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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Cooper Replaces Appeals Judge, Amid Battle With Lawmakers Over Court's Size

John Arrowood
James, McElroy & Diehl

Updated 1:06 p.m.
A battle between Gov. Roy Cooper and state lawmakers over the state Court of Appeals has escalated, with the governor's appointment of a new judge Monday. Cooper got the chance to pick a Democrat after a Republican judge on the court retired early to protest his party’s efforts to shrink the court. 

Cooper named Charlotte lawyer and Democrat John Arrowood to a vacancy created by the surprise retirement of Judge Douglas McCullough.  McCullough, a Republican, stepped down a little over a month before he turns 72, the court's mandatory retirement age.

On Friday, Cooper vetoed a bill that would have prevented him from making that appointment. That bill passed by the Republican controlled General Assembly shrinks the Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 judges.

Cooper said McCullough told him he retired 36 days early because he disagreed with the law.  In his retirement letter to Cooper, McCullough said: "It is my firm belief that it is appropriate that I retire now rather than wait approximately thirty-six more days when I would be required to retire."

At a press conference Monday morning, Cooper said: "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 all the citizens of this state." 

With two more Republican judges also near retirement, Cooper called the bill a GOP attempt to stack the court and prevent him from appointing Democrats. He also says it's unconstitutional and would increase judge's workloads, and slow appeals and decisions.  

The legislature is expected to overturn Cooper's veto. But that will come too late to prevent Cooper’s appointment of at least one Democrat.  

Arrowood has served previously both on the state Court of Appeals and as a Superior Court judge. He's a North Carolina native who got his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Arrowood has practiced in Charlotte since 2009, with James, McElroy & Diehl. His public service also has included working as staff attorney and head of the central staff for the Court of Appeals, as a member of the N.C. Banking Commission, and several other state commissions.

McCullough's resignation was effective at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Arrowood was sworn in at 9:45. 


April 24, 2017, Douglas McCullough's resignation letter(PDF)

April 24, 2017, Gov. Cooper's veto message for House Bill 239, which would shrink the Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 judges (PDF) 

April 24, 2017, Gov. Cooper's announcementof the appointment of John Arrowood to the N.C. Court of Appeals. 

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.