts to meddle with the court, Cooper said, noting the judge approached his staff over the weekend to discuss stepping down and allowing Cooper the chance to appoint someone to the remaining 20 months of his term before the veto is overridden and the law takes effect.
"He believes strongly in the integrity of the court," Cooper said Monday at a news conference to announce Arrowood's appointment. "I want to commend and thank him for his career and also thank him for resigning today to show this important message to the North Carolina General Assembly, to our courts and to the citizens of this state."
The governor said he hasn't spoken to Judge Robert Hunter and Judge Ann Marie Calabria, the other two judges who will have to retire in the next couple of years because of age, about their intentions. Like McCullough, both are Republicans.
Arrowood, 60, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2007 by then-Gov. Mike Easley, becoming the first openly gay appellate judge in North Carolina. He was defeated when he ran for re-election the following year and also lost his campaign to return to the court in 2014. He has been practicing law in Charlotte but resigned from his firm Monday to be sworn in as judge.
"After his nonstop rhetoric about ‘partisan politics having no place on the judges’ bench,’ Gov. Cooper needs to explain why he put his partisan allegiance above the voters by singlehandedly changing the party makeup of the Court of Appeals with a Democrat who was soundly rejected by them in 2014," said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.