The North Carolina Bar Foundation held its Spring Dedication ceremony on Wednesday, May 22, at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary. Photos from the day’s events can be viewed on the North Carolina Bar Association’s Facebook page.
President Jacqueline Grant presided. Program participants included President-elect LeAnn Nease Brown, Executive Director Jason Hensley, and Robin Barefoot who serves as chair of the NCBF Development Committee.
NCBF Endowment Justice Funds were dedicated in honor of two past presidents of the North Carolina Bar Foundation and the North Carolina Bar Association, L.P. “Tony” Hornthal Jr. and the late J. Donald Cowan Jr.
NCBF Liberty Funds were dedicated in honor of Henry C. “Jack” Roemer Jr., the late George W. Martin and the late Judge Robert R. Blackwell.
Walkway benches were dedicated in honor of the late Robert C. Cone, Judge Fred G. Morrison and the late James R. Rogers III. Stone pavers were dedicated in honor of Stokely G. Caldwell, the late Robert C. Cone, Marion A. Cowell Jr., Kenneth Kyre Jr. and the late Allan B. Head, longtime executive director of the NCBF and NCBA.
The Cowan Justice Fund was introduced by his son, Coleman Cowan, on behalf of the family, and former law partner Doug Ey of McGuireWoods in Charlotte. The Hornthal Justice Fund was introduced by L.P. (Phillip) Hornthal III on behalf of the family and longtime law partner Donald Prentiss of Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland of Elizabeth City.
Bud Christman of Mars Hill University introduced the Blackwell Liberty Fund, Henry P. “Hank” Van Hoy II introduced the Martin Liberty Fund, and Henry C. Roemer III introduced the Roemer Liberty Fund.
About the Funds
A Justice Fund is a named Endowment Fund established with a minimum gift of $50,000 directed toward the Foundation’s unrestricted endowment, which makes annual awards to programmatic purposes in line with the Foundation’s mission, vision and values, subject to the approval of the NCBF Executive and Volunteer Leadership. Justice Fund honorees are commemorated with a copper-etched portrait hung at the N.C. Bar Center.
Liberty Funds are named Endowment Funds established with a minimum unrestricted gift of $10,000 to the Endowment. A Liberty Fund is a named fund that is established in recognition and celebration of the honoree. Liberty Fund honorees are commemorated by a glass-etched portrait on the Liberty Fund Wall in the Liberty Garden at the N.C. Bar Center.
Walkway Benches are a thoughtful way to honor or remember a lawyer. The bench glass recognition panel provides the honoree’s name and those recognizing him or her. They are located on a semi-circular walkway that runs the entire length of the Liberty Garden behind the N.C. Bar Center.
The Stone Pavers are located on Lake View Plaza and recognize lawyers for their service and legal careers. The honoree’s name and hometown are inscribed on the 12” x 12” pavers. Numerous bar groups including Sections and Divisions recognize their outstanding members. In cooperation with the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, their annual J. Robert Elster Professionalism Award winner is recognized with a stone paver. Nearly 150 lawyers have been recognized in this manner.
The following biographical information was provided on the individual who were honored with the dedications of Justice Funds, Liberty Funds and Walkway Benches:
Justice Fund Honorees
James Donald Cowan Jr. was a nationally known North Carolina trial lawyer who reached the highest levels of his profession representing Fortune 500 companies and criminal defendants charged with capital crimes.
Don’s legal career spanned 43 years, from the jungles of Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army Office of Staff Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, to state and federal courtrooms across the United States. He was a highly sought-after lawyer, not only for his expertise across diverse areas of litigation, but also for his ability to master complex concepts of antitrust, intellectual property, and criminal law, and explain them to juries as if they were simple, straightforward, and intuitive ideas. In addition to his trial work,
Don was an Adjunct Professor of Trial Practice at Duke University School of Law, and regularly taught seminars on trial practice and evidence to trial judges and lawyers. He served multiple terms on the Wake Forest University Board of Trustees, and as president of the Wake Forest Law Alumni Association.
