Justice’s Book Recalls a Progressive High Court In an Age Of Conservatism In NC

By Amber Nimocks

With a gruesome murder at its core and a made-for-TV plotline, the 1988 case State v. Hennis provided a salacious backdrop for one of the N.C. Supreme Court’s most controversial decisions. It was, writes N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis in his recently published book, “one of the most hotly debated decisions ever issued by the Exum Court.”

A divided court ruled in Hennis that Army Master Sgt. Timothy Hennis, convicted of murder in the deaths of Kathryn Eastburn and two of her daughters in Fayetteville, had been deprived of a fair trial. Photographs of the scene and the bodies that the prosecutor showed the jury had prejudicial impact, the court ruled.

The case stands as an example of the willingness of the Exum Court to boldly enforce constitutional and procedural rights, one of the themes of Davis’ book, “A Warren Court of Our Own: The Exum Court and the Expansion of Individual Rights in North Carolina.”

Hennis is one of dozens of decisions Davis unpacks in the book’s 207 pages, as he takes a close look at how the state’s high court made a progressive name for itself while Jim Exum served as chief justice from 1986 to 1994 – a time when Ronald Reagan and George Bush occupied the White House, Jim Martin served as governor and Jesse Helms loomed large in national politics.

Members of the NCAJ, then known as the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, figure throughout, including NCAJ Past President Gordon Widenhouse, a criminal defense attorney and former law clerk for Exum. Widenhouse described the Exum Court as “willing to say, ‘You know, the procedure matters. The statutory rights matter. The constitutional right matters. And it makes no difference how bad the person’s act is … they’re still entitled to the full panoply of protections that the statutes and constitution gives you.’ So, I think you see that with the Exum Court across the board.”

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Announcing NCAJ Judicial Endorsement Microsite and Member Toolkit

We are thrilled to announce the official launch of our advocacy and awareness campaign for Election 2020: The Vote’s in Your Court, North Carolina.

As part of the launch of the campaign, NCAJ has released a microsite — VoteYourCourtNC.org — to promote our slate of endorsements for the state’s 2020 appellate judicial elections to be held Nov. 3.

The microsite for this new judicial advocacy campaign is designed not only to promote NCAJ’s endorsements but also to educate voters about why judicial elections are so important. At stake in the upcoming elections are three seats on the Supreme Court of North Carolina and five seats on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

With your help, we can ensure North Carolina voters will elect candidates who will advance the mission of NCAJ and the cause of our clients.

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NCAJ In Favor Of Adding Anti-Discrimination Language To State Bar RPC

NCAJ supports adding anti-discrimination language to the North Carolina State Bar’s Rules of Professional Responsibility, an issue the State Bar’s Ethics Committee addressed during a special meeting today.

The State Bar is considering adding anti-discrimination language in three contexts: as a change to the preamble, as adoption of Model Rule 8.4(d), and as a proposed comment to Rule 1.1 (Competency) on awareness of implicit bias and cultural competency.

During Thursday’s meeting, the committee voted 23-5 that a proposed change to the preamble be published for comment. State Bar Councilors will review that decision at their meeting tomorrow. As for a potential rule or comment to the rule change, the Ethics Committee suggested employing a subcommittee to study the issue of whether to amend Rule 8.4(d). After a unanimous vote to study a rule change, Ethics Committee Chair David Allen indicated that he will accept recommendations of Ethics Committee members to serve on the subcommittee. Regarding a potential comment to Rule 1.1, the Ethics Committee suggested employing a separate subcommittee to study the issue. The committee voted unanimously to move forward with appointing a subcommittee.

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