Last week I was on a Zoom reception with fifty of my friends with Governor Cooper. A lot has changed in the last 44 years in the practice of law.
When I first began practice in 1976 above the Fox and Lyon Drug Store at the square of Wadesboro, there were no electric typewriters or copy machines. I had a set of General Statutes but no legal library. Attorney A. Paul Kitchin was next door and allowed me the free access to his library and his friendship. Risden Lyon was my landlord and rent with utilities was $60 which I paid until one day I prepared a deed for Ris and sent him a bill and after that no money ever exchanged hands.
The Anson County Bar at that time was comprised of such notable attorneys as Paul Kitchin, Avery Hightower, Hon. H. Patrick Taylor, Jr., Bennett Edwards who was also editor of the Anson Record, Moran “Mac” McLendon, Bobby Little, Neil Jones, Hank Drake and Bill Mason. Hon. Bobby Huffman was then an Assistant District Attorney under Hon. Carroll Lowder, and Hon. Fetzer Mills was Chief District Court Judge, later Senior Resident Superior Court Judge.
We practiced law in the 20th Judicial District which was comprised of Anson, Union, Stanly, Richmond and Moore Counties. Within a year I knew almost all of the attorneys in all five counties. We went to Civil and Criminal Superior Court and Civil and Criminal District Courts in all of the counties and with no cell phones. Hours were spent in the companionship of fellow lawyers where tall tales were told and knowledge of the law was passed from generation to generation. We generally knew all of the Clerks of Court and staff in each county and all the sheriffs and many of the officers. We enjoyed seeing Charlotte lawyers come to court. They were not from here.
Within a year or so of opening my practice Bill Capel, Mark Lowe and George Bower joined the Anson County Bar. We fought in court like cats and dogs as we represented all sorts of different cases and people. We pulled the books down and did the best we could, often learning as we went. In those days, the older lawyers were very helpful, and I spent many an hour in their offices obtaining their advice and opinions. If we had a really serious case, we would associate a more experienced lawyer as co-counsel and learned that way while protecting our clients from our possible inexperience. In return, older lawyers would call us to their offices to handle cases that they were too busy to handle, usually on a 50/50 basis.
I remember in my first week of practice, the first case I tried in District Court in Anson County involved two ladies who had gotten into a disagreement with each other over a man. The disagreement escalated to the point that they had gotten physical with one another in a public place and then had taken warrants out against each other. I was court appointed to represent one of the parties on the assault charges about ten minutes before the case was called for trial. Judge Ambie Webb, a year or two before retirement, was presiding. I addressed the court, “If it please the Court, I would request a continuance of this matter so that I can talk to the witnesses.” In the ensuing moments I learned that in Judge Webb’s court you could not get a continuance to talk to the witnesses and that you were not allowed to talk to the prosecuting witness. Four years of college and three years of law school to no avail, so we tried the case. Prayer for Judgment was continued from term to term which meant if you didn’t get in any more trouble the next year or so, judgment would never be entered. It was like a pass. So after all of that it was the equivalent of no harm no foul. It was my first experience with the blessed PJC which in criminal district court practice is almost as good as a continuance. My next case was really an eye opener–
Note to readers: You CAN talk to witnesses, but the point is that you have to be ready for anything, including a judge who says you can’t!