Nancy Lee, 52, knew from a young age she would be a lawyer.
“I grew up in the Balls Creek/Newton area,” Lee said. “My third-grade teacher told me I talked too much and that I was destined for law school.” Lee went home to her mother that day and told her that is what she would do.
In high school, Lee started an internship at the district attorney’s office in Newton. “It was over from there," she said. "I knew what I was destined to do.”
Lee was mainly interested in criminal law and prosecution. She completed her undergraduate studies in criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned her law degree from North Carolina Central University.
Lee tackled child sex cases for 21 years. “I’ve done child sex cases for a long time as well as homicides,” she said.
One of her most treasured items from that time was a drawing given to her by a child. “He drew a picture of our trial,” she said. It shows the child sitting on the stand, the defendant in chains and Lee speaking in court.
“This trial in particular was a really heart-wrenching case,” she said. “I believe the child was 7 at the time, and he got up there and told his experience. You never know with a child what you are going to get when they go to the stand, but he did such a fantastic job.”
Lee said there are many sides to her job and that there is a balance with each case. “It’s just as important to communicate and talk to the victims and their families as anything when we start a case off. The x’s and the o’s and the arguing, that skill comes with time and experience. That’s the part of the job that I love is telling people’s stories, and most of them, unfortunately, are tragedies.”
Lee said being from Catawba County does have an impact on how she approaches her role. “It does in that I’m even more invested in outcomes to make sure our community is safe,” she said. “It’s where my family and friends live and it’s a great responsibility. I want to make this area a wonderful place to live and I want to do my part to help.”
In the next stage of her career, Lee joined the Catawba County District Attorney’s Office in January to serve as the chief homicide prosecutor.
One of Lee’s primary goals is to tackle as many as possible of the 20-plus murder cases on the court docket in Catawba County in 2021.
“For me, it’s immersing myself into the cases and getting to know them since I’ve been in Caldwell and Burke for a really long time,” she said. “A lot of scheduling issues is what we are trying to work on. ... It’s a unique time to be a prosecutor, especially with serious cases.”
Lee’s office reflects her love for sports. She has a baseball signed by Hickory-born Madison Bumgarner. “I like some baseball,” she said. “I’m a Yankees fan.”
Lee said she played for the Bandys High School softball team and was a member of the 1985 team that won the state title. “I was a pitcher," she said. "It was great, and I still have contact with a lot of those folks.”
Lee also played basketball for Bandys. “(Our coach) would always start our practice with, 'Are you going to be better or worse than you were yesterday?' Because you never stayed the same.”
Lee said part of her job is to be a role model to the next generation of lawyers.
She offered this advice: “I think that there’s really no substitute for hard work and experience, and the only way you can get experience is jumping in and eagerly pursuing the case subject matter you are passionate about.”