Outstanding Judge of the Year Award

Since 1998, the NCAWA Judicial Division has periodically presented the Outstanding Judge of the Year Award to North Carolina judges who have contributed to the judiciary, NCAWA, and the community. 


2021 Outstanding Judge of the Year Award Winners


Chief Judge Donna Stroud, North Carolina Court of Appeals

Personal Background

Chief Judge Donna S. Stroud was born in Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina in 1964. She has been married to J. Wilson Stroud since 1986, and they have two adult sons. Judge Stroud is a member of The Shepherd’s Church in Cary, North Carolina.

Educational Background

Chief Judge Stroud received her Juris Doctor cum laude from the Campbell University School of Law in 1988. In law school, she ranked first in class for each year of law school and upon graduation. She worked as a Research Assistant for Dean F. Leary Davis and Professor Thomas Anderson. She also was a candidate member of the Campbell University Law Review and served as Notes and Comments Editor and a case summary writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She received the Branch Banking and Trust Estate Planning Award.

In May 2014, she graduated from the Duke University School of Law LL.M. program in Judicial Studies as a member of its charter class. Her thesis from this program has been published in the Campbell Law Review, The Bottom of the Iceberg: Unpublished Opinions, 37 Campbell L. Rev. 333 (2015).

Chief Judge Stroud graduated from Campbell University, summa cum laude, with a BA in Government in 1985. She graduated from Kinston High School in 1982.


Chief Judge Donna S. Stroud was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals in November 2006 and re-elected without opposition in 2014. She was appointed as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals effective January 1, 2021.

Before her service as a judge, Chief Judge Stroud was in private practice of law from 1988 until 2004, when she was elected as a District Court Judge in Wake County. While in private practice, Chief Judge Stroud was also a certified Superior Court mediator and a District Court arbitrator. Chief Judge Stroud served as a Family Court Judge while on the District Court.

Chief Judge Stroud has been teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Campbell University School of Law since 2008, teaching Judicial Process and Juvenile Law.

Judge Stroud was admitted to the North Carolina bar on September 16, 1988, and to the bar of the United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina in 1991.

Professional Organizations

Over the years, Chief Judge Stroud has been a member of many professional organizations. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association and currently serves on the Appellate Rules Committee and Women in the Profession Committee. Judge Stroud has done many presentations at educational programs for the North Carolina Bar Association, the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, and other legal organizations as well as continuing judicial education programs for District Court Judges and Superior Court judges. She is currently a member of the Judicial Division of American Bar Association. She is a member of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys and has served as Chair of the Judicial Division. She is also a member of the Craven Everett Inn of Court, the Wake County Bar Association, and the 10th Judicial District Bar Association.

Boards and Commissions

Chief Judge Stroud serves as Chair of the Chief Justice’s Rules Advisory Commission. She also serves on the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, the Family Court Advisory Commission, and the North Carolina Courts Commission. She served as an ex officio member of the Dispute Resolution Committee and Mediation Coordinator for the Court of Appeals. In 2015, she was appointed by Governor Pat McCrory to the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use.

Honors and Awards

  • Wake Woman of the Year, Wake Women Attorneys Association, 2017.
  • Campbell University Distinguished Campbell University Association Distinguished Alumna, 2016
  • Campbell University Distinguished Alumna, History, Criminal Justice, and Political Science Department, 2015
  • General Federation of Women’s Club of N.C., Women of Achievement Award, 2014
  • Community Activities

Over the years Judge Stroud has been active in many community and civic activities, including: Sir Walter Cabinet; Wendell Chamber of Commerce, President, 1994; Wendell Chamber of Commerce, Director, 1990-1993; Zebulon Junior Woman’s Club, 1995-2001; President, Zebulon Junior Woman’s Club, 2000-2001; Zebulon Woman’s Club, 2002-2004; Zebulon Baptist Church - Sunday School teacher, administrative deacon, trustee, Sanctuary Choir, handbell choir; and Zebulon Parks and Recreation Youth Sports Sponsor.


Judge Phyllis Gorham, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge,

5th Judicial District (New Hanover and Pender Counties)


Educational Background

Judge Phyllis Gorham received her law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1990 and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1983.

Judge Gorham was admitted to the North Carolina Bar in 1991.


