It’s the kind of routine that a lot of people think of as drudgery. Every day, same time, same office.
Lucy Inman is loving it. After nearly five years of crisscrossing North Carolina from one courtroom to the next, Inman now travels no further from her home in Raleigh to her office in the N.C Court of Appeals across the street from the historic State Capitol.
Inman, elected in November as one of 15 judges who sit on the state’s Court of Appeals, has traded a job as a special Superior Court judge deciding cases in dozens of counties for a position that helps establish legal precedent for courts in all 100 of the state’s counties.
It’s the latest role for an NC State alumna (Class of 1984) who turned a degree in English into a brief stint as a newspaper reporter and a legal career that took her to Los Angeles and back to her hometown of Raleigh.
So far, Inman says, the appeals court is an opportunity to think about the law more broadly and in greater depth.
“I’m able to take the time to really think through and write carefully about legal issues that trial courts across the state will be handling in cases to come,” Inman says. Unlike the face-to-face interactions that characterize trial courts, judges on the Court of Appeals decide most of the cases that come to them on the basis of the written record. Instead of making rulings as a single judge, she confers with two other appeals court judges on a three-member panel that rotates several times a year.
On any given panel, each judge is responsible for drafting decisions for about a third of the appeals that it considers in a given period. Then the three members meet and vote on all they’ve been assigned to review. Over the course of a year, each of the 15 judges on the Court of Appeals writes about 100 decisions. The court decides nearly 2,000 appeals a year.
Appeals range widely, from challenges to searches and seizures in criminal convictions to civil disputes over contracts and conflicts about child custody and equitable distribution of property.
“The biggest challenge of an appellate judge is to recognize the boundary between the authority of the appellate court and the province of the trial court and the jury,” Inman says. “I appreciate that the appeals court is a check against the potential abuse of power.”
As much as she misses the immediacy of the trial court, Inman says she’s happy to be able to devote more time to her lifelong love for writing.
Even though she’s staying in one place, she doesn’t stand still. Inman does much of her work at a treadmill desk (her own purchase).