Embracing Our Differences With Diversity and Inclusion Efforts  

By David Henson

More than 50 years ago, our organization was founded by a group of visionaries who saw the collective benefit of uniting criminal defense and civil plaintiffs’ lawyers in a rather unique marriage called the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers. At the time, this union was unusual and indeed, even today, we are one of only a handful of state trial lawyer’s associations with both civil and criminal practitioners. In the five-plus decades of marriage, our organization has expanded to now more than 18 different sections and divisions. One big family of kin under the same legal roof. Indeed, we are a diverse group, which makes for interesting reunions when we come together for Convention, Mountain Magic, our many multi-discipline CLEs and our social events.

As we have watched our nation falter with unprecedented political divisiveness, the COVID-19 pandemic, gaping disparities of racial justice, a swelling Me Too movement and countless other recent events, I am reminded that our differences are what bind us together. We are stronger together. Diversity comes in many forms and fashions, however, and our differing practice areas are just the first cull. Many of us further identify through our differences of geography, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political affiliation, age and more.  These differences make us interesting and make us powerful as a collective.

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In State v. Robinson, Supreme Court Rules That NC Constitution Bars Retroactive Repeal Of RJA

By Burton Craige

In State v. Marcus Robinson, the Supreme Court held that our state constitution bars the retroactive repeal of the Racial Justice Act (RJA), which was enacted in 2009 and repealed in 2013. In 2012, at the first hearing under the RJA, Robinson, an inmate on death row, produced evidence of pervasive statewide racial bias in capital sentencing. Judge Weeks found that Robinson’s trial and sentencing were infected with racial bias and, in accordance with the RJA, voided his death sentence and imposed a sentence of life without parole.

While the State’s appeal was pending, the General Assembly repealed the RJA and made the repeal retroactive. The Supreme Court reversed Judge Weeks’s order on procedural grounds, and did not address the retroactivity or double jeopardy issues. The State then moved Robinson back to death row. On remand, Judge Spainhour ruled that the repeal of the RJA barred Robinson from challenging his death sentence. The Supreme Court granted Robinson’s petition for writ of certiorari.

NCAJ submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, arguing that the reimposition of the death penalty after Robinson had proved his entitlement to relief under the RJA violated the state constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.

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Limited Driving Privilege Law Will Help End Cycle Of Unpaid Fines

By Amber Nimocks

Among the accomplishments NCAJ member legislators can point to from the General Assembly’s 2020 short session is the adoption of North Carolina’s New Limited Driving Privilege Law. It’s a big win both for marginalized North Carolinians struggling to get out from under onerous debt due to failure to pay fines, penalties or court costs and for the legislators who persisted in getting the legislation passed.

Rep. Sydney Batch and Rep. Robert Reives worked to draft and advance the legislation with help and advice from other practicing attorneys, the North Carolina Justice Center and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Both Batch and Reives are NCAJ members, and they described the effects of the new law and how it came to be during an NCAJ Member Webinar this week. Find the accompanying PowerPoint presentation here.

Under the new law, which takes effect Dec. 1, 2020:

  • A person whose license is revoked for a failure to pay a fine, penalty, or costs for a motor vehicle offense can apply for a limited driving privilege.
  • The court may grant the limited driving privilege under the same terms and conditions that courts currently may grant limited driving privileges.
  • The privilege is only available if no other privilege under this section of the law has been granted within the past three years.

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We Are Listening To the Painful Truths Of Racial Injustice: A Joint Statement From NCAJ Leaders

From NCAJ President Vernon Sumwalt and NCAJ Executive Director Kim Crouch

Our eyes, like yours, are watching through tears as the grief, frustration and anger of the oppressed spill into the streets of our cities. Our hearts, like yours, are breaking over the senseless deaths, the continuing pain and the gaping wounds caused by the institutional racism and inequity America has too long embraced.

As our nation and our communities continue to bear witness to the difficult truths that must be told, we want you to know that NCAJ is listening. We are here to help in any way that we can. And after the glass is swept up and the streets are quiet, NCAJ will continue to listen and continue to work to right the wrongs that have led us to this time of reckoning.

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North Carolina Advocates for Justice PAC Endorses Nine Candidates in 2020 Statewide Appellate Judicial Elections

The North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ) Political Action Committee is pleased to announce its slate of endorsements for the state’s 2020 appellate judicial elections to be held Nov. 3.

