By John O’Neal
For the civil practitioner who relies on jury trials this can be a disconcerting time. The civil courts in North Carolina civil courts are closed and it is unclear as to when and in what form jury trials will return. Many of us are hoping for some measure of re-opening in June but that remains to be seen. In the meantime, cases must continue and there are more cases to be filed. So what is the civil practitioner to do?
One thing to do is to look at each of your civil cases and consider how best to bring them to resolution without a jury trial, if possible. Mediation remains an option in many cases be it court-ordered or voluntary. Arbitration may be in your future. I recognize, however, that some cases will only be resolved after you have your day(s) in court in front of a jury. Here are some tips you can apply to each of your civil cases:
NCAJ, in partnership with the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center and the North Carolina Justice Center, is joining with North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services to bring pro bono aid to the state’s incarcerated populations.
View the NCAJ webinar “Advocating for Incarcerated Populations” on our COVID-19 Resources Center.
As of this week, North Carolina prison officials have reported more than 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state’s prisons. North Carolina prisons are unequipped to either prevent transmission of COVID-19 among inmates and staff or to isolate and treat individuals who become infected. This combination of close quarters and limited medical capacity create an intolerably dangerous situation, putting detainees, correctional staff and the communities they belong to at greater risk of illness and death.
Due to this unprecedented public health crisis, Prisoner Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm that advocates for the rights of those incarcerated in North Carolina state prisons, is seeking pro bono attorneys and paralegals to help PLS file Motions for Appropriate Relief to amend sentences for people who are particularly vulnerable to infection and/ or have other compelling mitigating factors.
We wish the best of luck to law students across the state as they finish up the academic year in circumstances less than ideal.
By Brooke Kemp
Law school is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
I heard this phrase over and over again during my first few weeks of law school. In theory, the concept seems simple. A marathon is really hard and it takes a long time to complete.
But, as a marathon runner, I have a different perspective of that phrase and how it relates to law school.
I believe there are more similarities between law school and training for a Boston Marathon qualifying race than actually running the race. Running the marathon is not the hardest part; the hardest part is the training that happens months before the race. Most runners would agree that running a marathon in a Boston Marathon qualifying time is a true accomplishment. A runner must qualify with a truly competitive race time to be eligible for an entry.
We, the Current and Past Presidents of NCAJ, have an important request.
Much like our society at large, the many communities within NCAJ have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We ask that you join us now in coming together to lead with strength, grace and empathy for one another and for our fellow North Carolinians.
We represent firms large and small from across the state. We understand your anxiety. We feel it too. We write to you today to thank you for your membership in NCAJ and to remind you that your support is vital to fulfilling our mission. Every reason you had for being an NCAJ member before COVID-19 still exists and will continue to exist after the crisis passes.
We make this request because of a mutual need.
You need NCAJ, and NCAJ needs you.
At the beginning of March, I had heard of COVID-19. When I looked at my calendar for the month, I knew I had a UM/UIM arbitration scheduled on the 18th where I was an arbitrator. I was dubious as to whether we would go forward. As news of the pandemic in the U.S. grew, I emailed everyone in the second week of the month, asking if we were still on for the 18th. Everyone said yes, and I was worried. The next week brought news that some of the lawyers involved were not going to take the risk of meeting together, and we needed to come up with something else. And that’s how I learned to get five lawyers, many of whom do not consider themselves “tech-savvy” to conduct a four-hour arbitration with exhibits by Zoom conference. At the same time, across town, David Mason of Henson & Fuerst was going through the same experience, but with two meditations he had scheduled.
This week, NCAJ presented a free webinar
(no CLE credits) allowing us to explain how this worked. The program is a conversation between myself, Rick Hunter (plaintiff’s arbitration counsel), Tammy Winstead (Hunter’s paralegal), and Kent Smith, our neutral arbitration. David Mason speaks for about 25 minutes on his experiences as plaintiff’s counsel in two Zoom arbitrations, one with mediator Mike McDaniel, the other with mediator Jackie Clare.
In our efforts to partner with legal organizations during the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond, NCAJ is proud to partner with the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center on pro bono and mentoring opportunities for attorneys who are willing to provide advice and counsel in their area(s) of practice.
One immediate need is for attorneys in the area of Employment Law. With over 170,000 unemployment claims filed in North Carolina last week due to economic fallout from COVID-19, the need for employment law legal services has also increased. Below is a specific request from Pisgah Legal Services for your help:
Pisgah Legal Services is a civil legal aid firm serving western North Carolina. Traditionally, Pisgah Legal has referred out the few unemployment benefits cases we have to local volunteer attorneys, and our staff attorneys have not developed expertise in this practice area. In the past few weeks with the COVID-19 crisis, Pisgah Legal has had an exponential increase in calls for help with unemployment benefits matters. The organization is currently training several staff attorneys to advise clients on these matters and have a few volunteer attorneys assisting, however we need to increase our capacity significantly.
Pisgah Legal is seeking attorney volunteers with unemployment claims expertise to provide limited mentoring to our staff attorneys, and attorney volunteers to take pro bono cases for our clients who need advice regarding their unemployment claim and/or need to appeal a denial. Please contact Katie Russell Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-210-3420 if you would like more information or would like to help.
By Amber Nimocks
Here’s a COVID-19-informed update of our profile of attorney, community leader and Ironman athlete David Daggett that offers a look at how Daggett Shuler is addressing the challenges of the pandemic, how the firm’s signature Safe Sober Prom Night works in a season without proms, and how his Ironman training is going now that pools are strictly off limits.
When I interviewed Daggett last fall for a profile in the Winter edition of Trial Briefs, he was looking forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary of Safe Sober Prom Night this spring. His Winston-Salem firm started the program, which has reached 600,000 kids with its message of safety and responsibility during its three-decade run.
Then came COVID-19. Undeterred, Daggett powered ahead, setting up an awards ceremony for the winner of the program’s annual T-shirt design contest in late March — where everyone stood six feet apart. And though prom night is postponed, possibly cancelled, Daggett has promised that students will get their Safe Sober Prom Night T-shirts, which have become a popular totem of the community’s high school experience.
Daggett Shuler Attorneys At Law
NCAJ member for: 34 years
Education: BA in Economics from Indiana State University, law degree from Wake Forest University Law School.
Family: Three children: Annecy, a junior at William & Mary University; Emmaline, a freshman at Swarthmore College; and Riley, a junior at Richard J. Reynolds High School. Daggett and his wife, Cynthia, live in Winston-Salem.
The North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys jointly urge their members to work together to keep the justice system moving forward for the good of their clients and for the good of the profession. Find more ressources for plaintiffs’ attorneys at the NCAJ blog COVID-19 Resource Center.
Read the letter from Presidents Vernon Sumwalt and Lach Zemp.
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.