Here’s How We Will Pivot During This Pandemic | A Message from Executive Director Kim Crouch

Let me begin this message by pausing to check on each of you during this COVID-19 pandemic. In this unprecedented time, I know we are all working rapidly to respond to the needs of our clients and colleagues. I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and your families as well.

COVID-19 is not just a public health crisis but also an economic crisis. The days, weeks and potentially months ahead will no doubt bring significant uncertainty to all of you. You will face challenges as you work to preserve your clients’ legal rights and maintain the health of your businesses. I know this pandemic will affect all our members – the backbone of this organization – and I will do all I can to support you, your practices and the legal profession itself. 


First, I’d like to address questions about Convention. After lengthy discussions, the members of the NCAJ Executive Committee and I have decided to cancel the NCAJ Annual Convention scheduled for June 18-21. I understand the importance of this annual event as it is a time to swap stories, share practice tips, and foster community. We did not make this decision lightly, but it is paramount that we put the health and safety of our members above all else. 

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NCAJ Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response & Update | March 18

NCAJ Suspends All In-Person CLEs, Meetings and Events

Through April 30

In light of the increased fluidity of the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, including Chief Justice Beasley’s recent orders regarding the closure of the majority of the state’s court system, the leadership of NCAJ has decided to suspend all in-person CLEs, meetings and events through April 30. Where possible, we will offer CLE programs and meetings via a digital format or Zoom conference call.

Please note that this decision immediately affects the status of the following NCAJ CLE programs, meetings and events:

  • March 20: Executive Committee Meeting | This meeting will be held via Zoom conference call. Contact Courtney Jones with questions or concerns.
  • April 3: Board of Governors Meeting | This meeting will be held via Zoom conference call. Contact Courtney Jones with questions or concerns.
  • April 3: The 25th Annual Workers’ Compensation Roundtable | This program will be moved to Convention 2020 in Wilmington and remain an in-person event.
  • April 17: Land Condemnation 2020: You Don’t Miss Your Water–Practical Pointers for the Post-Map Act Cases Era | This program will be moved to August 2020 and remain an in-person event.
  • April 17: Employment Law Section Social | This event is postponed indefinitely.
  • April 23: Civil Rights Section Social at Clouds Brewing | This event is postponed indefinitely.
  • April 24: Death Penalty 2020 | This program will be moved to August 13-14, 2020 and remain an in-person event.

As of today, all May programming and Convention 2020 (June 18-20 in Wilmington) are still on track to take place as scheduled. We are closely monitoring all official updates from the CDC and NCDHHS and will provide regular updates to all members as they become available.

All NCAJ Section, Division and Caucus leadership calls, trial debriefs, roundtables, etc. and NCAJ Committee Calls will continue as originally scheduled on Zoom.

The NCAJ staff has been working remotely since September 2019, as the former NCAJ building on Annapolis Drive is now up for sale. We do not anticipate any lapse in service from the staff in the coming weeks, as they are already well-equipped to continue to do their jobs from home.  

Additional COVID-19 Resources for Attorneys in North Carolina:

We appreciate your understanding during this time. Please take care of yourselves, your families and your communities.

Kimberly Crouch 
Executive Director
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

NCAJ Coronavirus Response & Update | March 11

NCAJ Members and Friends,

Yesterday, Gov. Cooper announced a state of emergency for North Carolina due to the recent spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In response to this decision, our team has assessed what this means for NCAJ events and programming in the coming weeks.

Like so many other organizations across our state and country, we have been closely monitoring COVID-19’s current and projected impact, as well as the recommendations of both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

At NCAJ, we are committed to the health and safety of our members, staff and the general public. To that end, we will be shifting all NCAJ programming and events to remote access exclusively through March 31, 2020.  

Our goal with this shift is to ensure that our members and staff can continue to safely engage with our organization and that we can provide our high-quality CLEs and unique member benefits, such as section trial debriefs, as scheduled and without interruption for our attendees and speakers.

We do not currently have any live CLE events scheduled between now and March 31, 2020. Any changes to April CLE programming will be assessed in the next 10 days and we will update all members immediately to any changes in the status or presentation of those programs. 

The NCAJ staff has been working remotely since September 2019, as the former NCAJ building on Annapolis Drive is now up for sale. We do not anticipate any lapse in service from the staff in the coming weeks, as they are already well-equipped to continue to do their jobs remotely.  

The details regarding all events and programs between today and March 31, 2020, are as follows:

  • Section/Division/Caucus debriefs, roundtables and leadership calls will continue as scheduled via Zoom conference call through the end of the fiscal year.
  • Committee calls will continue as scheduled via Zoom conference call through the end of the fiscal year.
  • CLE webinars will continue as scheduled through SeminarWeb.