Judge Gorham is the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for the Fifth Judicial District, New Hanover and Pender Counties. She was appointed by Governor Michael Easley in 2007 and elected in 2008. She was appointed District Court Judge in 2005 and elected in 2006.

Before taking the bench, Judge Gorham was an Assistant District Attorney in the 6th Prosecutorial District (New Hanover and Pender Counties), an attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina in Durham, N.C., an Interim Assistant Police Attorney for the Durham Police Department and an associate attorney in private practice in Goldsboro, N.C.

Professional Organizations

Judge Gorham is a member of the 6th Judicial District Bar, having previously served in the position of Secretary/Treasurer and President. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association, where she served a term as Vice-President and was a BarCares Committee member.

Boards and Commissions

Judge Gorham serves as Chair of the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission. She is a member of the Chief Justice’s Taskforce on ACEs-Informed Courts. Judge Gorham is the current President of the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges. She served as a board member on the North Carolina Rural Courts Commission. She served as Chair of the New Hanover County Department of Social Services board of Directors prior to her  appointment as district court judge. 

Judge Gorham has served on several boards in the community and is active in her church.


Judge Gorham is a graduate of the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service Summer Institute.


  • She is a recipient of the North Carolina Women of Achievement Award.

Judge Gorham is the first woman to serve as a superior court judge in the Fifth Judicial and the first woman to serve as Senior Resident Judge in the district. She is the first woman to serve as Chair of the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission and the first woman to serve as President of the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges.

Her hometown is Fountain (Pitt County), North Carolina.



Judge Debra Sasser, District Court Judge,

10th Judicial District (Wake County)


After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree from Oklahoma State University, Judge Sasser began her first career as a computer systems analyst. She entered law school almost a decade later at the University of North Carolina School of Law and graduated with High Honors. Judge Sasser then began her second career as a civil litigator. 

In 1999, Judge Sasser became Associate Counsel for the North Carolina Guardian Ad Litem Program which advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children. Her responsibilities included developing and presenting training programs on pertinent issues such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Judge Sasser subsequently opened her own law practice focusing on alternative dispute resolution. She worked as a litigator, a certified mediator, an arbitrator, and a Rule 53 referee. She also volunteered her time as CLE Committee Chair and Board Member for the Wake County Bar Association, and on the Tenth Judicial District Bar Association’s Grievance and Fee Dispute Resolution Committees. In 2002, Judge Sasser received the Wake County Bar Association President’s Award for Excellence. 

Judge Sasser was elected to the Wake County District Court bench in 2004. She became Chief Judge during the height of the pandemic in September 2020. She kept Wake County district courts open while implementing various strategies, including remote hearings and social distancing policies, to keep employees and litigants safe. She has also been instrumental in preparing for the launch of the statewide case management system in Wake County. Judge Sasser is an extremely intelligent, hard-working, and focused judge. She has the ability to solve big problems while paying close attention to details. During her judicial career, she willingly served on committees that perform tedious but essential functions such as the Administrative Office of the Court’s Juvenile Forms Subcommittee, the Administrative Office of the Court’s Civil Forms Subcommittee, and the Court Improvement Conference Planning Committee. She is a patient, compassionate and generous jurist that mentors her colleagues and trains new lawyers. She spent countless hours reviewing forms for self-represented litigants and speaking at continuing education programs. She currently serves on the Conference of District Court Judge’s Education Committee. 

Judge Sasser is also active in her community as a member of the Edenton Street United Methodist Church and a former volunteer at the Wake County SPCA and Meals on Wheels.


 Outstanding Judge of the Year Recipients

  • 2019  Justice Cheri Beasley
  • 2018  Judge Yvonne Mims Evans, Judge Rebecca Thorne Tin
  • 2017  Judge Linda Stephens
  • 2016  Judge Marcia Moray
  • 2014  Judge Wanda Bryant
  • 2008  Judge Kimberly Taylor
  • 2007  Judge Shelly Holt
  • 2006  Judge Allyson K. Duncan
  • 2005  Judge Jane V. Harper
  • 2004  Judge Joyce (Joy) Hamilton
  • 2002  Justice Sarah Parker
  • 2000  Judge A. Elizabeth Keever
  • 1999  Judge Linda M. McGee
  • 1998  Judge Shirley L. Fulton