It is with sadness that I report on the recent death of retired Chief Judge John Martin.  He had been fighting cancer for several years and went down swinging.  His funeral, held in Raleigh on April 25, 2024, was packed. Here’s a link to his obituary. 

I was lucky enough to have known him as a friend, as a trial court judge, and as a colleague on the Court of Appeals.  We first met when I was a prosecutor in Guilford County and then-Superior Court Judge Martin was assigned to preside over criminal cases there.  A snag arose in a case I was trying—the details elude me—and the public defender and I went to his chambers to discuss things.  I suggested a possible course of action, and Judge Martin responded that, as an alternate course, he could hold me in contempt.  I didn’t think he meant it (he didn’t) but something like that can sure get your attention.  He was a good, smart, careful trial judge and attorneys would compete to have him hear their cases.

When I joined the Court of Appeal, I quickly found that he was an approachable source of good advice.  Service on a panel with him was always a pleasure.  With his seniority, he was usually the presiding judge and could be direct, even stern, with the attorneys making arguments, but never gratuitously so.  And off the bench his hearty laugh would echo down the halls of the building.

He was appointed Chief Judge in 2004.  It’s a first-among-equals position that is not always easy when some of the other judges on that court have “strong views.”  Chief Judge Martin led by example and instituted effective internal deadlines that meant opinions were issued without undue delay.  Practitioners appreciated that.  His effectiveness was acknowledged when his counterparts in other states elected him president of the Council of Chief Judges of the State Courts of Appeal.

And now he’s gone.  But he leaves a strong legacy in the law and many friends who miss him.  Nice work, Chief!

–Bob Edmunds

Tip of the hat to Gregg Schwitzgebel for sharing a video link to Chief Judge Martin’s portrait ceremony.