Elon Law professor and retired Supreme Court Chief Justice James G. Exum, Jr., was recognized for improving the state’s justice system, developing alternatives to litigation and advancing the idea of lawyers as peacemakers at the Oct. 13 unveiling of his official portrait to be hung inside the North Carolina Supreme Court.
“Rarely do we get to celebrate friends as accomplished, wise and genuinely nice as our colleague Jim Exum,” said Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman. “The transformational impacts of Chief Justice Exum’s teaching, mentoring, insights and kindness within our Elon Law community are myriad and immeasurable. We are grateful to Chief Justice Exum for his work as a founding member of Elon Law’s advisory board, as a teacher to Elon Law students and as a leader in the law. We congratulate Chief Justice Exum for all that he has contributed to our judicial system and all of the highly deserved honor and recognition bestowed on him by colleagues in our profession and beyond.”
The Oct. 13 ceremony for Chief Justice Exum’s portrait unveiling included remarks by current North Carolina Chief Justice Mark D. Martin, North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman and past chair of the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission Andy Little.
Mr. Little described Chief Justice Exum’s leadership role in advancing alternatives to litigation.
“Who among us could have suspected that his vision would tranform the education we receive, the law practices we build and the courts in which we work.” Little said. “Clearly, ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution] is no longer alternative in North Carolina. It is now woven seamlessly into the fabric of our courthouses, and our law practices and our civil procedure. Today, we remember the highest calling of our profession that Justice Exum so simply and eloquently described for us many years ago – the lawyer as peacemaker. And we in this room, along with many more who are not here today, are filled with gratitude for his service, his vision and his inspiration.”
Mr. Little recited the following excerpt from Chief Justice Exum’s writing in a 1983 North Carolina Bar Association publication:
“The time has clearly come for lawyers to begin to emphasize their role as mediators, conciliators, and peacemakers, as counselors for what is right, not merely advocates for what is legally possible… Lawyers need to remind themselves that the courtroom is often not a place conducive to peacemaking or conflict healing, yet peacemaking and conflict healing are the first obligations of our profession.”
North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman recited the following passage of Chief Justice Exum’s speech made to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the North Carolina Supreme Court more than 20 years ago:
“The truth is that lawyers are primarily peacemakers. They take the passions of their clients and of their times and channel them from the din of the streets and the cry of the mob into the orderly discourse of the courtroom and the conference room.”
Judge Inman reviewed several significant opinions authored by Chief Justice Exum relating to capital punishment, evidentiary rules, workers compensation and education law and policy. She also noted his influence on the judicial system beyond the 402 opinions and 208 concurring or dissenting opinions he authored as a member and leader of the Supreme Court.
“He opened courts to the public by allowing media cameras in courtrooms,” Inman said. “He helped bring computer technology to the courts. And, in addition to opening avenues to alternative dispute resolution in the civil court proceedings, he introduced needed reforms in criminal sentencing, resulting in the modern model of structured sentencing… Thank you, Chief Justice Exum, for your place in our law, our history and our spirits.”
Exum served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1975-1994, and was Chief Justice from 1986-1994. In 1996 he returned to the practice of law at Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP where he led the appellate practice group, supervising and assisting lawyers with appeals in state and federal courts. As a lawyer, he helped brief and argued more than 40 appeals in state and federal appellate courts. He has served in the North Carolina House of Representatives and as Resident Superior Court Judge in Guilford County, N.C.
Chief Justice Exum is the recipient of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Judge John J. Parker Award for conspicuous service to the cause of jurisprudence; the North Carolina ACLU’s Frank Porter Graham Civil Liberties Award and the American Judicature Society’s Herbert Harley Award for contributing to the improvement of the administration of justice in North Carolina. He earned a B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a J.D. at New York University.