Judge retiring after 47 years
Stanley Peele, who has served as a judge in North Carolina for more than 47 years, has retired from the bench.
Peele, 80, who had been serving as an emergency judge since 1995, ended his judicial career Wednesday saying he wants to stay closer to home and his wife.
“I have served in over 62 counties, 120 courthouses and over 200 courtrooms,” Peele wrote in his resignation letter to Sarah Parker, chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
When he retired he was the longest serving District Court judge in the state.
Peele, who lives in Chapel Hill, began his career in the mid-1960s as a recorder’s court judge, and then became a District Court judge for Orange, Chatham and Alamance counties. He then became the chief district judge for District 15-B when Orange and Chatham counties split from Alamance County. After he retired from being a full time District Court judge, he became an emergency judge in 1995, traveling across the state to fill in for other District Court judges.
As a District Court judge, Peele was known for the talks he gave to people convicted of driving while impaired, sometimes asking them questions about what they were thinking when they got behind the wheel and reminding them that they could have hurt or killed someone.
“I admired him greatly because of his compassion for other people,” said Chief District Court Judge Joe Buckner.
As an emergency judge, Peele was called to serve in many of the central and eastern counties in the state.
One day, he was called to Martin County, a rural county northeast of Greenville. As he was getting ready to start court, he heard a loud buzzer going off and learned that the courthouse was being evacuated because of a bomb threat.
Having been through a few courthouse bomb threats during his time as a judge, it was his practice just to stay put until the threat was over.
“Most bomb threats are by somebody whose name is on the docket and wants the case continued,” Peele said. “It’s as simple as that.”
But on this cold, wet miserable day, Peele said he made the mistake of leaving the judge’s chambers to go ask sheriff’s deputies when they thought he’d be able to start court. They told him it would likely be an hour and a half and that he couldn’t go back in the courthouse.
Peele was stuck outside with everyone else and saw that no one was complaining or griping about waiting out in the cold. He realized that by the time they got back in the courtroom, there wouldn’t be time to get much done before lunch.
He asked if there was some place inside where they could hold court, and a deputy ran over to the agriculture building to ask if they could use space there.
Soon Peele and the others were setting up court at the ag building. No chairs, he said, because without chairs there would be more room for people to squeeze into the room. Even Peele didn’t take a seat, but still not everyone could squeeze into the room. The assistant district attorney called the docket, and Peele heard people answer from the hallway or from an adjacent room.
“We were all just like sardines, me included,” he said.
Nevertheless, he was able to hold court that morning and except for a couple of serious cases that needed to be tried in the afternoon, they took care of every single case before lunch, he said.
“It was the people of Martin County that performed so well,” he said.
That’s one of the reasons Peele said he has such a fondness for the people in North Carolina, especially those living in small communities and rural areas.
“Those are typical of the type of people I truly love,” he said.
Buckner remembers when he was a young lawyer sitting in Peele’s court when a priest was called up for a traffic offense. Peele quickly asked if he was going to plead guilty, and the priest said yes.
Peele was happy, saying he hadn’t wanted to have to weigh the priest’s word against the police officer’s. Everyone in the courtroom laughed out loud, Buckner said.
Peele spent many hours developing teen court and is still actively involved in it and has agreed to sometimes serve as a mediator for District Court, Buckner said.
Over the years, Peele said he was grateful for the many hardworking people in Orange and Chatham counties, police officers, deputies, district attorneys, public defenders, defense attorneys, juvenile court counselors, mediators and other judges and clerks.