James U. Downs

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James Uriah "Jud" Downs

North Carolina Superior Court Judge for the 8th Judicial Division
In office
1983 – September 1, 2013
Succeeded by William H. Coward

Born September 15, 1941
Shreveport, Louisiana
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Sue Downs (married 1975-1988, divorced)

(2) Sherry Sorrells Downs (married 2004)[1]

Children Kat Downs Mulder

J. Earl Downs and Helen Whitener Downs
U. T. Downs (grandfather)
Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs (uncle)
Jam Downs (cousin)
Alice Daigre Downs Thomas (aunt by marriage)

Residence Franklin, Macon County

North Carolina

Alma mater Virginia Military Institute

Loyola University New Orleans School of Law

Occupation Attorney and retired judge

Military Service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Captain

James Uriah Downs, sometimes known as Jud Downs (born September 15, 1941), is a retired senior resident superior court judge whose jurisdiction included five counties of District 30A in the 8th Judicial Division of western North Carolina. A Democrat, he was appointed to the court in 1983 by then Governor James B. Hunt, the year before Hunt temporarily left the governorship in an unsuccessful campaign against Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. After Downs retired from the bench in 2013, he returned to the private practice of law, with an office in his adopted city of Franklin in Macon County, North Carolina.


A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, Downs graduated in 1963 from Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He received his law degree in 1966 from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in New Orleans. He served for two years in the United States Army from 1966 to 1968 and was discharged at the rank of captain.[2]

Judge Downs is descended from a political family with roots in Rapides Parish in Central Louisiana. His grandfather, Uriah Thomas Downs, a mercantile businessman, was the mayor of Pineville, Louisiana, from 1914 to 1924 and the sheriff of Rapides Parish, based in Alexandria, from 1924 to 1940.[3] U. T. Downs died the same year that his namesake grandson was born.

Judge Downs's father, J. Earl Downs, an educator-turned-businessman served from 1954 to 1962 as the public safety commissioner, a citywide position in Shreveport under the then city commission form of government. Earl Downs was unseated in the Democratic primary by George Wendell D'Artois, Sr. (1925-1977).[4] On their retirements, prior to 1985, Downs's father and mother, Earl and Helen Whitener Downs (1908-2007), retired to Franklin, North Carolina, to be near the judge and his family. Earl and Helen Downs are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Franklin.[5]

Judge Downs's uncle, Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs, was a member of both houses of the Louisiana legislature]] in the 1940s and the 1950s and an advisor to Governors Earl Kemp Long and John J. McKeithen. A former educator, Sammy Downs practiced law in Alexandria, Louisiana.[6] Judge Downs's cousin, Jam Downs, is the retired district attorney for Rapides Parish. His aunt by marriage, Alice Daigre Downs Thomas, the mother of Jam Downs and the first wife of Sammy Downs, was a sister of Louis J. Daigre, Jr., a prominent consulting engineer in Alexandria.[7]

After his original appointment to the court, Judge Downs was elected to the bench four times without opposition. He presided over numerous capital murder trials and many complex civil trials. According to the Macon County News, he was "known for his fairness and integrity."[2]

Judge Downs retired when he reached the mandatory age of seventy-two on September 1, 2013. In the spring of 2014, he joined the law firm of Sigmon, Clark, Mackie, Hanvey, and Ferrell in Hickory in Catawba County, North Carolina. He also maintains an office in Franklin. His expertise centers upon eminent domain, wills, trusts, property disputes, and employment matters.[2]

According to The Asheville Citizen-Times in Asheville, North Carolina, Downs:

By all accounts, ... carried out his duties with wisdom and impartiality, running an efficient courtroom and clearing dockets like a judiciary machine. And he did so with a benevolent iron fist and the occasional bark that let the courtroom know he would suffer no lawyerly shenanigans or failures to follow his procedures.[8]

Republican Governor Pat McCrory appointed William H. "Bill" Coward (born 1958), an attorney in Cashiers in Jackson County, to succeed Judge Downs. Coward is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of North Carolina School of Law. He has been affiliated with the firm of Coward, Hicks & Siler. For fifteen years, he was the town attorney for Highlands in Macon County. The superior court district includes besides Macon the counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, and Swain.[9]


  1. All Marriage & Divorce results for James Uriah Downs. search.ancestry.com. Retrieved on October 19, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Judge Downs returns to private practice," The Macon County (North Carolina) News, April 17, 2014.
  3. Henry E. Chambers, A History of Louisiana: Wilderness, Colony, Province, Territory, State, People, (Chicago and New York City: American Historical Society, Inc., 1925), pp. 245-246.
  4. Bill Keith (2009). The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 81. ISBN 9781-58980-655-9. Retrieved on October 20, 2020. 
  5. James Earl Downs. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on October 20, 2020.
  6. Crawford H. "Sammy" Downs. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on October 20, 2020.
  7. Obituary of Alice Daigre Downs Thomas, Alexandria Town Talk, August 22, 1994.
  8. Barbara Blake, "A profile of the colorful Judge James Uriah Downs: Superior Court Judge James U. Downs ruled with wit and wisdom, balancing humor with razor-sharp judiciary skills," The Asheville Citizen-Times, October 5, 2013.
  9. Quintin Ellison (October 2, 2013). Bill Coward to be sworn in as Superior Court resident judge. The Sylva Herald. Retrieved on October 20, 2020.