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.