By Catharin Shepard
Gov. Pat McCrory this week appointed a new district court judge for Hoke County, replacing the now-retired Judge John Horne Jr.
Michael A. Stone, proprietor of the Law Firm of Michael A. Stone, PA lives in Hoke County with his family and has law offices in Fayetteville and Laurinburg. Stone will serve as district judge for District 16A, which currently includes Hoke and Scotland counties but will expand to include Richmond and Anson counties in 2015.
Stone, a Republican, said he has worked in private practice for 19 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Methodist University and earned his law degree from Campbell University’s law school. He lives with his family on the Bayonet golf course in Hoke County. Most of his legal work has been in high-level criminal cases and personal injury cases.
Stone said he is in the process of winding down matters with his private firm and preparing to step into his new role. He will likely be sworn in within a few weeks.
The new judge said he’s excited about the appointment. He has not served in a public official capacity before, he said.
“I’m looking forward to the next stage of my legal career,” Stone said.
Stone previously worked for Hatley & Stone, PA and Stone & Associates, according to the governor’s office.
The North Carolina Bar Association reprimanded Stone in 1998 for reportedly not attending several closings that his office was handling for residential real estate deals on behalf of Chase Mortgage Brokers. Non-attorney assistants handled the closings, and also worked on documents that the association said were not properly reviewed by Stone or other associates at the firm. Stone’s office “took on more work than it could properly handle,” the reprimand stated.
A reprimand is “a written form of discipline more serious than an admonition issued in cases in which an attorney has violated one or more provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and has caused harm or potential harm to a client, the administration of justice, the profession, or a member of the public, but the misconduct does not require a censure,” according to the association. A committee issued the reprimand in response to a grievance filed by Clarence Caviness. The document was available through the association.
Stone said the reprimand happened shortly after he graduated from law school. It was “just a formality, low level,” he said. The reprimand won’t have any impact on his work as a district court judge, Stone said.
“I’m looking forward to serving the citizens of Hoke County and surrounding counties,” he said.
The Associated Press picked up the news of Stone’s appointment and the story has appeared in media outlets from Raleigh to California, pointing out that the governor’s newly selected district court judge has a reprimand in his record. The controversy seems to be more about attacking the governor than about the reprimand, Stone said. McCrory’s recently appointed state poet laureate Valerie Macon, a self-published poet and state employee, resigned from that position after receiving criticism of her suitability for the role.
The process of selecting a new district court judge involves the local bar association attorneys meeting to nominate candidates for the position. Those names are then sent to the governor. The governor does not always select a judge from those nominees but usually chooses to do so, according to former Hoke County District Attorney Jean Powell.
Stone was one of four nominees. The other nominees were attorney Mike Schmidt, who works in a private practice in Laurinburg; Scotland County Clerk of Court Philip McRae; and Cumberland County Legal Aid attorney Ida Baker, according to a member of the District 16A Bar Association.
Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said he has known Stone through his work with the court system.
“He’s a very professional attorney. He seems to have a passion for the judicial system,” Peterkin said. “I think that the appointment was great. He is a team player. From what I know about Michael Stone, he’s the type of person who shifts aside any differences.”
Politics haven’t come into play in his office’s previous work with Stone, Peterkin said.
“I know his appointment was Republican, but when dealing with Michael Stone, it was never about the party,” the sheriff said. Peterkin, who is running for reelection unopposed, is a Democrat. He said he is looking forward to working with Stone.
Along with appointing Stone, the governor also appointed Charles Gilliam, a faculty member at N.C. State University’s School of Management, to serve as a district court judge for Wake County.