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Saving the Fox

9 Jun
Carl Fox WRAL screengrab


Superior Court Judge Carl Fox is no stranger to trials, and now he’s facing his own. Fox is battling a blood cancer–myelodysplastic syndrome–and needs a blood marrow donation. According to WRAL-TV, Bob Murray,a marrow donor recruiter, finding a match  “will be difficult because of the small number of African-Americans on the donor registry. Only 7 percent of people on the registry are black.” Registration to be a donor is free and painless, and the test kit can be ordered online and sent to your home. If you’re a match, don’t worry: donation in most cases is also painless–much like donating blood to a blood bank.

Fox earned his Bachelor’s degree and J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has been recognized for his service to the community.

For more information on Carl Fox’s battle and where you can go to help him and others, check out the WRAL story and Delete Blood Cancer. You can also join the “Save the Fox” group on Facebook, where his friends have created a July 17-18 bone marrow registry drive.


Survivor of 29 Years in Solitary Confinement for False Conviction to Speak at UNC Law April 10

1 Apr

Survivor of 29 Years in Solitary Confinement to Speak Alongside Reform Advocates at UNC Law April 10

Robert King of ‘Angola Three’ Spent 29 Years in Solitary Confinement for a False Conviction; Event Comes After UNC Law Report Concluded that Solitary Confinement is Form of Torture

Photo credit: "NLN Robert Hillary King" by Thomas Good - Next Left Notes

“NLN Robert Hillary King” by Thomas Good – Next Left Notes

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Robert King, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary for a false conviction, will discuss his journey and the experience of being in solitary confinement alongside policy advocates working on the front lines of prison reform at the University of North Carolina School of Law on Friday, April 10.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a conversation with King and Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen Baptist Memorial Church in Raleigh, followed by a panel discussion about the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina and across the country, its physical and psychological impact on inmates, its relationship to American and international human rights laws, and the growing movement to reform and eventually end the use of solitary confinement in the United States.

A report released in November 2014 by the Human Rights Policy Seminar at the University of North Carolina School of Law concluded that solitary confinement is a cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment that amounts to torture and must no longer be used in the United States.

• Robert King, one of the “Angola Three,” who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a false conviction
• Deborah Weissman, Reef Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law, UNC School of Law, who served as faculty adviser for the 2014 report “Solitary Confinement as Torture”
• Chris Brook, Legal Director, ACLU of North Carolina
• Christina Cowger, Facilitator, NC Stop Torture Now
• Elizabeth Simpson, Staff Attorney, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services
• Mark Bowers, Attorney, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont
• Moira Artigues, Forensic Psychologist

When: Friday, April 10, 2015 – 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Where: University of North Carolina School of Law, Room 4085, 160 Ridge Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27599

Read the UNC report online. (pdf)

Sponsored by North Carolina Advocates for Justice, UNC School of Law, NC Stop Torture Now, and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation.


3 Sep

Ghostbusters doesn’t figure into much legal parlance, but that didn’t stop new North Carolina Bar Association President Catherine B. Arrowood from quoting Bill Murray in her initiatory remarks to the Association in June:  “We’ve been slimed.”

What’s the slime our new state bar President is talking about?

  • Following recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions allowing it, outside money has been flooding into North Carolina judicial races. The problem?  This makes judicial races subject to special interest groups, and undermines the public’s confidence in the judiciary as above and beyond politics.
  • Complaints against judicial misconduct are no longer public information, unless and until a case reaches the N.C. Supreme Court and the Court chooses to make it public. This change results from a bill introduced last year which the governor signed into law despite a letter bearing the signatures of all living presidents of the N.C. State Bar requesting it be vetoed.  That was the first such request ever made by the Bar.

The NC Bar Association has several initiatives aimed at “unsliming” the judiciary.  One is a forthcoming new website,, that will publish objective information about all candidates for Superior and District Court positions.

For more information about this and other initiatives, read The President’s Perspective in The North Carolina Lawyer, available online at  Or, follow our new NC Bar Association president on Twitter:  @cbarrowood.

– Barb Stenross

The Fourth Circuit Rules on Public Access to Court Records

16 Apr

In 2011, a company sued the Consumer Product Safety Commission to keep a report about one of its products out of the CPSC’s database. The company filed a motion to have the case litigated under a seal, with the company proceeding under a pseudonym. North Carolina Policy Watch’s legal analyst Sharon McCloskey reports:

In a decision released today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond held that the public and press right of access to court records trumps a corporation’s desire to keep quiet complaints about one of its products — regardless of whether those complaints are inaccurate or unfounded.