The carefully considered endorsements are for three seats on the Supreme Court of North Carolina and five seats on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Supreme Court, Seat 1: Cheri Beasley
Supreme Court, Seat 2: Lucy Inman
Supreme Court, Seat 4: Mark Davis
Court of Appeals, Seat 4: Patricia Shields
Court of Appeals, Seat 5: Lora Cubbage
Court of Appeals, Seat 6: Chris Dillon
Court of Appeals, Seat 7: Jeff Carpenter
Court of Appeals, Seat 13: Chris Brook and Jefferson Griffin

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COVID-19 Relief Bill Immunity Language Strips Patients Of Protections

By Carma Henson

North Carolinians who suffer harm while seeking health care during the COVID-19 pandemic will have limited recourse to be made whole by the legal system, thanks to language included in the COVID-19 bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Cooper on May 4.

At the request of several health care advocacy groups, the 70-page omnibus bill included an immunity clause that addresses the needs of health care providers and owners of health care businesses but strips patients of the protections normally available to ensure that appropriate care is delivered.

The North Carolina Advocates for Justice worked tirelessly to help narrow this language, while still protecting those serving on the front lines during a pandemic. NCAJ agrees with the need to help front-line health care workers. However, the immunity provided in Senate Bill 704 extends beyond front-line health care workers to provide cover to those in the board room, those who make the decisions that directly affect the lives of patients and front-line workers.

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Chappell v. NCDOT a Win For Landowners – With Asterisks For Pending Cases

By Shiloh Daum

The Supreme Court of North Carolina has issued the latest rulings in a line of condemnation cases brought under the now-notorious Map Act. Members of the NCAJ Eminent Domain section briefed the case of Chappell v. NCDOT (No. 51PA19) as amicus curiae. The case was largely a win for the landowners, but the NCDOT likely gained back some ground, and there are some important asterisks for any pending map act cases looking ahead.

The story began in Cumberland County in 1992 when NCDOT recorded a protected roadway corridor that encumbered the Chappell family’s property for a future road project. Importantly, the Map Act corridors prohibited landowners from improving, subdividing, or developing their property. The Chappells filed an inverse condemnation action in 2014 seeking just compensation for the impact and lost value from the restrictions on their property. Other recent cases (Kirby v. NCDOT and Beroth II v. NCDOT) held that the Map Act restrictions were a compensable taking, and that landowners should recover damages from the indefinite restraint on their property rights. “The value of the loss of those rights is to be measured ‘by calculating the value of the land before the corridor map was recorded and the value of the land afterward, taking into account all pertinent factors, including the restriction on each plaintiff’s fundamental rights, as well as any effect of the reduced ad valorem taxes.’”  Chappell, slip opinion, quoting Kirby.

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Free End Distracted Driving Webinar to be Broadcast to High School Students Across US and Canada

Published in partnership with EndDD.org & the NCAJ Auto Torts & Premises Liability Section

As educators search for diversified digital learning content, local trial lawyers deliver

Local trial lawyers are coming together on May 12 to present a webinar aimed at teaching high school students the dangers of distracted driving. The webinar is being put on by EndDD.org in conjunction with the Anapol Weiss Foundation and Zoom Video Communications.

The webinar, entitled “End Distracted Driving: Keeping Ourselves and Loved Ones Safe After COVID-19,” will take place Tuesday, May 12, at 10am PT/1pm ET. Hosted by Joel Feldman, founder the nonprofit EndDD.org and partner at Anapol Weiss in Philadelphia, PA, the webinar content will focus on the dangers of distracted driving and shifting our perspective to avoid it, particularly ahead of our world’s return to normalcy post-COVID-19.

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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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Rising Star: Matt Gambale

Look for this feature in the upcoming edition of Trial Briefs, exclusively for NCAJ members.  

By Amber Nimocks 

Hanging around outside an RV on a sunny autumn afternoon, Matt Gambale and his law partners look dressed for a day off – plaid shirts and jeans, Sperry Topsider loafers, no socks. But it’s not casual Friday, it’s pro bono Tuesday. The partners of Osborn Gambale Beckley & Budd PLLC are offering free legal answers for anyone who approaches their mobile office, which today is the RV bearing the firm parked in a busy midtown Raleigh parking lot. 

The mobile office and the regular pro bono days, which they do about eight times a month, are part of the new firm’s business plan.  

“We rely on karma to make this work for the for-profit side of the business,” Gambale said. “We take care of the community and hopefully they will take care of us.”  



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