NCATL Around the State Magazine
January / February 1998
Copyright © 1998 by North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers
IN HONOR of those who have brought us to this day, an Academy of Trial Lawyers helping people;
IN COMMUNION with those who will work together from this day forward, an Academy of Trial Lawyers giving people a fighting chance; and
IN COMMITMENT to providing professional and community legal education; championing individual rights; and protecting the safety of North Carolina’s families-in the workplace, in the home, and in the environment,
We dedicate this home of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.
LONG MAY SHE STAND AS A DEFENDER OF JUSTICE FOR PEOPLE.
Judicial Candidates in Historic Debate
It was history in the making on Jan. 28 at Academy Headquarters in Raleigh as nine candidates for the NC Supreme Court and Court of Appeals appeared in front of a record crowd. For the first time in 25 years, candidates were free to speak about issues and their personal beliefs, due to recent changes in the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Academy President Gordon Widenhouse moderated the debate with Malcolm “Tye” Hunter, Spencer Parris, and Robert Zaytoun serving as panelists presenting questions to the candidates:
• North Carolina is presently committed to selecting judges in partisan political elections. Until recently, however, a judicial candidate could not “announce his or her views on disputed legal or political issues.” That mandatory restriction has now been removed.
• Some people remain concerned, however, that if a candidate for a judicial seat “announce(s) his or her views on disputed legal or political issues,” his or her fairness or impartiality may be compromised or, perhaps, the integrity of the judicial system may be lowered.
• Can you reconcile whether voters need to know where judicial candidates stand on “disputed legal or political issues” with the need for an independent and impartial judiciary? How do you balance these competing considerations?
Other questions included what “unpopular” decisions the candidates had made in their judicial or legal careers, and what the candidates personally thought of contributory negligence. The debate received media coverage across the state with several major newspapers picking up Widenhouse’s opening statement: “We find ourselves at the dawn of a new era in NC judicial politics.” A major consensus of the media, however, was that candidates were unwilling to discuss hot issues such as abortion, the death penalty, or prayer in schools. They were especially unwilling to answer the contributory negligence question.
Judges who participated in the debate were NC Supreme Court candidates, Judge Whichard’s seat: Judge Joseph John Sr (D) and Judge Mark Martin (R).
Participants for the NC Court of Appeals were for Judge Eagles’ seat: Judge Sidney S. Eagles Jr (D-inc) and Wendell Schollander (R); for the Cozort-Horton seat: Clarence Horton Jr. (D-inc.) and Robert Edmunds Jr (R); for the Timmons- Goodson seat: J. Douglas McCullough (R); for Judge Greene’s seat: K. Edward Greene (D-inc) and Paul Stam (R).
Honoring a vision and the givers
During the Dedication, President Gordon Widenhouse unveiled bronzed Gift Plaques placed in the building atrium, recognizing Vision 2000 Capital Campaign contributors. Widenhouse also presented special plaques for the Bailey-Twiggs Atrium, named for Allen Bailey of Charlotte and Howard Twiggs of Raleigh in recognition of their vision and dedication to the Academy, and the Wade E. Byrd Library, recognizing Wade Byrd for his efforts in retiring the $1.5 million building debt.
Remember who you’re fighting for…
With simple and moving eloquence, the mother of Joe Muse spoke to members and guests gathered to dedicate the Academy’s building in Raleigh. Jane Muse stood with her husband, Joseph, to acknowledge their substantial gift to the Academy building fund in memory of their son and in honor of their lawyer.
Mrs. Muse spoke of the ten year battle that she and her family endured and of their reason for bringing suit. She said it was their hope to “make a difference, that maybe another child would not die” as a victim of medical malpractice. Her quiet words spoke of their love for their son and their determination to make his life have “real meaning, not just for us but for anyone else in our position…of no money, no powerful friends, and no way to get help of what we knew was wrong.”
In Muse v. Charter Hospital of Winston-Salem, Inc., the Muse family brought suit against the hospital that sent their son home because insurance ran out, resulting in Joe Muse’s suicide a few days after his release.
Mrs. Muse praised Wade Byrd’s efforts on their behalf. She concluded her remarks by saying, “We’re here tonight to tell you to make this kind of difference to the people of North Carolina. We’re proud to be here…Our hope is that when jobs get tough for you to remember who you’re in it for…You are the only people that poor people like us have to come to.”
Gordon Widenhouse read the words inscribed on the memorial plaque honoring Joe Muse and Byrd:
In memory of Joe Muse, whose death as a victim of medical malpractice and corporate greed resulted in a jury award of punitive damages to prevent similar tragedies. Placed by his parents, the plaque was given in grateful appreciation for their trial lawyer Wade Byrd and for the Academy’s Amicus Curiae brief in the case, authored by Elizabeth Kuniholm and Adam Stein.
Nader challenges Academy
Consumer activist Ralph Nader’s keynote address during the Academy’s building dedication ceremony challenged trial lawyers to respond to “tort deform” in America. His message is simple and compelling: “To go through life as a non- citizen would be to feel that there’s nothing you can do, that nobody’s listening, that you don’t matter. But to be a citizen is to enjoy the deep satisfaction of seeing pain prevented, misery avoided, and injustice declined.”
Honored by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century, Nader’s life has been devoted to giving ordinary people the tools they need to defend themselves against corporate negligence and government indifference. Working to empower the average American, his numerous citizen groups include the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Pension Rights Center, the Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, and the student public interest research groups (PIRGs) that operate in more than 20 states. His latest citizen initiative works with alumni classes, including his own at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, to redirect their efforts from parties and reunions to volunteerism and community projects.
Nader’s latest book, NO CONTEST: CORPORATE LAWYERS AND PERVERSION OF JUSTICE IN AMERICA, is available from the Academy at a cost of $26.74, which includes shipping and handling. Contact Veronica McKoy for your copy.
1998 WL 34002843 (NCATL)