It’s a new day in North Carolina’s courts system with the election of State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby. Newby, a Republican, was sworn in on the first day of the year and has wasted no time overseeing the installation of Republican loyalists in key administrative office positions.
First up is Andrew Heath, a Wake County superior court judge and former McCrory administration official who, on Friday, assumed the director’s role of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (or AOC). Heath succeeds McKinley Wooten, Jr., a state employee of nearly three decades, and the first African American to serve in the position after former chief justice Cheri Beasley promoted him from serving on an interim basis last March.
Heath—who served as chair of the Industrial Commission (2013), a superior court judge (2016), and director of the state budget office (2016-2017) under former governor Pat McCrory before an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2018—will oversee more than 6,400 employees working in hundreds of courthouse facilities in all counties to administer judicial services.
“[Heath’s] broad experience and in-depth wisdom gained in the Judicial Branch and throughout state government make him an excellent choice for this important work,” Chief Justice Newby said in a press release. “Judge Heath stands ready to work with courts statewide to assist and equip them with the resources and equipment they need to administer equal justice for all.”
But wait, there’s more.
As first reported by NC Policy Watch, Heath has swiftly made some personnel changes of his own. In an internal memo to judicial branch employees sent out on Friday, Heath’s first day on the job, Heath announced his intentions to continue “transitioning to fulfill the mission of the Judicial Branch” via “several changes in leadership positions” that became effective Monday.
First, Ryan Boyce was selected to lead Court Programs and Services as well as Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. Boyce worked as senior counsel for policy in the AOC for two years before his most recent job serving as general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction under then-state superintendent Mark Johnson (a Republican).
Next, Trey Allen, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s school of government and former clerk to Justice Newby, will serve as general counsel.
Maureen Wingfield, an independent business consultant and data analyst, will provide administrative support in the AOC’s Research, Policy, and Planning Division.
Finally, Alexis Berg, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Peace, War, and Defense according to her LinkedIn, was hired as Heath’s executive assistant. Berg’s mother, April Wood, is an N.C. appellate court judge, a Republican who joined the court earlier this month following Judge Wanda Bryant’s retirement.
Including Wooten, Jr., five career employees at the AOC were forced to resign, according to NC Policy Watch, including former deputy director Danielle Carman; former general counsel Tina Krasner; Mildred Spearman, head of the Organization Learning and Development Division; and Andrew Simpson, the chief counsel for Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Newby succeeds Cheri Beasley, the first African American woman to serve as the North Carolina Supreme Court’s chief justice when she was appointed last February after serving on the state’s highest court since 2012. Beasley lost reelection to Newby by just a few hundred votes.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.