Federal jurist honored with top Elon Law award

The Hon. Albert Diaz, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, accepted Elon Law’s 2020 Leadership in the Law Award during a prerecorded segment of an online ceremony hosted by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

A longtime jurist whose trailblazing career has reflected an ethos of service to his country and to his community has been honored by Elon Law with the school’s top professional award for leadership.

Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit accepted Elon Law’s 2020 Leadership in the Law Award during a prerecorded segment that debuted November 30 in a program streamed by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

Elon Law traditionally bestows its annual leadership award in an evening gala with North Carolina Lawyers Weekly attended by attorneys from across the state for the newspaper’s annual Leaders in the Law recognitions. The newspaper moved its program to a virtual format this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doing so gave Diaz an opportunity to converse with Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman about leadership and service in the legal profession. Their remarks are captured in the first 10 minutes of the below video:

“We all have an obligation to put our best foot forward and make a good and positive example for other lawyers and law students,” Diaz told Bierman. “We have a wonderful profession, one that is largely self-regulated, and because it’s self-regulated it requires leaders to be at the forefront to make sure that we do what is in the public interest at all times.

“If we keep that at the forefront of all that we do, and keep improving the system of law, we’re making it better.”

Bierman praised Diaz’s contributions to the profession in an earlier message to the Elon Law community.

“One of my greatest privileges as dean is recognizing those in the legal profession whose leadership is a beacon of inspiration as we prepare students for careers of advocacy and service,” he said. “Judge Diaz’s actions speak louder than any words I can offer, and his selection for Elon Law’s 2020 Leadership in the Law Award reflects what we instill in our students from the time they begin their legal studies to the time they graduate and pass the bar exam.”

Diaz’s distinguished legal career spans nearly four decades, beginning with active duty assignments as a prosecutor, defense counsel, and appellate government counsel in the United States Marine Corps, followed by service on the North Carolina Superior Court and culminating with his confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

His contributions to the law include:

  • Nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 2009. The American Bar Association rated Judge Diaz unanimously well-qualified and he was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote;
  • Served on the North Carolina Superior Court bench, including service on North Carolina’s Business Court, from 2001-2009;
  • After leaving active duty in 1995 and returning to private practice, he twice earned his law firm’s award for exemplary pro bono service; and
  • Remained in the Marine Reserves, serving as an appellate defense counsel, military trial judge, and appellate military judge. He retired in 2006 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Diaz is past chair of the ABA Judicial Division’s Appellate Judges Conference and currently chairs the Appellate Judges Education Institute. He has been involved with the Mecklenburg County Bar’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee since shortly after its founding in 2004, and during his leadership of this committee helped to create Lunch with a Lawyer, a mentorship program for rising ninth graders. Diaz was also one of a small group instrumental in creating the Mecklenburg County Hispanic Latino Lawyers Bar.

Diaz has received the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Latino Judge of the Year Award and has been recognized as a Legal Legend of Color by the North Carolina Bar Association. He has spoken at graduation and award ceremonies for various law schools, a graduate school, a prison, a number of high schools, and he frequently cites his pride in delivering a graduation address at Merry Oaks Elementary School in Charlotte.

A native of Brooklyn, Diaz earned a Bachelor of Science in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, which he attended on a Navy ROTC scholarship, and he later earned his Juris Doctor from the New York University School of Law while serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Diaz also has a Master of Science in Business Administration from Boston University.

Diaz has been a longtime friend of Elon Law. He delivered the Commencement address to the Class of 2016, served as a judge for our Billings, Exum & Frye National Moot Court Competition, and hosted residents as part of the law school’s Residency-in-Practice Program.

“It really is very much appreciated,” Diaz said, “the fact you thought me worthy of receiving this honor.”

Previous Award Recipients

  • Janet Ward Black (2019), Greensboro attorney and former president of the North Carolina Bar Association
  • The Hon. Henry E. Frye (2018), chief justice (retired), Supreme Court of North Carolina
  • The Hon. Robert N. “Bob” Hunter Jr. (2017), associate justice, North Carolina Court of Appeals
  • The Hon. Patricia Timmons-Goodson (2016), vice chair, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  • Leslie J. Winner (2015), executive director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
  • The Hon. Mark Martin (2014), chief justice, Supreme Court of North Carolina
  • Charles L. Becton (2013), attorney/judge/higher education leader in North Carolina
  • Fred Lind (2012), Guilford County public defender
  • Michael T. Marshall and Karen McKeithen Schaede (2011), Greensboro attorneys and founding Elon Law preceptors