We are monitoring all developments related to this situation closely and will update you immediately regarding any changes to the plan detailed above.

Meanwhile, we can all work together to keep our communities safe and we’d like to share a few tips and guidelines we’ve gathered and fully endorse that will help in this mission:

  • Wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds each time. Some great examples of songs to sing either in your head (or out loud?) while washing for a full 20 seconds include “Happy Birthday,” “Jolene,” and “Love Shack.” For more ideas, check out this full list.
  • Stay home if you are sick. If you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, stay home and do your best to keep hydrated and well-rested. Thanks to innovations in technology, there are many ways to continue to serve your clients and community at large, even when you are stuck at home. Tools we’ve implemented at NCAJ to ensure success with remote work have included Zoom, Box, Slack and Basecamp.
  • Help combat misinformation in your community. As attorneys, we have a responsibility to those in our midst to speak and share the truth. Work to read and share information related to COVID-19 from reputable sources only. Be courageous in your pursuit of the most up-to-date and verifiable facts, while taking care not to rely solely on what may cross your radar via social media or news sources that depend on clicks to drive revenue.

We appreciate your patience during this time. Please reach out to our team with any questions or concerns.

Kimberly Crouch
Executive Director
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

Rising Star: Ben Hiltzheimer  

Ben HiltzheimerFind this feature and more member news and profiles in the October edition of Trial Briefs, available exclusively to NCAJ members.

Ben Hiltzheimer is the founder of Hiltzheimer Law Office, PLLC, with offices in Raleigh and Durham. From 2006 to 2011, Ben was employed as an attorney at the federally funded Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. His tenure there included two years in a targeted litigation role focusing on complex forensics and systemic criminal justice issues in partnership with the Innocence Project.

In his capacity as a trial attorney at the Public Defender Service, he represented indigent individuals charged with felonies in the District of Columbia, from their initial appearance in Superior Court through trial. Ben earned his law degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the 10th Judicial District Bar Association and the National College for DUI Defense. He lives with his wife and three children in Durham.

What attracted you to criminal defense work? 

I’ve thought about this question over the years and I have at least three different answers.

On one hand, I started out specifically as a public defender because I wanted to stand in the shoes of the marginalized and push back against the substantial power of a government that often oversteps its bounds, particularly with respect to minorities and the poor. It was that disparity that first attracted me to this fight, from a core belief that one’s rights shouldn’t be a function of race or socio-economic status.

As I got into the work and it became less abstract, another guiding principle that evolved for me was the more general belief that people shouldn’t be judged solely on the darkest moments in their lives – which is often where I meet my clients for the first time. The system tends to view individuals through the narrow lens of a single act, and part of my job as a defender is to put those acts into the context of an entire human life, with hardships and struggles and often a complicated and tragic story to tell.

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The Mountains are Calling and We Will Go (to the 2019 Sustainer Summit)

by Vernon Sumwalt, 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice

John Muir’s finish to his call to understand our world fits NCAJ’s fun this Fall. Right after writing “the mountains are coming and I must go,” Muir added, “I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” We all do this, and our Sustainer Summit will give us tons of takeaways to take our trial skills to the next level.

Our headliner is Mark Kozieradzki. “Koz” for short. Other than being a really fun person and having glamorous hair, Koz also plays a mean harmonica. Oh, and he happened to write 30(b)(6): Deposing Corporations, Organizations, and the Government (Trial Guides ©2016) and more recently Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through (AAJ Press ©2019). We all know Koz’s books. They are not eye candy collecting dust on our shelves. No, we savor them. We absorb them until they transform us with new skills to handle the Goliaths standing in the way of accountability. Koz’s books really are that good, and having him at this year’s Sustainer Summit will be even better. He’ll teach an entire morning on how to deploy these tools with confidence, consequence, and skill.

We’ll also have North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis teaching us about A Warren Court of Our Own: The Exum Court and the Expansion of Individual Rights in North Carolina, a panel conversation on the 2020 political campaign by Morgan Jackson of Nexus Strategies and Paul Shumaker of Strategic Partner Solutions, and a Saturday morning lineup of business development and law practice management tips from Tom Lenfesty of Law Practice Exchange (discussing “The Secrets to Law Firm Continuity Planning—Buying, Selling, and Other Succession Strategies Available to Law Firms and Lawyers to Continue to Practice without Fear”), from Dave Poston of Poston Communications (“Becoming a Better Trial Lawyer by Incorporating PR”), and from Tea Hoffman of Law Strategy Corp. (“Strategic Targeting—Finding New Clients that Fit Your Firm’s Ideal Client Model”). And don’t worry—we’ve scheduled plenty of “downtime” for everyone to enjoy everything Asheville has to offer.

