LUMBERTON — Robeson County District Court Judge Angelica Chavis McIntyre believes that it is her duty to honor the accomplishments of women who served before her by creating a brighter future for those coming after her.
The 29-year-old judge described it as being “surreal” to think that it has only been 100 years since women were given the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, much less place their name on an election ballot.
“I think it’s a responsibility that I have to help honor that legacy, and to me, you honor that legacy by doing things that better your community, that continue to pave the way for those around to succeed and outgrow any limitations that are placed on them by society,” she said.
While a lot of people who grow up in small towns dream of some day leaving, Chavis McIntyre’s dream was to give back to her town.
“I knew I wanted to come back home, back to Robeson County,” Chavis McIntyre said. “It gave a lot to me, so I wanted to do the same for people in my community.”
Chavis McIntyre was born and raised in the Pembroke area and is a graduate of Purnell Swett High School and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She attended law school at Campbell University School of Law. While there she interned at the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office each semester. After graduating, she took on a full-time position as a Robeson County assistant district attorney in 2013.
She knew since she was a small child that she wanted to be a judge, but it was while participating in teen court that she realized the impact practicing law can have on an individual’s life. Teen court is an alternative, voluntary program that offers young offenders an opportunity to make restitution for a nonviolent offense through community service, specialized classes and jury service, thus avoiding fines and keeping the juvenile’s record clear.
“It has actual cases where people are actually charged,” she said.
In teen court all the roles of the court are filled by teens, except for the judge, who is either a licensed attorney or actual judge. The lawyers, bailiff, clerk and jury members are all young people who volunteer their time to learning about the judicial system and serving their community.
“I got to be the prosecutor in teen court and that was my real first experience seeing how the law has the real ability to affect people’s lives and change the whole course of people’s future, so that started it for me,” Chavis McIntyre said. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Once Chavis McIntyre began practicing law, she was able to serve as the judge in teen court, giving her a small preview on what it would be like to take the bench. Her experience in the District Attorney’s Office also gave her an early snapshot of what she would face on the bench.
“I handled everything from traffic tickets all the way up to murders, so I gained a lot of experience very quickly,” she said. “I was very comfortable in the courtroom.”
Her choices and fast-pace career are what led to her becoming the youngest District Court judge in the state in 2019, at the age of 28. She now sits among three other female judges in Robeson County District Court.
“In the practice of law this was a man’s profession,” she said. “Women were not attorneys, and that slowly started to change. When I graduated law school our class had more men than women and that was unusual. I think when you start seeing the change in the law schools, you see that start to spill over to, not only courtrooms, but judges and women in roles that they traditionally weren’t.”
Chavis McIntyre cited back to the 1980s when there was only one female judge in Robeson County District Court, and she served only one term.
“That has shifted dramatically,” she said. “I think as long as you have judges that care about the community and follow the law and want to do things that are the right thing to do and help keep our community safe then it doesn’t matter what they are, but it’s nice that the bench reflects the community that it’s in. Diversity is always a good thing.”
More female representation on the bench is proof of the “positive change” Robeson County is thirsty for, Chavis McIntyre said.
“Equal justice for a brighter future” was the driving message of Chavis McIntyre’s election campaign, and her ultimate goal was to uphold that message.
“That means treating people fairly, making sure everyone is heard and everyone who walks through the doors of the Robeson County Courthouse has equal access to the court and an equal voice,” she said. “When you do that, you open yourself up to a brighter future.”
Some of the actions Chavis McIntyre has taken to better Robeson County’s future is holding repeat offenders accountable, assisting with bettering the homes of children and taking her knowledge to the school systems.
“I like to go to schools and talk to them about being a judge and what my job does, and giving them a different perspective on the court system,” she said. “I think that children need to hear from people in their community that it doesn’t matter what your situation was with your parents or your grandparents or your siblings, you are capable of achieving whatever it is you want to. I think that they need to hear that as many times as we can tell it to them.”
The judge also works to bring awareness of cyber crimes to teens in the school system.
“I speak with them about cyber bullying and sexting and the ramifications of that. Most of our children these days have devices and phones and iPads, and sometimes the parents are aware, but not always, of the potential dangers so I like to bring that message to the children themselves,” Chavis McIntyre said.
When McIntyre Chavis is not in the courtroom, she and her husband of nearly six years, Stephen McIntyre, are creating experiences for their 1-year-old son, Hamilton.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.