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Cumberland Co. judge reprimanded


A district court judge in Cumberland County has been publicly reprimanded by the North Carolina Supreme Court after a finding that her complaints about the local chief judge and some of her conduct in the courtroom were harmful to public confidence in the administration of the courts.

The court reprimanded Judge April Smith on May 10, following a recommendation by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission.

Smith joined the bench in 2014, and in 2016 she began experiencing serious health issues that required her to attend frequent medical appointments. Around the same time, Smith became frustrated with the chief district court judge, Robert Stiehl, over scheduling and communication differences, and the relationship deteriorated further because Smith believed that Stiehl was subjecting her to unfair treatment in court assignments.

Smith began to complain frequently in conversations that she thought Stiehl was treating her unfairly, and this opinion “became known throughout the courthouse,” according to the commission’s findings of fact, which were adopted by the court. The commission found no support for Smith’s perception that she was being treated unfairly.

But the commission’s investigation did find that Smith had engaged in conduct that created a perception that her judicial duties didn’t take precedence over her personal commitments and work schedule preferences. Some local attorneys told the commission that Smith regularly rushed to conclude cases to avoid working the full afternoon or the next day, and that she would sometimes announce that she was adjourning court early for personal appointments, such as for hair and nail salon visits or to spend time with her child.

As a result, an unfavorable cartoon depiction of Smith began circulating amongst the bar, and several members of the domestic bar requested that the Stiehl remove her from domestic cases.

Smith acknowledged to the commission that her frequent complaints created unintended consequences and that “even if intended to be private conversations, the cumulative impact of voicing her internal grievance with a colleague to so many people within the courthouse was harmful to public confidence in the administration of the court.” She also acknowledged that her conduct and comments in the courtroom were perceived by some attorneys and court staff as indicating a desire to avoid her judicial duties to accommodate her own scheduling preferences.

The commission cited several mitigating factors, including Smith’s expression of regret and her candor and cooperation during the investigation, in recommending the public reprimand as the most appropriate form of discipline.

The 15-page decision is In re Judge Smith (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-015-19). The full text of the opinion is available online at

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan

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