Ex-Olympic swimmer makes splash as District Court chief

By John McCann

jmccann@heraldsun.com; 419-6601

DURHAM — That
NCAA investigation about the UNC
football program and improper
contact between players and sports agents?

Newly appointed Durham County Chief District Court Judge Marcia
Morey used to do that sort of thing. Morey was the
NCAA’s first female investigator,
she said.

And Morey once captained the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s swim
team.

“The East Germans pulverized us,” she said.

Now the judge is swimming against an aggressive economic current
that’s cutting statewide resources. And with N.C. Chief Justice
Sarah Parker recently having appointed Morey as Durham County’s top
District Court judge effective Jan. 1, 2011, the buck will stop
with her with respect to how folks get served justice on that tier
of Durham’s judicial system.

“Big shoes to fill,” said Morey, referring to outgoing Durham
County Chief District Court Judge Elaine Bushfan, who’s giving up
the role to have her name on the November ballot for a Superior
Court judgeship.

Morey, 55, is running unopposed for her fourth term in District
Court. Former Gov. Jim Hunt appointed her in 1999. Prior to that,
Morey was executive director of the Governor’s Commission on
Juvenile Crime and Delinquency Prevention, and she helped rewrite
the state’s juvenile-justice laws.

That sort of experience has top officials at the downtown
courthouse suggesting the administration of justice in District
Court won’t miss a beat when Morey takes over.

“I don’t think there’s a drop-off,” Durham County Chief Public
Defender Lawrence Campbell said about Morey picking up where
Bushfan will leave office.

After beginning law school at Northwestern University in
Chicago, Morey finished at the University of Illinois. Morey went
to work for the
NCAA, and then came to the Bull City
to work as a prosecutor in Durham County District Attorney Ronald
Stephens’ office.

Morey founded Durham’s Teen Court, which aims to help teenagers
keep their records — and their proverbial noses — clean by
requiring community service instead of jail time.

“It shows her capabilities of being a great leader,” Durham
County District Attorney Tracey Cline said.

Because of the state’s budgetary constraints, Morey understands
she particularly will need to be a skillful manager.

“It will be like riding a bull,” Morey said.

She’ll be responsible for assigning six other judges and 15
magistrates. A larger staff would help, Morey said. Tuwana Capers,
the judicial assistant for Durham’s District Court judges, for
example, is pulling double-duty by filling in as case manager in
Civil Court.

“We have no one to do it,” Morey explained. “We need vacancies
filled.”

It’ll be Morey’s job to make sure politicians understand how
those vacancies in District Court could keep Durham taxpayers from
getting the justice they deserve, Campbell explained. In the
meantime, it’ll be Morey’s priority to get what she can out of the
people and resources she has, he said.

“And that requires a lot of discipline, especially in these
times,” Campbell said.