In the summer of 2016, we featured stories from local attorneys about their experiences early in their career. Here’s the collection:
It was the summer of 1985, when we were young and our hearts were an open book (according to Paul McCartney). The temperature outside was sweltering in Raleigh, where I was fortunate to be serving as a clerk in the Office of the Appellate Defender at the time. My responsibilities were simple: death penalty research and writing. On this particular day, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and did a double-take, were my eyes deceiving me or was this really Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead?
Turns out it was David (“Clovis”) Belser, visiting from Asheville, wearing a V-neck sweater over a long-sleeved shirt in the heat of eastern North Carolina, and requesting help on an upcoming capital trial in Buncombe County. Clovis, who according to rumor was the draft-dodging son of a snake-handling minister from Madison County, put me to work. I guess I must have helped him somewhat.
The following March, it was learned that the legislature would be authorizing a new position for an additional public defender in Asheville. Clovis called me one night at approximately 9:00 p.m., and informed me that if I wanted the job, I needed to be in the office of the Chief, that being Bob Hufstader, the next morning before he arrived at work. I drove through the night, took a quick nap at a cheap motel in Morganton around 4 a.m., and made it just in time. After an interesting interview, Bob informed me that I could have the job assuming I passed the upcoming bar exam. He then, being the dapper gentleman that he was, returned home to change into the proper pants that matched his suit jacket before returning to court. I think he was the only one who realized that the pants he had on were not a perfect match to his coat.
To shorten the story, after losing my exam ticket (which we were all warned not to do), I recovered and passed the July bar. Upon arriving in Asheville to begin work and save the world, my mindset at the time, I was greeted by not only Clovis but also the legendary Al Williams, among others. The stories from the times when Al and I were public defender conference roommates are probably better left for speculation. Needless to say, aside from missing eastern-style bar-b-que, Asheville was my Emerald City in 1986 and remains so to this day. Thanks Bob, who is missed by many, and cheers to my buddy Clovis!
Finally, someone from the Bar announced that they had found study notes in one of the bathrooms. This was very serious. They were going to call the SBI to see if they could get fingerprints from the notes to ascertain the culprit. They were also considering cancelling the exam, which would mean our morning work would be voided and we would have to sign up for and sit the next bar exam.But hopefully, whoever was responsible would take this opportunity to confess and spare everyone such heartache. This announcement was greeted with moans, gasps and perhaps a few sobs. I think I also heard teeth grinding. But nothing that could be considered coherent speech. Another 10 minutes passed during which no one moved and no one confessed.
Fortunately, my lung healed just in time to escape my doctors’ contingency plan: to implant a valve in my chest so I could manually relieve the pressure during my exams. I took the Georgia bar exam on Tuesday and Wednesday and, because I was not yet cleared to drive, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Lucie Peoples, drove me to Knoxville to sit for the Tennessee exam on Thursday. I am happy to report that I passed both!
I recently was dunned by a law school classmate who called to remind me that I had not yet contributed to the WFU Law Fund this year. The fella commented that the two things he remembered most about me were that I used to bring my baseball cards to torts class (Professor Logan was a b-ball fan), and that during the middle of the bar exam he heard a noise, looked up from his blue book, and saw me doing a bunch of pushups beside my desk. As I recall that unfun two-day experience, there were not any baseball questions on the exam and my head was about to explode. I had to do something to anchor myself. Time constraints prevented me from learning any Buddhist Zen master exercises on the spot, and pushups seemed as good a way as any to get my brain cells working. Prior to that phone call, I had blocked out the bar exam from my memory. The experience was pretty traumatic. But looking back, I am confident that those pushups helped me get through the ordeal.