NCPW’s McCloskey explains the decision and its importance here.

Spudzooka Hijinks – Who is Liable?

16 Apr

Imagine an issue statement when the facts include a spudzooka, gunpowder, video, and perhaps some beer.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports that Colby Hines, a maintenance worker at an Atlanta-based railway service provider, is arguing that a serious head injury caused by his coworkers’ shenanigans at the rail yard was the fault of his employer:

The lawsuit brought against Railserve relies on a tort theory adopted by many states that says an employer can be held responsible for an action taken by an employee — one who is off the clock but still on company premises — that causes intentional harm to others.

The injury occurred back in 2010 when, after a few beers, the employee’s coworkers decided to test a “spudzooka”–a homemade potato cannon that, depending on design, uses a small explosive charge to propel a potato downrange. However, instead of being packed with potato, the device was full of metal bits. When the device fired it essentially acted as a pipe bomb. Hines caught flying shrapnel in the head while he recorded the event with his phone. He was off the clock at the time, but claims the potato cannon was constructed at the direction of a company supervisor.

In the 2012 lawsuit, the employee claimed that the employer failed to maintain a safe work space.  The trial court dismissed his case, but a state appeals court overruled the decision. 

A petition submitted by Railserve raises the question of whether “the Court of Appeals properly interpreted Restatement (Second) of Torts § 317 to enable a plaintiff to recover in Court against his employer as a consequence of injuries he sustains, in part, by virtue of his own tortious acts committed outside the scope of employment.” Attorneys for the company claim the decision could have far-reaching effects.




Courtney Love, Twitter, and Libel Laws: A Landmark Case is Under Way

14 Jan

Journalists, publishers, and social media aficionados are keeping an eye on Gordon & Holmes et al v. Love. The outcome could define how the definition of defamation applies to a Twitter post–commonly known as a “tweet”. These short posts to followers of the account are limited to 140 characters.

Back in 2010, Courtney Love, former wife of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain,  tweeted “I was f—— devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote.” The tweet referenced her former attorney. Holms and the law firm claimed the tweet was defamatory and filed a complaint in 2011.  Love deleted the tweet shortly after posting it, and argued that it was an opinion and not defamatory. A judge disagreed and the case is now before the California Superior Court.

Nicknamed “Twibel”, the combination of “Twitter” and “Libel”, the issue may find itself defined in this case. Poynter’s Ellyn Angelotti writes:

Love’s case potentially could become the social media generation’s New York Times vs. Sullivan and set a precedent for future Twitter cases.

The Supreme Court’s landmark case New York Times vs. Sullivan was the first case to consider the First Amendment implications of defamation. At the crux of this, is how defamation standards balance the First Amendment’s promise of free speech and the public’s interest in protecting a person’s reputation.

Much has changed in both technology and defamation law in the more than 40 years that have passed since Sullivan. And very soon we may have a landmark case in the area of Twibel.

Libel cases in the United States go as far back as the Zenger trial in the early 1700’s. In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964),  Associate Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. argued in his opinion that “the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice.”  While this has stood for decades, the medium itself may now be in the spotlight. According to Angelotti, the courts will  most likely consider who is a public or private figure as it applies to Twitter, and what is a matter of public concern on that particular social media platform.

Poynter is covering the story and has published an examination of what this case is about and the possible implications.

Paralegal and Whistleblower Merrell Williams Jr. dies at 72

3 Dec

Merrell Williams Jr. in 1996 (photo credit: Lee Celano, For The LA Times)

You might be asking yourself, who is this person and of what importance is he to the world of the paralegal? Perhaps you remember, back in the early 1990’s, the very publicized lawsuit against four of the largest tobacco companies in the country. The case was made against the tobacco companies for hiding evidence that these companies were well aware of the facts that cigarettes were not only addictive, but also led to many health problems. Merrell Williams Jr. was the paralegal who was instrumental in “blowing the whistle” against these companies. Mr.Williams worked for a law firm who represented a big tobacco company. He copied company files containing evidence that tobacco companies covered up findings by their own research scientists that raised issues about the harm of smoking tobacco. The law firm in which he was working when he discovered the files accused him of theft and abusing attorney-client privilege and filed suit against him for theft, fraud, and breach of contract. His defense argued that the documents he copied showed proof of criminal activity. Mr. Williams did use the evidence he found as grounds to sue the tobacco companies and won.

Whether or not you agree with the ethics behind Mr. William’s actions, the case made this former paralegal very well known. Merrell Williams Jr. died from a heart attack on November 18th in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. You can read more information on his story here.

– Traci Ruffner, DTCC Paralegal Student