Judge Holt retires, governor to appoint vacant seat

By DeeAnna Haney | Apr 04, 2014
Chief District Court Judge Richlyn Holt and his wife Karen during his retirement party Friday, March 28.

After 20 years on the bench, four of which he served as Chief District Court Judge, Richlyn Holt has decided to step away from the courtroom and into retirement.

A room packed full of well-wishers stopped by the Haywood County courthouse Friday to say goodbye to the long-time judge.

Danya Vanhook, a lawyer and former district court judge, said seeing Holt leave is sad for her.

'I've learned so much from Judge Holt both on and off the bench when I was a judge and as an attorney," she said. "I think in each courtroom he did something special and he was really good with juveniles. He was always very fair in sentencing in criminal court — you always knew he would listen to both sides."

And any time a situation needed diffusing, Holt knew how to find the perfect middle ground. Vanhook remembered one case he handled last year that lasted all the way up until late Dec. 23.

"He was just that way. He would stay until the job was done," she said.

Law enforcement officials also thought fondly of Holt. He's been on the bench since Sgt. Hugh Feinberg with the N.C. Highway Patrol first came to Haywood County in 1998.

"I always felt like he was one of the fairest judges, and he will definitely be missed," he said.

It's not just those in Haywood County that came to bid him farewell. Dick Jones, an attorney with Jones, Key, Melvin and Patton in Macon County, said Holt will be sorely missed.

"He has been one of the better judges on the bench in western North Carolina," Jones said. "He's always been patient, listened to all the evidence and made fair decisions."

Holt said he chose to retire this year because he is turning 65 and after two decades of service, he wants to take time to enjoy life while he can. He spent the first two days of retirement with his granddaughter he said and he plans to do plenty of traveling with his wife and family. He even hopes to take some time to write some short stories, something that has always interested him.

"The people I've worked with in the court system throughout the seven counties have been great," he said. "It's a tough job because people are in trouble or people are in a fight with their neighbor and they are usually in the courtroom during a difficult time in their lives. The people in the court system do as good a job as they can in that situation."

Holt said he will miss being in the courtroom, but he will not miss the administrative duties that came along with being chief district court judge.

Who will take the bench?

Holt's seat officially became vacant April 1 and it will be the responsibility of Gov. Pat McCrory to appoint a new judge to take over the seat until it comes up for election in 2016.

This is the first judge appointment in the western district since the General Assembly made new rules regarding the process last year, said Diane Sherrill, president of the 30th Judicial District Bar.

In previous years, the governor would make a selection based on three nominees passed on by the N.C. Bar Association and it had to be made within a certain amount of time. However, the new statute allows the governor to choose whoever he wants for the post and under no time constraints.

The 30th district bar will still be choosing nominees, this time five, to send to the governor. Those who wish to be considered for the position must send a letter of intent to Sherrill no later than Friday, April 4.

So far, she has received six letters of intent to include Hunter Murphy and Jeffrey Norris, both of Waynesville; Gregory Boyer of Franklin; Sean Johnson of Sylva; Tessa Sellers of Murphy and Kristy Parton of Sylva.

The nominees must reside and practice within the district. The few attorneys who practice within the 30th district but live outside the district will not be allowed to vote on the nominees, Sherrill said.

The governor's office will conduct a full background check on each of the nominees and he may appoint one of them or someone else entirely.

The 30 Judicial District Bar Association will be voting on its five nominees April 10. It's not yet clear whether McCrory will go with a bar nominee or someone outside the bar's recommendations.

"We are greatly encouraging him to and I would hope that he would," Sherrill said.

It's not even clear when he will make the decision. Staff at the governor's office said Monday they "do not like to put a timeline on these things."

However, Sherrill said she knows the governor's office has recently appointed other judges across the state, so she hopes the process won't be lengthy.

Judge Rick Walker was recently appointed as the chief district court judge by the justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.