After 21 years on the Forsyth County District Court bench, the Honorable Chester Davis is set to bang his gavel for the final time.
Davis, known as one of the county’s most colorful judges, is retiring Dec. 31. The 70-year-old has been practicing law for more than 40 years. Half of that time was spent in a judge’s robe. He was appointed to the local District Court in 1991 and then elected and reelected several times by the residents of Forsyth County.
“I still enjoy it,” Davis said of the work. “I still enjoy coming to work every morning; I’m just looking forward to a morning when I don’t have to be somewhere.”
Under state law, District Court judges are required to retire at 72, an age Davis would have reached mid-term had he decided to run for reelection this year. He opted to bow out instead. Voters picked Assistant District Attorney David Sipprell to replace Davis.
[pullquote]“I’ve been here 21 years and I haven’t been fired yet,” Davis said with a laugh. “I haven’t gotten it right yet, but I’m getting close.”[/pullquote]“I’ve been here 21 years and I haven’t been fired yet,” Davis said with a laugh. “I haven’t gotten it right yet, but I’m getting close.”
Members of the Winston-Salem Bar Association (WSBA) and others in the local legal community came together to fete Davis at a luncheon at the Piedmont Club Monday. The ever-growing crowd at the luncheon led Piedmont Club staffers to bring out stack after stack of chairs and additional tables.
Davis heard words of admiration that were tempered with a healthy dose of good natured ribbing. The judge’s penchant for golf, lottery tickets and his Shelby Cobra replica, which he has been known to race, are well-known within the legal community.
“For the past 10 years, I have watched the weather very closely,” quipped Judge Denise Hartsfield, whose chambers are next door to Davis’. “I knew if it was going to be over 60 degrees, the day would be very short for Judge Davis because he would go … play golf.”
Chief District Court Judge William “Bill” Reingold has served alongside Davis throughout Davis’ entire career on the bench.
“He’s a very, very unique individual, just many interests, and when he finds himself interested in something, he goes after it 100 percent,” Reingold said of Davis, who is also a retired Army colonel. “…I think Judge Davis has been an excellent judge and brought his unique background to the bench.”
Over the years, Davis has made a name for himself as a no-nonsense judge who isn’t afraid to make his opinion known, but colleagues and friends say his tough exterior is balanced by his unpretentious nature and keen sense of humor.
“Everybody calls him Chester because he puts on no airs. He just is what he is,” commented Attorney John Barrow, who is in private practice in Kernersville. “He’s a great guy. He takes care of the little guys out there who do what we do. You always feel comfortable in his courtroom.”
Attorney Eric Ellison, a member of the WSBA, said Davis’ presence on the bench will be missed.
“He was always fair, always willing to keep us entertained with his quick wit. He was always willing to listen to your case and the facts of your case, unless he had a tee time coming up,” Ellison joked.
Ellison, who has been practicing for over a decade, said Davis has always been supportive of the WSBA, which is made up of mostly African American lawyers and legal professionals.
“He always supported the local social functions of our bar, and throughout the years, I usually would find myself sitting with him and his wife (Susie Davis),” he recalled. “We developed quite a friendship. I am wholeheartedly sorry to see him go. It’s a big loss for our entire community. I just wish him well going forward.”
Attorney Loretta Biggs served with Davis on the District Court bench from 1991-1994. Biggs, who also served on the N.C. Court of Appeals and is now in private practice, described Davis as a “strong judge.”
“He relishes intricate or involved legal issues. He is a judge that is very focused and determined to follow the law. He’s a no nonsense guy. He will chastise attorneys as well as clients if they get on his wrong side. He is one that you can feel very certain he is going to, as best he can, follow the law,” she stated. “…I would say his knowledge of the law and his desire to follow it is his greatest asset. You don’t go to Chester for sympathy. You go to Chester when you have a strong legal argument.”
Davis had good things to say about his successor, Sipprell.
“I think he’ll do an excellent job,” Davis said. “He has, from what I can tell, the temperament and the intelligence to do an outstanding job.”
Davis said he will spend his retirement doing volunteer work along with his wife Susie and enjoying his many hobbies. He plans to also serve as an emergency, or fill-in, judge, and a mediator.