In Memoriam: Attorney Donald “Don” Kenneth Tisdale Sr.

Stacey, a Black woman with black hair, wears black-rimmed glasses, a white blouse, black jacket and gold jewelry.By Stacey D. Rubain

Retired Attorney Don Tisdale of Winston-Salem passed away peacefully at his home on April 30, 2024, with his devoted wife, Vicki, and son Ken, also an attorney in Winston-Salem, by his side. Don grew up in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, and graduated from Walter Williams High School in Burlington. He earned both his Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor from Wake Forest University. Following his law school graduation in 1968, Don worked in private practice in Winston-Salem until 1974, when he was elected the youngest District Attorney in Forsyth County history, at the age of 32. He went on to serve three terms, and during his tenure, helped to establish North Carolina’s Victim Assistance Network (NCVAN). Don ended his career as a founding partner of the law firm of Grace, Tisdale & Clifton, in Winston-Salem. One of his greatest pleasures was when his son, Ken, joined the practice.

I met “Mr. Tisdale” as a third-year law student at Wake Forest University when he was assigned to be my Clinic criminal placement supervising attorney. The highlight of my career was being Don’s associate after I graduated from law school. I had the privilege of eulogizing Don at his Memorial Service in Winston-Salem on May 3, 2024. What follows is an edited excerpt of my remarks about this truly amazing man.  It is my hope that young lawyers find a mentor of Don’s caliber to help guide them and teach them in the way that Don did for me.

Picture this: Winston-Salem, January 1999. I was a 23-year-old 3rd year law student at Wake Forest and was starting Clinic. Well, luck was with me because my criminal placement was with none other than Donald K. Tisdale.

Coming into my criminal placement, I had no idea who Don was. I’m from Maryland, so I knew nothing about the Winston-Salem legal community. I did not know that I’d hit the legal jackpot and been placed with a legend. And little did I know that this chance placement would forever change my life.

What should have only been a six-week placement turned into me spending the entire semester with Don, because as his longtime secretary and my dear friend Zina retells it, Don said that I “just wouldn’t leave.” I loved being in his office. There was nothing better than sitting around talking to Don, Zina, and our dear deceased friend, Bruce Fraser. It was way better than going to class!

Every morning, I’d go to Don’s office, where I would find him and Zina going over his schedule for the day. Then, he and I would set out and tackle the day. I can vividly recall riding with Don in either his black two-seater BMW or his big white Chevy Tahoe to different counties for court appearances or jail visits. These road trips were my favorite times with Don because it was during these car rides that we’d talk about his life and career, and the practice of law. Now many of you may think that Don was a man of few words, but as I recall it, we had long-ranging conversations where Don would recount anecdotal stories from his life and extoll the virtues of the practice of law. In hindsight, it may be that those long-ranging conversations consisted of me running my mouth, and Don quietly listening to me, chiming in with pearls of wisdom here and there. But no matter how those car conversations really went, I truly got to know Don, and he dispensed invaluable wisdom that I have carried with me through my life and career.

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O.J. is Dead, But Our Duty to be Zealous Advocates Endures

Stacey, a Black woman with black hair, wears black-rimmed glasses, a white blouse, black jacket and gold jewelry.By Stacey D. Rubain

The recent death of O.J. Simpson brought out reflections by many on the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and the enrapturing period that ensued. From the white Ford Bronco slow-speed police chase to the image of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., wearing a black knit cap while arguing before the jury, many of us were glued to our televisions for over a year because of the larger-than-life image that Simpson held in American pop culture. And while even in death, O.J. Simpson remains a polarizing figure, his double-murder trial, famously dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” remains one of the most fascinating trials in American history. It changed the public’s view of lawyers for a generation. And the names of so many people involved in the trial – Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, and Mark Fuhrman – are indelibly etched in our memories for their roles in Simpson’s trial.

