Passing the torch: Jim Gale concludes service on the N.C. Business Court

The Hon. James L. Gale on Thursday swore in his successor, the Hon. Julianna Earp, who will hear cases in Elon Law’s courtroom as the first woman jurist in the history of the North Carolina Business Court.

An esteemed jurist and longtime friend of Elon Law is stepping away later this year from the North Carolina Business Court – but not before he had an opportunity to swear in his successor in a private ceremony for the new judge and her husband.

The Hon. James L. Gale administered the oath of office on May 6, 2021, to the Hon. Julianna Earp, appointed this spring by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve as the first woman judge of the North Carolina Business Court.

The brief yet historic session inside Elon Law’s Robert E. Long Courtroom took just minutes as Earp placed her left hand on a Bible held by her husband, Steve, raised her right hand, and recited her oath.

“What a personal treasure it is, not just a privilege, that when I asked who she wanted to have swear her in, she said ‘you,’” Gale remarked prior to administering the oath. “We’ve been good friends for many years and I hope – frankly, my prayer – is that years from now, you will look back on this day as a celebration, as the beginning of a stage in life that is so very meaningful. You get a chance to do something for the public good every day.”

Earp, newly robed following her oath and invited by Gale to address the court from the bench, praised her predecessor’s contributions to the North Carolina Business Court.

“Judge Gale, you have been my mentor and my guide through this process, and you’ve been my friend for as long as I can remember,” Earp said. “You have given your talents and dedication to this court for more than a decade. The people of this state should be very grateful.”

With chambers adjacent to Elon Law, Gale has authored more than 200 opinions in cases argued before him since joining the court in 2011. He served as Chief Judge for three years, and in 2016 was named Senior Business Court Judge, a position created by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Gale’s counsel has been sought by the American College of Business Court Judges, the American Bar Association’s Business Law section, The Sedona Conference, and the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges.

He has provided invaluable assistance to states including Wyoming, Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, with the nations of Haiti and Bahrain likewise seeking his knowledge and guidance with the creation and consideration of specialized business courts.

The Hon. James L. Gale presides in a ceremonial court session on May 6, 2021, for the swearing-in of his successor to the North Carolina Business Court – the Hon. Julianna Earp.

Gale is an Alabama native and graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law. He clerked for the Hon. Franklin T. Dupree, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina before joining the firm of Smith Moore Leatherwood, the predecessor of today’s Fox Rothschild. While there he served as managing partner of the firm’s Raleigh and Tampa offices.

“Suffice it to say, Jim’s impact within and outside our state’s borders has been as extraordinary as it has been far-reaching,” Chief Business Court Judge Louis Bledsoe said recently when presenting Gale with a Distinguished Service Award from the NCBA Antitrust & Complex Business Disputes Law Section. “And his impact on the Business Court, and by extension the state’s business litigation bar and the broader community, have been both positive and profound.”

Though Gale officially concludes his service to the North Carolina Business Court at the end of September, he may continue to preside over a small number of complex cases as an emergency judge with an office maintained at Elon Law. Gale credits his professional success to unwavering support from his wife, Darlene, and their two sons.

Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman said that Gale exemplifies the qualities of leadership, fairness, humility, and professionalism taught at Elon Law. Gale’s role as an internship and residency host to students over the past decade has been vital, Bierman added, with many alumni having learned from his mentoring.

“It is impossible to capture in words the breadth and depth of Judge Gale’s contributions to North Carolina jurisprudence,” Bierman said, “and it is equally impossible to describe the legacy he leaves in our law school. We do, however, take comfort knowing that he will remain a presence in the Elon Law community and that the North Carolina Business Court will continue to thrive with Judge Earp’s appointment to the bench.

“Elon Law is proud to host the North Carolina Business Court. More importantly, we are privileged that our students can learn firsthand from such remarkable leaders in the legal profession as Judge Gale and Judge Earp.”