DOBSON — Plenty of convictions coming out of the Surry County Courthouse made headlines in 2016, but some behind-the-scenes restructuring in the district attorney’s office may prove most significant in the new year.
The county began the year with the 12th-highest number of felony cases pending for three or more years in Superior Court in the state, according to statewide data provided by the N.C. Courts Commission.
Ricky Bowman announced in July that he and his staff were in the process of cleaning up the pile of aging cases.
“We went through every case we had,” he said, identifying the cause of the delay as well discussing possible resolutions to the cases.
In the latter half of the year, the Superior Court docket has been packed with older cases as well as those more recently filed.
The district attorney also detailed some administrative changes aimed at streamlining the process.
Among those, instead of every prosecutor handling all aspects of their assigned cases, a single assistant district attorney will analyze each case and handle any plea agreements to be extended.
That frees up other assistant district attorneys to prepare for trial in the event the defendant rejects a plea deal.
Several cases are expected to go to trial in January.
On the civil side
A lawsuit against N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, fizzled out in October when plaintiff William “Neil” Shelton filed a dismissal.
In November 2015, Shelton had sued Stevens, her law partner, Zachary Brintle, and one of their former clients and Shelton’s ex-wife, Kimberly Hiatt Shelton.
In his complaint, Neil Shelton alleged that the defendants used tactics during the Sheltons’ divorce and custody proceedings that unjustly led to Neil Shelton’s imprisonment and financial ruin.
The suit made its way through several hearings until August, when a Superior Court judge dismissed with prejudice the majority of Neil Shelton’s case, meaning he may not refile those claims.
The portions that survived that ruling included conversion against Kimberly Shelton as well as malicious prosecution and punitive damages against all three defendants.
In October, a few weeks after Shelton filed the dismissal, he was convicted on two felony violations associated with a 2015 break-in and given a probationary sentence.
The civil suit may resurface in 2017 if Shelton refiles his claims, as he has stated is his intention.
Surry and Stokes County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey will retire on New Year’s Eve after 22 years on the bench.
Superior Court Judge Anderson D. Cromer will become the senior resident judge in the district.
Current District Court Judge Angela Puckett was unopposed in winning the November election for Massey’s open seat. She will be sworn in Jan. 1.
Governor-elect Roy Cooper will appoint a replacement to fill Puckett’s vacated District Court seat.
The local chapter of the N.C. State Bar Association will recommend five interested attorneys to the new governor, who may choose from that recommendation or appoint from outside that list.