Elon Law recognizes contributions in the law of Justice Harry C. Martin

At Elon Law's final Reception with the Legal Community of the fall 2010 semester, Distinguished Jurist in Residence James G. Exum, Jr. spoke on behalf of the law school to recognize the extraordinary achievements and significant contributions in the law of The Honorable Harry C. Martin, former Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the first Chief Justice of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.

Justice Harry C. Martin at Elon University School of Law

Calling Martin “a valued friend of many years and a colleague of long standing,” Exum said he was “one of the most remarkable persons I have known.”

A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Martin served in the pacific theater during World War II. After graduation from Harvard Law School, Martin practiced law with the firm of Gudger, Elmore & Martin in Asheville, North Carolina.

Through a judicial career spanning five decades, Martin served North Carolina as Special Superior Court Judge, Resident Superior Court Judge, a member of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and as a Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1982 to 1992, departing only because of a state law requiring his retirement due to age.

Exum highlighted three opinions authored by Martin for the state’s highest court that he said were groundbreaking.

Colman v. Thomas Manufacturing Company in 1989 recognized a cause of action for wrongful termination, when the employee was fired for refusing to engage in conduct that violated the state’s public policy,” Exum said.

Corum v. University of North Carolina in 1992 recognized that a state agent’s violation of one’s state constitutional right gave rise to a claim against the agent, not barred by sovereign immunity.

“And Alford v. Shaw in 1989 expanded the scope of judicial review of the actions of a corporation’s litigation committee. Justice Martin’s opinion caused Professor James Cox at Duke Law School to add Justice Martin and the Court to his list of heroes in the law. He called Alford, ‘… a significant decision. It has already generated national interest because it shows so clearly the way for others to follow.’”

A portrait of Justice Martin, unveiled at a presentation ceremony in 2000 at the North Carolina Supreme Court in Raleigh.

Later Career

“Justice Martin did not go quietly into retirement,” Exum said, noting that Martin practiced law with his two sons, became the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ First Chief Circuit Mediator, and after retiring from that position, occupied the Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professorship of Law and Ethics at the UNC School of Law.

Exum noted that Martin continued to take on groundbreaking roles in the judicial system long after retirement from the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“In 2000, Justice Martin accepted a new judicial challenge,” Exum said. “The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation named him its first Chief Justice and asked him to create a brand new court system for the tribe. He did that; and, after his first six year term as Chief Justice, he retired again, but I believe he stills serves as an Associate Justice on that court and sits from time to time.”

Exum also noted that Martin continues to teach the law at two law schools in the state.

“An expert in Indian Law among many other things, Chief Justice Martin teaches that subject at UNC Law and, I am pleased to say, here at Elon School of Law,” Exum said.

Martin made brief comments at the reception, expressing appreciation for Exum’s remarks and promising to schedule time to speak with Elon Law students at length to share his insights about being a judge and about the law, derived from his extensive experience on the bench.

“This is a great occasion for me to be here before all of these great learned people and receive this welcoming that the Chief Justice here has just given you,” Martin said.

Beginning the evening’s presentation ceremony, which took place on Veterans Day, law school dean George R. Johnson, Jr. recognized the service of the region’s veterans.

“I’d like to stop and to really pay tribute to the veterans here in our community and to thank them for all of the service they have rendered to our country,” Johnson said. “I see a couple of them here, and today being Veterans Day, we all join in saluting them.”