Juanita Boger-Allen always knew she wanted to work in the justice system. A childhood mentor sparked a desire to become an attorney when she grew up, and that journey took her to Michigan and even the military before a sudden pull drew her back to her hometown in Concord.
And then it became about helping people.
Boger-Allen worked in family and criminal law for several years, serving as the Cabarrus County lawyer handling child support, abuse and neglect cases. But when the opportunity arose to run for district court judge, she knew here lay a chance to touch even more lives.
“The way I look at it is that I can affect more people in a positive way than what I come in contact with as an attorney,” she said. “I just thought it was time. For instance, if I have 200 clients, I may have double that in one day that I encounter as a judge. I think just being a face that they can see and they can look and the community can say, ‘Oh, well, she grew up just like we did, and she’s done positive things, and she doesn’t have to be a reality star.’
“We have our role models right here in the community that we can touch, so if I can do that in a greater way, that’s what I wanted to do.”
The fact that she’s the first African-American elected to a judgeship in the county is just icing on the cake.
“It does [mean something]; it’s an honor,” she said. “In 2018, you’d think that it would have occurred, but it’s been a journey to get here. I am honored to be in this place, not necessarily to say the first—it just so happens that I am the first—but I’m just so honored to be given the opportunity to serve as a district court judge, and if I happen to be the first, then I happen to be the first, and we’ll celebrate that.”
Boger-Allen won the race for N.C. District Court Judge, District 19A, Seat 2, in the General Election last week. The Democrat beat out two Republican challengers and will replace Judge Donna Johnson, who was the first woman elected as judge in Cabarrus County. Johnson decided to retire at the end of her term.
A 1987 Concord High School graduate, Boger-Allen was born and raised in Cabarrus County. She went to elemetnary and middle school in the area and even had current Concord City Council member Ella Mae Small as a teacher in second grade.
"She was one of my favorite students," Small said. "I knew she was always willing to help the other children, to help me. She was a very bright young lady and had the most beautiful handwriting. Even at that young age, I recognized that she had a special talent. I thought she would be a teacher, and I think she became a lawyer, which I think is much better.
"She has done wonderful, I think, in her career. I would say I'm very proud of her."
And Boger-Allen said her hometown has always had a special place in her heart.
“It’s cliché, I want to go back and be a blessing to my community,” she said. “But I really did, and so I came back. Because I grew up here, I just had the love for Cabarrus County. It was important.”
As an attorney, Boger-Allen practiced primarily criminal and family law with a bit of estate planning, as well. She is nationally certified in child welfare law, and served as the Cabarrus County attorney for nine years on child welfare cases.
“People think it’s about litigation, but really to me it’s about when I can help a family come to a decision for themselves,” she said. “That’s rewarding to let them know, hey, you have this in you. And when it’s dealing with your child, you should be in a place where you can come together and do what’s in the best interest of your child.
“So I like to help reunify families.”
And Boger-Allen takes that attitude with her to all aspects of the law.
“Even criminal law, helping people know that this is not the end, even though you may have made a mistake,” she said. “You can still get back to a place where that can be your past, and you can move forward. So to me it’s just showing people that there can be lights at the end of whatever situation that you’re in.”
Boger-Allen will see cases spanning traffic violations, misdemeanor crimes, divorce, domestic disputes child welfare and small claims court appeals once she takes the bench in January. And given that she grew up in the Logan community of Concord and currently works as a single mom, she said she feels she can relate to many of the people who walk through the courthouse doors.
“I’ve had to do it as a woman, and I’ve had to juggle,” she said. “You may have court, and then they call and say, ‘I forgot my lunch.’ Unless you’ve been there, how can you just look at it with a broad perspective?”
Now the journey has ended on her efforts to become a judge, and Boger-Allen stares in the face of taking a seat behind the gavel in a few months. She said part of her can’t believe this is real.
“I am very excited, looking forward to how I can serve the community that I grew up in,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve processed it yet. I think I’m still in shock and amazement. I’m just thankful that I earned the confidence of so many people, and I want to show them that I’m here to serve, and I just think of myself as being the people’s judge.”