IN RE INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE, NO. 18-070 ANGELA C. FOSTER, Respondent
counsel for Judicial Standards Commission or respondent.
matter is before the Court pursuant to N.C. G.S. §§
7A-376 and -377 upon a recommendation by the Judicial
Standards Commission entered on 23 May 2019 that respondent
Angela C. Foster, a Judge of the General Court of Justice,
District Court Division, Judicial District Eighteen, be
censured for conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 3A(3), and
3A(4) of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, and for
conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that
brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of
N.C. G.S. § 7A-376. This matter was calendared for
argument in the Supreme Court on 28 August 2019, but was
determined on the record without briefs or oral argument
pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of
Appellate Procedure and Rule 3 of the Rules for Supreme Court
Review of Recommendations of the Judicial Standards
issue before the Court is whether District Court Judge Angela
C. Foster, respondent, should be censured for violations of
Canons 1, 2A, 3A(3), and 3A(4) of the North Carolina Code of
Judicial Conduct amounting to conduct prejudicial to the
administration of justice that brings the judicial office
into disrepute in violation of N.C. G.S. § 7A-376(b).
Respondent has not challenged the findings of fact made by
the Judicial Standards Commission (the Commission) or opposed
the Commission's recommendation that she be censured by
August 2018, Commission Counsel filed a Statement of Charges
against respondent alleging that she had engaged in conduct
inappropriate to her judicial office by making inappropriate
comments; by failing to remain patient, dignified, and
courteous with the parties appearing before her; by failing
to provide every person legally interested in a proceeding,
or the person's lawyer, the full right to be heard
according to the law; and by abusing the contempt power.
Respondent fully cooperated with the Commission's inquiry
into this matter. In the Statement of Charges, Commission
Counsel asserted that respondent's actions constituted
willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the
administration of justice that brings the judicial office
into disrepute or otherwise constituted grounds for
disciplinary proceedings under Chapter 7A, Article 30 of the
North Carolina General Statutes.
filed her answer on 11 September 2018. On 26 March 2019,
Commission Counsel and respondent entered into a Stipulation
and Agreement for Stated Disposition (the Stipulation)
containing joint evidentiary, factual, and disciplinary
stipulations as permitted by Commission Rule 22 that tended
to support a decision of censure. The Stipulation was filed
with the Commission on 2 April 2019. The Commission heard
this matter on 12 April 2019 and entered its recommendation
that same day, which contains the following stipulated
findings of fact:
1. On or about January 2, 2018, Respondent presided over a
contempt hearing in Morrow v. Livesay, Guilford
County File No. 15CVD5571. The matter was calendared by the
defendant Jeffery Livesay against the plaintiff Kathi Morrow,
to determine whether Ms. Morrow should be held in contempt
after the parties' fifteen (15) year old twin sons, who
reside with her, refused to visit with their father Mr.
Livesay during the winter holiday.
2. At the contempt hearing on or about January 2, 2018, Ms.
Morrow's counsel appeared on her behalf and objected to
the court's consideration of the contempt motion on the
grounds that Ms. Morrow received insufficient notice of the
3. Respondent acknowledged counsel's objection as to
timely notice of the hearing, but instead of continuing the
matter, ordered Ms. Morrow and the twin boys to appear in
court within thirty (30) minutes. At that time, Respondent
stated that "I'm not saying that we're going
through with the hearing, but you need to call your client
and tell her to get here because I have a few choice words
that I need to say to her . . . ." Respondent further
stated that "the boys need to come . . . so that they
can hear that their mother can go to jail for their behavior
. . . "[a]nd [sic] if a child wants their parent to go
to jail, I got a problem with that as well."
4. When Ms. Morrow and the teenage twin boys arrived,
Respondent convened the hearing again and asked Ms. Morrow
and her sons to stand, and swore them in as if to give
testimony. At that time, Respondent began to question the two
boys regarding their refusal to participate in the court
ordered visitation with their father and inquired of the boys
whether they understood that their mother could be
incarcerated for contempt if they continued to resist
visitation with their father.
5. After the boys told Respondent that they would rather have
their mother go to jail than visit with their father,
Respondent became deeply concerned and stated "my
children would never allow me to go to jail for any reason
whatsoever . . . I'm appalled because my children respect
me so much they would never allow that to happen."
Respondent vigorously questioned and explained the profound
significance and detrimental impact their refusal to visit
with their father would have on themselves and their mother.
6. After hearing from the boys that they had an understanding
of the consequences of their refusal to comply with a court
order, Respondent then ordered the bailiff to handcuff Ms.
Morrow and place her in a holding cell. Ms. Morrow's
counsel immediately objected to the decision to put her into
custody because no contempt hearing had taken place and
neither counsel nor his client were given an opportunity to
be heard. Respondent nevertheless instructed the bailiff to
take Ms. Morrow to a holding cell over her counsel's
7. After Ms. Morrow was handcuffed and removed from the
courtroom, Respondent again asked the twin boys to stand and
then proceeded to convey to them how "appalled" she
was at their behavior and how "ashamed" they should
be of themselves for allowing their mother to go to jail for
their behavior. During this colloquy, Respondent also
lectured the twin boys about her personal experiences as a
parent as well as her experiences as a certified juvenile
judge. Respondent shared personal stories, as well as
disturbing cases she had presided over where children had
suffered unfortunate outcomes.
8. Respondent informed the boys that if their mother was
found in contempt, she would go to jail for sixty (60) days
and explained that meant they would be in their father's
custody for that entire time. Respondent appealed to the
boys' sense of reason by questioning whether it made more
sense to spend six (6) days of visitation with their father
as originally ordered, or sixty (60) days while their mother
was incarcerated. The boys finally relented and agreed to
visit their father.
9. After reaching this understanding with the boys,
Respondent then asked to have Ms. Morrow brought back into
the courtroom and commented "as far as your full-blown
hearing, it is going to be continued. You two need to pick a
date because I do not believe that you [had] enough time to
10. At the conclusion of the hearing, both parties thanked
Respondent for her efforts trying to resolve the boys'
refusal to visit with their father.
11. Respondent believed that her actions in ordering Ms.
Morrow to be handcuffed and put into custody without a
hearing, opportunity to be heard, or written order were
appropriate to deescalate an unfortunate situation and
resolve the visitation issues without further involving the
Court. Respondent has previously placed litigants in
temporary custody for a short "cooling-off period"
without an opportunity to be heard and found that practice to
be successful in getting litigants to comply with the
Court's directives. After such temporary detention,