From the moment the LAPD zeroed in on Simpson, his lawyers outmaneuvered the prosecution at seemingly every turn. Simpson’s defense team employed a strategy that was quite sophisticated, in that from the earliest days of their representation of Simpson, the defense team understood the intangible and tangible elements necessary to successfully defend Simpson: assembling a team of seasoned and venerable lawyers and experts; using defense experts to impeach and undermine prosecution experts; using publicity to shape the public’s perception of Simpson; frontloading defense theories into the public consciousness early and often so that those theories gained traction and acceptance prior to trial; challenging everything, no matter how minimal; disrupting the prosecution; and (almost) always presenting to the public as unified and supportive of Simpson’s innocence. Simpson’s defense team’s zealous advocacy was relentless and full throttle, and ultimately paid dividends, in the form of Simpson’s acquittals.

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Calling Criminal Defense Attorneys: New Date for Informational Lunch with Chief District Judge Catherine C. Eagles

Stacey, an African American woman with short brown hair, wears brown glasses, gold earrings and a necklace, and a black suit.By Stacey D. Rubain

The CJA Panel Committee for the Middle District of North Carolina and Chief District Judge Catherine C. Eagles cordially invite attorneys interested in learning about criminal defense work in the federal court for the Middle District of North Carolina to an informational lunch on Thursday, May 9, 2024, at 12:30 p.m., in the Jury Assembly Room, Second Floor, at the John Hervey Wheeler Courthouse, which is located at 323 E. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27702. Under the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 and the Middle District CJA Plan, the CJA Panel Committee works with the U.S. District Court and the Office of the Federal Public Defender to recruit, select, support, and oversee CJA Panel attorneys. CJA Panel attorneys are appointed and compensated on a case-by-case basis and perform a vital service not only to their clients but also to our Court and our community. Membership on the CJA Panel requires dedication to excellence in indigent criminal defense and is a wonderful opportunity for service as well as personal and professional growth.

If you maintain a primary, satellite or shared office in the Middle District, and are interested in learning more about becoming a CJA Panel attorney, please register for the luncheon by providing your contact information via email no later than Friday, May 3, 2024.

Informational Lunch with Chief District Judge Catherine C. Eagles has been Postponed

Stacey, an African American woman with short brown hair, wears brown glasses, gold earrings and a necklace, and a black suit.By Stacey Rubain 

The Criminal Justice Act Panel (CJA) Informational Lunch scheduled for March 28, 2024, at 12:30 p.m., at the John Hervey Wheeler Federal Courthouse in Durham, has been postponed due to a court conflict. Please be on the lookout for a blog post with a new date for the luncheon very soon.

Informational Lunch with Chief District Judge Catherine C. Eagles

Stacey, an African American woman with short brown hair, wears brown glasses, gold earrings and a necklace, and a black suit.By Stacey Rubain 

If you think you might one day like to expand your practice to federal criminal matters by taking appointed cases for indigent defendants, you are invited to attend an informational lunch program and learn more about the appointed counsel list for the Middle District of North Carolina, known as the Criminal Justice Act Panel. Items covered will include the experience required to serve on the panel, the application process, and some of the rewards and challenges of federal criminal work. This lunch is hosted by Chief District Judge Catherine Eagles and the Middle District Federal Defender’s Office.

A program will be held in Durham on Thursday, March 28, 2024, in the Jury Assembly Room on the second floor of the John Hervey Wheeler Courthouse, located at 323 East Chapel Hill Street. Lunch is included for those who register in advance by emailing [email protected] by Monday, March 25. The program will begin at 12:30 p.m. and conclude no later than 1:45 p.m.

