See related editorial Page A4
History was made Monday morning as the Honorable Albert D. Kirby Jr. was sworn in as the first African American Resident Superior Court judge from Sampson County to represent District 4A.
A standing room only crowd of family, friends, community members, attorneys and law enforcement packed the upstairs courtroom to watch Kirby take the oath.
The Sampson County native was appointed to the position by Gov. Roy Cooper to fill the Superior Court judge vacancy left with the sudden passing of Judge Doug Parsons.
“The governor could not have made a better choice,” Clinton mayor and Kirby’s longtime friend Lew Starling shared in remarks Monday. “Everything he has gotten, he has had to fight for and that will make him a better man on that bench.” Citing Kirby’s hard-fought battle to become successful though born into poverty, Starling said his dear friend and brother would understand “the every day man” and his plight and have an understanding.
Kirby’s appointment is the third judgeship held by a Sampson County attorney, following judgeships held by Judge Howard Hubbard and Parsons.
Starling, who reminisced about the 40-plus years he has known Kirby, shared with the crowd the confidence he holds in the new judge and his new position.
“Having known this man for 40 years, I know that today is a good day for Sampson County,” Starling stressed.
The Honorable Paul Hardison, Chief District Court judge for the 4A and 4B Judicial District covering Duplin, Jones, Sampson and Onslow counties, had words of encouragement for Kirby as well.
“Today you will take an oath to defend the Constitution and you must always remember to be fair and impartial,” Hardison said. “You will develop some enemies, but you do what is right and the law will give you guidance and direction and God will do the rest.”
While it wasn’t mentioned during the swearing-in celebration, one of the first tasks Kirby has been charged with is naming someone to fill the seat of Sampson County Clerk of Superior Court. Norman Wayne Naylor retired as of Dec. 31, and someone will have to be appointed to fill the unexpired term.
Growing up in Clinton on a tobacco farm, Kirby is one of five children — three older sisters and one younger brother. His father, Albert Kirby Sr. was a World War II vet and his mother is credited for teaching her children how to listen, work hard and make something of themselves.
With tears in his eyes, draped in his judge’s robe, Kirby addressed the many sitting and standing in the audience of the main courtroom Monday morning, thanking a litany of people who had an impact on his life, most especially his mother.
“Thank you for all the times you didn’t eat so that we could,” Kirby asserted.
Even in poverty, Kirby said his mother gave all her children unconditional love and encouraged them to work hard and become something. The new judge said days like Monday morning are what his mother was talking about.
A Clinton High School graduate, Kirby has been a public servant and attorney for more than 25 years. He served as the board attorney for Clinton City Schools for two decades and has represented District 5 on the Sampson County Board of Commissioners for the past seven years. He stepped down from that position just two weeks ago.
Kirby, who holds degrees from Wake Forest University and Campbell University School of Law, operated a private law practice in downtown Clinton and served as president of the Sampson County Bar Association. He clerked for Parsons in the mid-1980s as he was finishing at Wake Forest and then afterward.
After graduating from law school in 1986, Kirby served as an assistant district attorney in Fayetteville and then moved to an ADA position in Pitt County, where he ran for Superior Court judge in 1990.
Upon returning to Clinton, Kirby established his own law practice, his older sister Alberta serving as his paralegal. Through the years, he has focused on civil litigation, including personal injury, worker’s compensation and medical malpractice cases, with a criminal case here and there.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.