Judge Leavell resigns from the bench

Judge Bill Leavell in his signature bowtie. Leavell resigned effective July 29 due to health reasons.

By Jonathan Austin
Yancey County News

District Court Judge Bill Leavell, who was re-elected unopposed in November, has resigned due to health reasons.
Leavell, 58, resigned effective July 29.
 “I’m stepping down from this wonderful job to spend time with my beautiful wife, great kids, family, a supportive church family and loyal dogs,” he wrote in a letter sent to judges and other court staff. “My spirit is strong but my health is not,” he added.
Leavell and his family don’t want to disclose the details of his illness in blaring newspaper headlines, though he was willing to say that the “life-changing ailment” has forced the realization that he had to step down from the bench.
He said he had taken a medical leave earlier to have time to visit doctors for a diagnosis, but that continuing on leave wasn’t an option.
Leavell said he had no idea of the pending crisis when he filed for re-election in 2010. “I didn’t know,” he said. Leavell said he loved being a judge and had wanted to stay on the bench until the mandatory retirement age.
Contacted Tuesday, Leavell engaged in a touching and sometimes emotional conversation about his decision to leave the bench. “I’ve got some really good doctors that are working on this,” he said, and he has his faith: “God can do anything,” he said.
In his letter of resignation, Leavell tried to speak to all who have had a part in his career both as an attorney and as a judge.
“To my fellow judges, past and present, you have been pleasant colleagues To the clerks I’ve worked with, please accept heartfelt thanks for all you’ve done for me. To the lawyers I’ve worked with, I like you and I’ll miss you. To the public, thank you for electing me five times. I’ve been honest and have tried to make good decisions.”
Leavell was first elected in 1994 to the nonpartisan bench in District 24.
General statute gives the local bar association the responsibility for nominating up to three people to be considered to fill the empty judicial position.
“A vacancy in the office of district judge shall be filled for the unexpired term by appointment of the Governor from nominations submitted by the bar of the judicial district,” the law reads.
 “If there are not three persons who are available, the bar shall submit the names of two persons who meet the qualifications.”
The nominees do not need be of the same political party as the outgoing judge.
“Within 60 days after the district bar submits nominations for a vacancy, the governor shall appoint to fill the vacancy. If the governor fails to appoint a district bar nominee within 60 days, then the district bar nominee who received the highest number of votes from the district bar shall fill the vacancy. If the district bar fails to submit nominations within 30 days from the date the vacancy occurs, the governor may appoint to fill the vacancy without waiting for nominations.
A court source said the bar had scheduled a meeting to consider nominations for the post.
Leavell, who lives in Bakersville, is married to Cyndi Leavell. They have two school-age children.
Asked how he was doing physically, Leavell replied: “I’m not in any discomfort or pain or anything. My wife is a former nurse, and her mother is a former nurse. I’m going to be well taken care of.”