Longtime District Court Judge Henry L. Stevens IV is seeking the Superior Court seat encompassing Duplin, Sampson and Jones counties. It is a post Stevens holds in high esteem as his family lineage on the Superior bench in this district dates back nearly a century.
Stevens filed on Monday, enduring a three-hour wait as a procession of other judicial hopefuls packed the state Board of Elections in Raleigh on the first day of filing. The seat he is seeking is currently held by Resident Superior Court Judge Albert D. Kirby, who was appointed at the end of 2017. Kirby is also expected to file for election.
Stevens is a district court judge for the 4A/4B Judicial District, serving Duplin, Jones, Sampson and Onslow counties. He was appointed to the court by former Gov. Jim Hunt at the end of 1999, and most recently won reelection to his district court seat in 2016. He also serves as State Staff Judge Advocate of the North Carolina National Guard.
A registered Republican, Stevens received his B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989 and his J.D. degree from the Regent University School of Law in 1997. He comes from a long line of attorneys and judges.
His father, Henry L. Stevens III, served as Senior Resident Superior Court judge for this district from 1977 to 1993, with Russell Lanier Jr. succeeding him. Prior to that, his grandfather Henry L. Stevens Jr. held the Superior Court judgeship for a long time, from the early 1930s up until his death. Stevens’ great-grandfather, Henry L. Stevens Sr. was an attorney in Duplin County who missed election to the post by just a “handful of votes,” his great-grandson said.
“There has been a Henry Stevens serving as a lawyer in Duplin County since 1881,” he remarked.
General elections for local judicial offices will take place on Nov. 6. Due to legislation passed in the N.C. General Assembly last year, which came with a series of subsequent lawsuits, judicial primaries were canceled this year so the filing period was delayed. Candidates have until June 29 to file for November’s judicial races.
Earlier this month, the Legislature also passed House Bill 717, which redrew some judicial election districts, consolidating District 4A (Sampson, Duplin, Jones) with District 4B, which includes Onslow, so now the Superior Court Judicial District once again mirrors the Prosecutorial District and District Court Judicial District.
So, while there are now two Superior Court judgeships serving a consolidated Judicial District 4, those posts have residency requirements that still split Duplin, Sampson and Jones for one seat, and Onslow for the other.Onslow Superior Court post is held by Judge Charles Henry, whose seat is not up for reelection.
Superior Court seats have eight-year terms, while district seats have four-year terms. District and superior court races are now partisan after being nonpartisan for years.
Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Democrat Kirby to fill the Superior Court judge vacancy left with the sudden passing of Doug Parsons in September 2017. He took the oath of office in January to become the Resident Superior Court judge in Judicial District 4A.
While Parsons’ eight-year term would not have expired until 2020 — he was appointed in early 2012 following Lanier’s retirement and ran unopposed in November 2012 — the term is curtailed and an election takes place at the next possible time following an appointment.
When Parsons died, Stevens said it just wasn’t a good time for him personally to leave his district seat in favor of seeking the superior post, but he let Kirby know that was ultimately his intention.
“It has a tremendous amount of meaning to me,” Stevens said of the local Superior Court judgeship. He recalled back in 1977 when he would tag along with his father to the Conference of Superior Court judges when he was 11 years old. He met and admired the other judges, and learned the history of the seat and those who have held it over the years.
“Quite frankly, that’s all I ever wanted to be,” said Stevens. “The history of that seat is quite impressive.”
Stevens is married to wife, Melissa Blizzard Stevens, a domestic attorney who is partners at Smith and Blizzard, P.A. The couple have 6-year-old twins, Henry L. Stevens V and Savannah Kate, who are rising first-graders.
Stevens joked that he “couldn’t think of anything else” to name his son, but then said he didn’t think long about continuing the family tradition.
“The greatest blessing my dad ever gave me was my name,” said Stevens. “He was well-respected, as was his father and grandfather. That name has meant something.”