Kearns Davis’ Remarks at 15th Annual Criminal Justice Peter S. Gilchrist III & Wade M. Smith Award Dinner

Kearns, a white man with brown hair, wears a white shirt, red tie and black jacket. By Kearns Davis 

The NCBA Criminal Justice Section held the 15th Annual Criminal Justice Peter S. Gilchrist III & Wade M. Smith Awards Dinner in Raleigh on January 18, 2024. Kearns Davis, a partner at Brooks Pierce in Greensboro, and a former Chair of the Criminal Justice Section, was the recipient of the 2023 Wade M. Smith Award. The late Elizabeth “Beth” Dierauf, a longtime Assistant District Attorney for Henderson, Transylvania, Polk, Rutherford, and McDowell Counties, was named the recipient of the 2023 Peter S. Gilchrist III Award. Beth lost a long battle with cancer on November 11, 2023.

Kearns graciously shared his remarks from the dinner, which are posted in their entirety below:

I wish so much I could share this evening with Beth Dierauf. I never had the opportunity to work with Beth, but I’ve learned about her since this event was scheduled. She and I have worked with a lot of the same people, and our kids are about the same ages and have much in common. I feel almost like I knew her, and I wish I’d had that privilege. If Beth were here, I imagine she would feel what I feel tonight: a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to work with an amazing group of dedicated lawyers and judges in the criminal justice system; thankful that her life’s work has made a difference in her community and her state; and honored to spend this evening with people she admires and respects so much.

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So You’ve Been Appointed to a Juvenile Charged with First-Degree Murder

Eric, a white man with brown hair and a beard, wears a white sihrt, blue tie, and grey jacket. By Eric Zogry

So you’ve been appointed a juvenile charged with first-degree murder, but you didn’t handle the transfer from juvenile court – now what?

Locate and Visit/Contact Your Client

Remember, if your client is under 18, they will be housed in a juvenile detention center. There are twelve juvenile detention centers spread out across the state. Make sure to have regular contact with your client – it’s confusing when the first set of hearings is so fast, yet the rest of the case can take months if not years. Contact with your youth client builds trust and credibility.

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Addressing Racial Inequities in North Carolina’s Criminal Justice System

By Jasmine McGhee

In December, the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice delivered recommendations to Gov. Roy Cooper to make the criminal justice system and law enforcement system fairer to Black people and communities of color. Now, we are in the next phase of our work – turning these recommendations into reality to make North Carolina safer for every person.

The Task Force was led by Attorney General Josh Stein and Justice Anita Earls and included North Carolinians with a range of experiences with the systems that shape, and so often have failed, our communities. Our 125 recommendations span a breadth of criminal justice issues – some well-known, some not – that call for real, meaningful change to address racial inequities.

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Reconsidering North Carolina’s Minimum Age of Jurisdiction

By Eric Zogry

In 2019, North Carolina raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18. This law, which was in effect for a hundred years, addressed the maximum age at which a person would be charged in juvenile court rather than adult court. Much attention was paid to the fact that North Carolina was one of the last states to automatically criminalize 16- and 17-year-olds for any offense. But did you know that North Carolina is currently the only state in the country to charge youth as young as six years old?

The minimum age of jurisdiction is the youngest age a child may be charged with a crime. Though many (29) states have no minimum age, North Carolina has the distinction of being the state with the youngest minimum age. There doesn’t appear to exist any legislative history on why this age was set, so it’s difficult to determine the policy rationale behind setting the age of six.

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The N.C. Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice

By Shana Fulton

This blog post summarizes some of the recent activities of the newly formed North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (“TREC”) chaired by N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls and N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. The TREC consists of 24 individuals representing policy makers, civil rights advocates, judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors and law enforcement officers. The full membership can be found at the TREC’s website at www.ncdoj.gov/TREC.

The TREC has had two meetings and one public comment session. The first meeting on July 10, 2020, included an introduction by Gov. Roy Cooper. Justice Earls and Attorney General Stein explained how the TREC would accomplish its work. The members then each shared what they hoped they could contribute to the TREC and what perspective they hoped they could gain from the TREC to share with their organizations and to encourage and enact further meaningful change to the criminal justice system.

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