60 Years of Empowering Lawyers To Stand Up For Individuals’ Rights
In the 1960s in North Carolina, the plaintiffs’ bar was just emerging, and large, corporate firms dominated.
A small group of solo and small-firm trial attorneys – Eugene Phillips, William Thorp, Allen Bailey, Charles Blanchard and James Clontz to name a few – shared a passion for representing individuals against the big firms. In 1962, they banded together with a handful of likeminded lawyers to create a collegial society for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Their vision was to share information and support one another, provide practical legal education for trial lawyers and advocate for clients’ rights at the legislature, in the courts and through general elections.
They christened their group the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, and it is today the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.
Through the decades, NCAJ has consistently fought to secure and further the rights of everyday people. The group has advocated for workers’ rights to compensation, workplace safety legislation, in favor of replacing North Carolina’s antiquated contributory negligence doctrine with a comparative fault principle, and for the elimination of no-fault insurance. It has fought against the overreaches of sovereign immunity and tort reform campaigns and pushed back against punitive damages caps and unfair laws governing medical malpractice and products liability.
In the 1970s, NCAJ expanded its membership to include criminal defense attorneys, based on the unifying principle of the need to defend the individual. NCAJ is one of the only trial lawyers associations in the country to include criminal defense attorneys. From the late 1980s, NCAJ worked with its criminal defense members to outlaw the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, an effort that yielded success in 2001.
NCAJ advocacy also spurred the creation of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Indigent Defense Services and the Death Penalty Resource Center. And its support helped bring about structured sentencing, the Racial Justice Act, Raise the Age, appropriate fees for appointed counsel and complete open file discovery in all felony cases.
NCAJ members have included dozens of state legislators, members of the N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate and House. Among past presidents and other leaders are trial attorneys recognized as the most skilled and successful in our state and nation.
NCAJ Past Presidents
- James W. Clontz, 1962-1969
- *Charles F. Blanchard, 1970-1972
- *Judge Eugene H. Phillips, 1972-1974
- William L. Thorp, 1975-1976
- *Allen A. Bailey, 1977-1978
- William H. Holdford, 1979-1980
- Alfred S. Bryant, 1980-1981
- *Howard F. Twiggs, 1981-1982
- John D. Warlick Jr., 1982-1983
- James R. Van Camp, 1983-1984
- James L. Nelson, 1984-1985
- Walter W. Baker Jr., 1985-1986
- James B. Maxwell, 1986-1987
- William O. King, 1987-1988
- Henry C. Babb Jr., 1988-1989
- James C. Fuller Jr., 1989-1990
- Mary Ann Talley, 1990-1991
- William F. Horsley, 1991-1992
- Adam Stein, 1992-1993
- Richard S. Hunter Jr., 1993-1994
- Charles L. Becton, 1994-1995
- Douglas B. Abrams, 1995-1996
- Wade E. Byrd, 1996-1997
- M.Gordon Widenhouse Jr., 1997-1998
- Elizabeth F. Kuniholm, 1998-1999
- William S. Mills, 1999-2000
- James E. Ferguson, 2000-2001
- Burton Craige, 2001-2002
- Janet Ward Black, 2002-2003
- Mark T. Sumwalt, 2003-2004
- E.Spencer Parris, 2004-2005
- Clifford Britt, 2005-2006
- Rebecca Britton, 2006-2007
- Joseph B. Cheshire V, 2007-2008
- Margaret Abrams, 2008-2009
- David C. Pishko, 2009-2010
- Philip A. Baddour Jr., 2010-2011
- Gary W. Jackson, 2011-2012
- Guy W. Crabtree, 2012-2013
- David Teddy, 2013-2014
- Danny Glover Jr., 2014-2015
- Christopher Nichols, 2015-2016
- Bill Powers, 2016-2017
- Bradley Bannon, 2017-2018
- Mary S. Pollard, 2018-2019
- Vernon Sumwalt, 2019-2020
- David Henson, 2020-2021
*In addition to service as president, also served as president emeritus
Today, NCAJ is the third largest trial lawyers association in the nation. We offer our members more than 40 live CLEs annually, featuring up-to-the minute edcuation for trial lawyers. We continue to pursue our legislative and judicial goals through a proactive advocacy strategy. And we thrive on the spirit of collegiality and comradery that inspired the founders to begin their journey 60 years ago.
For a closer look at how NCAJ came to be, watch NCAJ’s video tribute to founding member and President Emeritus Charles Blanchard, who passed away in 2021.