When Meredith Shuford goes into a courthouse these days, she stands at the opposite side of the judge’s bench.
Shuford had a long and distinguish career as a Cleveland and Lincoln County District Court Judge. She lost her seat after a contentious election in 2020.
Serving a total of 14 years, Shuford was initially appointed as a judge in 2007 by Gov. Mike Easley,
“Multiple attorneys applied and were interviewed, but I received the appointment,” she said. “This was a new position. I applied because I thought there were things that I could do that would be beneficial to the community. I didn’t have to run against any sitting judge. I’ve always respected people who were holding that position and performing their duties. I loved the job.”
That initial appointment lasted two years and Shuford was elected for three more terms after that. To date, she’s the only Lincoln County woman to serve as a district court judge and the second woman for the Cleveland and Lincoln County district.
After graduating from Lincolnton High School, Shuford studied communications at North Carolina State University with the intention of working for an advertising company.
“I worked for three years in that field in Charlotte,” she said. “I have a minor in journalism and really enjoyed writing. In three years, I worked in three different places and I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled by marketing for a clothing company or a business. I realized how easily transferable my skills would be to practicing law. I grew up with a lawyer as a father, so I knew what he did. I decided to go back to school to be a lawyer to help people with more pertinent issues with their lives rather than the color of blue jeans they bought.”
Practicing for 10 years as a lawyer before she was appointed as a judge, Shuford initially worked with her father and his partner in downtown Lincolnton. Her father retired after Shuford became a judge, but she still frequently discusses the law with him.
“It drives my mom and my sister crazy,” she said.
While she served as a judge, the two courtrooms that were Shuford’s favorites because they were the most challenging were domestic violence and juvenile abuse and neglect.
“Those were my most memorable and hardest trials,” she said. “I’ve had cases involving deaths of children and domestic violence cases where the person who was assaulted looks me in the eye, with blood in their eyes due to trauma, telling me what happened to them. It’s important for them to have that opportunity to speak about it and to let them know that they’ve been heard. With some cases, especially with domestic violence, you hear from those people very soon after it happens. With a lot of the more serious criminal cases, it’s often several years before they get heard.”
The former judge has also had a lot of memorable custody cases.
“For some of these kids, especially middle school students, it’s the most important thing to them – where they’re going to live and when they’re going to visit,” she said. “The older they get, the more they just want to see their friends.”
If there were difficult decisions to be made, Shuford would often take several days or even a week to make sure that she felt good about the decision before she made the ruling.
“The majority of my decisions were made within minutes, at least in simple cases,” she said. “If I couldn’t decide, I’d take a break. Some of the custody cases – for example there was one where I allowed a child to relocate to another country, that was huge. I’d sleep on that kind of decision for several days. I feel confident I made the right decisions.”
The problem with most of the cases that Shuford heard was that she was never able to make both sides happy.
Shuford will now be practicing family law for the general law practice of Teddy, Meekins & Talbert, PLLC in Shelby. She’ll be opening an office at 908 Dontia Drive in Lincolnton which will expand the firm to Lincoln County.
Instead of making the decisions, she’ll now be advocating for her clients.
“I enjoyed working in the community where I grew up,” she said. “People expressed a sense of pride that their friend, classmate, member of their church and community became a judge so I felt a huge responsibility to earn and keep that respect. I became a better person because I had to set an example.”