North Carolina Women Judges Forum

March 3, 2008Duke Law News

March 3, 2008 — Justice Robin E. Hudson of the North Carolina Supreme Court and Judge Linda M. McGee of the North Carolina Court of Appeals discussed their career paths and the importance of support networks with Duke Law students at an informal reception and panel discussion on Feb. 27. The panel, now in its fifteenth year, is an annual event co-sponsored by the Women Law Students Association and the Office and Board of Public Interest and Pro Bono, and was inspired by Judge McGee.

“[Judge McGee] wanted to go into the law schools and encourage female law students to consider the judiciary as part of their careers,” said Carol Spruill, associate dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono and senior lecturing fellow. “In the years since, women lawyers in North Carolina have done quite well in judicial elections. They are a strong minority on both the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court and could become a majority in both courts depending on the fall elections.”

McGee grew up in Marion, N.C. and credits her parents, both textile mill workers, with instilling in her a strong work ethic and providing her support. As an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, McGee was offered the opportunity to begin law school her senior year, allowing her to complete her BA and JD in only six years. When she entered UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 1971, women were a minority at law schools.

“At that point in time, there were about three sections of ninety students, [and] only about a dozen women in each,” McGee said. “We were told to look to your right, and then look to your left and one of you would not be there by the end of the year. This was especially true of the women.”

McGee graduated in 1973 and, after working in Raleigh for several years, transferred to Boone, N.C. where she practiced at di Santi, Watson & McGee for 17 years. She attributes her success as a woman in the field of law to the many women’s organizations she has been a member of throughout her legal career.

“I have never found anything more supportive for me as a lawyer, as an advocate, as a woman, as women’s organizations,” McGee said. She finds a special home in the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, of which she is a charter member. “The Association is a very supportive group of people,” McGee said. “We work hard to get women on the bench and to improve the court — this continues to be a focus.”

Currently seven of the 15 members of the North Carolina Court of Appeals are women, as are three of the seven-member North Carolina Supreme Court.

Hudson is one of those three women on the North Carolina Supreme Court, serving as an associate justice. Growing up in DeKalb County, Ga., Hudson began to recognize the role of justice at a young age. “There were things going on around me — in Georgia in that time period — that I understood had to do with fairness and justice,” Hudson said.

She began her undergraduate career at a women’s college in the South, but after a visit to New Haven, Conn., transferred to Yale University, graduating in 1973 with a BA in philosophy and psychology. When Hudson began law school at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, approximately 40 of the 250 students were women and only about 25 finished law school. But women were gaining representation at law schools, Hudson said. By her third year about one third of the class was female.

After her graduation in 1976, Hudson worked in Boston for a brief period and then returned to North Carolina, working in private practice in Raleigh and Durham until 2000. Through her years in private practice she gained appellate experience, particularly through the many cases she tried for textile workers with work-related health issues.

“We tried these cases, but lost. Appealed, and won most in the court of appeals,” she said. “This experience showed me that appellate courts play a really important role in the lives of real people.”

In November 2000, Hudson was elected to the Court of Appeals. She is the first North Carolina woman elected to the appellate court division without having been appointed first. She served from January 2001 until December 2006. She was then elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice George Wainwright in November 2006.

“It has always been interesting to me to learn of the different paths people take,” Hudson said. “Along my journey I have also been particularly impressed, again and again, by the supportiveness of other women attorneys.”