ROCKINGHAM — With family members by his side, Stephan Futrell made the transition from attorney to superior court judge Tuesday afternoon.
Futrell, who was recently appointed to the judicial position by Gov. Roy Cooper, took his oath of office in the Richmond County Judicial Center in front of a crowd of past and present legislators, judges and members of the legal community, with Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace presiding over the swearing-in ceremony.
“I look forward to serving all of you,” Futrell said before donning a black robe, closing court and greeting guests.
“We are committed to doing our work in order to preserve this union for the good of our children, those who come after us,” he added. “When we come to court, we want them to know we are doing something that’s good for them, that they can have their day in court and they’ll have an opportunity to have a full hearing and that justice will be done in the truest way.”
Futrell obtained his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and earned his law degree from Georgetown University.
He began his career as a practicing attorney in 1981 and has been with Kitchin Neal Webb Webb & Futrell, PA since 1985. Futrell has represented the county government for nearly 20 years and previously served as the city attorney for Hamlet.
Futrell replaces Superior Court Judge Richard Brown, who retired Oct. 31 after two decades on the bench.
Brown said Futrell’s main responsibility as a judge will be “to try to do the right thing.”
“I’ve known Steve for a long time. I was thrilled … I think he’ll do a wonderful job,” he said. “His knowledge of the law is really good.
“I think a judge’s temperament makes a lot of difference, too, and as long as I’ve known Steve, he’s always been on an even keel, even-tempered,” Brown added. “I think that will serve him and the people appearing in his courtroom.”
BROWN REFLECTS TIME ON THE BENCH
Two weeks after stepping down, Brown admits the decision to retire was a difficult one.
“People say that you just kind of begin to know when it’s time and as much as I enjoyed the job, loved working with the people, I just felt like I was getting to a point where it was time to move on,” he said. “I was agonizing over it and, frankly, one day I got in the office and I was going over paperwork and I spent so much time agonizing over when the right time was going to be that I just decided, ‘This is the right time.’”
In 1997, Brown was appointed to the district court bench. The following year he became a superior court judge.
Superior court judges rotate every six months, but Brown said it was always “a delight” when he was back in Scotland, Richmond and Anson counties.
When it comes to tough cases in his career, Brown couldn’t recall a single case that stood out, but said there’s “a huge intensity level” during capital murder cases, such as the Norman General Store murder case which he presided over in 2015. (That case resulted in a mistrial and was retried the following year, with the defendant being found not guilty.)
“Frankly, some of the most difficult cases go back to when I was in district court and you’re making decisions on child custody matters that you realize are affecting so many people’s lives,” he said. “It’s not like any of us have a crystal ball and you’re trying as hard as you can to do the best you can for what’s in the best interest of the child — knowing that we’re all human and nothing is foolproof. You just cross your fingers and hope that you got those right.”
Every day on the bench, he said, is a new learning experience.
“I think you kind of miss the boat if you don’t view it, every day, as you’re learning something about the law, about people, about human nature.”