NCAJ started Mountain Magic in 2003 for higher-level contributors to our organization. Although “Mountain Magic” is a great name, we needed to metamorphose this year, if only to mark a new conference format at our old favorite, The Omni Grove Park Inn.

Returning to the conference’s original intent of investing in our Sustaining Level members (Leaders Forum, Circle of Advocates, Presidents Club, Benefactors, Sustaining Patron, and Patrons) will, we hope, give a great big “THANK YOU” to those who take their investment in NCAJ to the next level. And the next level really isn’t out of reach. The lowest cost for a Patron-level membership is an increase of $475.00 from a regular membership for lawyers practicing over 10 years or, looking at it differently, about how much you’d save as the discounted rate for a room at the Grove Park over the course of the Summit, compared to a single night at full price. Follow this link if you are interested in upgrading to attend.

The mountains are calling us, so register today. We look forward to seeing you at the Sustainer Summit between October 17 and 20!

Vernon Sumwalt is the 2019-2020 President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and a partner at The Sumwalt Law Firm in Charlotte. Sumwalt is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Appellate Practice and Workers’ Compensation Law and has served in numerous leadership positions for both the NC State Bar and NC Bar Association’s workers’ compensation committees and sections.

NCAJ Attorneys Protect Your Rights: April 2019 edition

robby jessup  by Robby Jessup

NCAJ attorneys & other NCAJ legal professionals protect the citizens of North Carolina who have been harmed. For a snapshot of their work, read NCAJ’s April 2019 Verdicts, Settlements and Dispositions column, linked below.

Congratulations to all attorneys highlighted in the column:  Ann Groninger and Valerie Johnson of Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC; Gabriel Snyder and Barry Snyder of Snyder Law; Winslow Taylor of Taylor & Taylor Attorneys at Law, PLLC; Joan Davis and Douglas Noreen of Howard StallingsLakota Denton of Lakota R. Denton, P.A.;  Guy Crabtree of Crabtree Carpenter, PLLCLennie Jernigan and Kristi Thompson of Jernigan Law; Douglas Maynard, Jr. of Maynard & Harris, PLLC; James Roane of Roane LawRichard Watson of Richard Watson Law, PLLC; Bill Gardo of Gardo Law; and Robby Jessup of Howard Stallings.

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NCAJ Convention 2019: Revitalizing+ Retooling Our Community

Adrienne S. Blocker-Education VP - crop for wordpress  by Adrienne Blocker, Convention Co-Chair

Convention Co-Chair Darrin Jordan of Whitley, Jordan & Inge, P.A. and I look forward to welcoming you to NCAJ’s Annual Convention which runs from June 20 – 23, 2019 at the Hotel Ballast in Wilmington, NC.


A Special Note from NCAJ Executive Director Kim Crouch

Online Registration is Open
Registration is now available at  Register by May 10 and save!  Online registration closes June 12 and on-site registration opens June 20.

Allen A. Bailey Professional Development Fellowship
NCAJ lawyer members licensed between 1 and 10 years can apply for the Allen A. Bailey Professional Development fellowship to attend NCAJ’s 2019 Convention.  Fellowship covers one Convention registration & hotel accommodations. Apply before May 12 at

Opportunity to Exhibit or Sponsor an Event
Exhibit or sponsor an event at NCAJ’s Annual Convention if you’re looking for a great way to promote your company, reinforce brand loyalty, increase visibility and boost your market share with trial lawyers!

What’s New this Year at Convention 2019!

  • First-Time Attendees Meet & Greet on Thursday
  • State of the Association report by Executive Director on Friday
  • Practical skills training for all attendees including
    • Unifying Juries in a Dangerously Divided World by David Ball, PhD,  and Artemis Malekpour  (three-hour session focusing on trial skills with the nation’s only trial consulting team qualified and certified to advise attorneys on Reptilian methods and techniques)
  • President’s Gala open to ALL members on Saturday
  • Concurrent Civil Law and Criminal Law Update
    • Jon Moore has pulled together the most significant appellate cases that have impacted civil practice over the past year. In this three-hour session, hear first-hand from the attorneys of record and take home best practice tips for implementing the appellate case law in your practice
    • Join Duke University School of Law professors Theresa Newman and Jamie Lau for a nuts and bolts approach to post-conviction work at the state and federal level. Newman and Lau, who run the law school’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, will lead you from investigations to federal habeas. Immediately following their presentation, hear from criminal defense attorney David Rudolf in a presentation that drives home the importance of criminal defense work
  • Board of Governors Orientation

Don’t Miss Some of these Old Favorites, too:

  • Edwards Kirby Opening Reception
  • NCAJ Awards Presentation
  • NCAJ Section meetings and gatherings

Make Your Hotel Reservations Today
Mention the NC Advocates for Justice for discounted rates at Hotel Ballast and Riverview SuitesGroup rates available until May 19.