Wednesday, 28 August 2019 20:06

Layton described as 'fair,' promises to 'do the right thing' as superior court judge

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Former prosecutor Dawn Layton is sworn Wednesday in as a superior court judge. Former prosecutor Dawn Layton is sworn Wednesday in as a superior court judge. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Courtroom B of the Richmond County Judicial Center was standing-room only Wednesday afternoon, but the occasion wasn’t a high-profile murder case.

Instead, Dawn Layton, who used to prosecute murder cases, was ceremonially sworn in as a superior court judge.


Layton was appointed to the bench for District 16A — which includes Richmond, Anson and Scotland counties — earlier this month by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Layton most recently served as chief assistant district attorney for Prosecutorial District 21, under District Attorney Reese Saunders. 

She has nearly 15 years of experience working as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. Layton previously worked with Child Support Enforcement in North Carolina, first as an agent and later as a lead agent.

The crowd featured familiar faces from the justice community of several counties throughout the region and other past and present elected officials.

The oath of office was administered by former Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace, who retired July 31 and whom Layton replaces.

“Before I relinquish the bench to Judge Layton, I want all of you to know how proud and happy and gratified I am that I’m turning over my place to her,” Wallace said before stepping down.

After donning the black robe, Layton took her place at the bench.

“I’m so excited to serve the people of Richmond, Anson and Scotland counties and I’m so thankful I was appointed by the governor to Judge Wallace’s seat,” Layton said after thanking all those who came out. “I’m so honored to replace her and hope I can fill her shoes.”

She then thanked everyone who supported her, including family members.

“I have been blessed with many strong women in my life,” Layton said. “These women taught me to respect myself, as well as to respect others; and they showed me that hard work will eventually pay off.”

While thanking the law enforcement community for their support, even though they didn’t always agree on things, Layton said she would miss the 3 a.m. phone calls — then checked herself and admitted she’d probably still be getting them in requests to sign off on search warrants.

Prior to taking the oath, Layton was described by several colleagues — and sometimes-adversaries — as being fair.

“I know that she will be fair in the many matters that come before her,” said Rockingham attorney Benny Sharpe. “This fine lady has the added gift of having common sense,” he added, eliciting a chuckle from the audience.

After giving details on Layton’s background, lawyer Kelly Williams said she “earned her respect as being fair, she earned her respect as being just.”

He jokingly added that she honed her skills of tolerance and patience through her marriage to husband Ken.

“As we’ve all been associated with Dawn … working with her, working against her,” Williams added, “she has still remained honest and fair with common sense.” 

Layton, herself, also spoke about trying to be a fair prosecutor.

“As an ADA, I was always for the underdog,” she said. “I always tried to give people a second chance — I know, sometimes there was a third, fourth and a fifth chance — but I really tried to help people in my position as prosecutor.”

The prosecutor, she continued, is the most powerful person in the court system.

“It is the prosecutor who decides who is indicted, it is the prosecutor who decides what they’re indicted for, and it is the prosecutor who decides what the plea offer will be — if any,” Layton said. “With the stroke of your ink pen, you have an overwhelming effect on a person’s life that unfortunately has found theirself in your courtroom.”

She encouraged her former fellow prosecutors to “do the right thing, no matter how bad that messes your case up.”

“Convict, not because you can, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. 

Layton clarified that she is not soft on crime — especially when it comes to murder, rape and drug trafficking cases and habitual criminals.

“When I talk about defendants that we need to have mercy on, I’m talking about the young lady who agrees to hold her boyfriend’s dope,: she explained. “I’m talking about the young man who is trying to find his way … and agrees to ride with his so-called friends when they break into a house.

“Because the second chance that you give those young men and women may be a life-changing gift,” she continued. 

In closing, Layton said she would strive to continue to be “fair, honest and respectful to all who appear before me.”

“I promise to handle your case with integrity and impartiality and to be knowledgeable about the current state of the law,” she said. But most importantly, I promise you I will always do the right thing.”