With a client list which read like a Who’s Who of North Carolina business, politics, and education, Don was known for his limitless work capacity. He was also perhaps the only lawyer or judge in the state to read every decision handed down by the North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals during his career. For his law practice, no case was too complex or too challenging for Don to take on. His former law partner, Doug Ey, theorized it this way: “Don long ago saw the scariest thing he will ever see: After jumping out of helicopters at night over the Mekong Delta with the 82nd Airborne, there is no judge, jury, or case that will ever intimidate him.”
Winning prestigious civil cases may have been what built Don’s legal career and reputation, but it was his work on criminal cases where he paid it back. In 1987, a Superior Court judge asked Don to represent a Martin County man accused of first-degree murder. For the next 19 years, Don spent thousands of hours knocking on doors, interviewing long-forgotten witnesses, and handling the capital murder trial and appeals. Don’s final legal challenge to his client’s death sentence revealed flaws in the state’s lethal injection drug cocktail which led to unusually painful and cruel deaths, and was the subject of a New York Times article on death penalty challenges across the country. At the conclusion of nearly two decades of complex legal work on the case, all without taking a fee, Don told a reporter, “There are a lot of lawyers who have done this more than I have. Nothing I did was unusual.”
He might not have viewed himself that way, but his colleagues did. Throughout his career, Don became known as a standard for respect and collegiality.
Whether they were on the same or different sides of a case, trial lawyers used Don’s example as the right way to practice law in an often-contentious profession among adversaries with the livelihoods of their businesses, or themselves, at stake.
Don was a Fellow, Regent, and Secretary of the American College of Trial Lawyers, and a former member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates. He was a past president of the North Carolina Bar Association, and Legal Services of North Carolina (now Legal Aid of North Carolina). During the course of his career, Don was consistently recognized as one of the top trial lawyers in the state, as well as the nation. In 2009, the North Carolina Bar Association selected Don as the second recipient of the Advocate’s Award, which was created to recognize lawyers with the highest degree of legal skill, ethical standards, and service to the legal community. Five years later, Don received the John J. Parker award, the highest honor given by the North Carolina Bar Association.
James Donald Cowan, Jr., was born in Raleigh on Nov. 14, 1943. Don attended Broughton High School, where he met his future wife, Sarah Langston. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 1965, and received his law degree from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1968, where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review.
Don began his legal career in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, serving as a Captain in the 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in Lai Khe, Republic of South Vietnam, and the 1st Armored Division in Nuremberg, Germany. A military and legal colleague noted that Don’s military service and the honors he received, but never discussed, “speak directly to the quiet strength and courage of this man.”
After returning to North Carolina, Don began practicing civil litigation in 1973 with what was then Smith, Moore, Smith, Schell & Hunter. He remained with the Smith Moore law firm for more than three decades until 2008 when he joined the law firm of Ellis & Winters, where he practiced until he suffered a disabling stroke on May 28, 2011, just two weeks after he made what would be his final argument before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Perhaps the only things that slowed Don down during his career were his family and his love of music. He was a constant (and vocal) presence on the sidelines at his children’s soccer games through high school, first as a coach and then as an encouraging father. At an early age, he introduced them to the music of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and perhaps his favorite band, The Eagles, whose country-tinged philosophical anthem “Take It Easy” became part of the soundtrack of their early lives.
Don’s children in turn gave him the Police, Van Halen, and Guns N’ Roses, much to the surprise of young lawyers in his firm who may have ridden with Don to depositions at any point in the late 1980s or ’90s, hoping to discuss the finer points of their research on the economic loss rule, or the completed and accepted doctrine, only to be serenaded by W. Axl Rose welcoming them to the jungle.
Don’s career continued at a breakneck pace until Dec. 5, 2006, and the birth of his first grandchild. The trials, appeals, and seminars didn’t stop, but their pace slowed, and were scheduled around trips to Potomac, Maryland, and New York City to visit his three grandchildren. They saw “Poppy,” as he was known to them, as the loving, silly grandfather who always made them laugh, and never tired of singing the Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” at the top of his lungs, again and again.
A generation of lawyers who followed Don benefited from the fundamentals of professionalism he passed on to them. Suzanne Reynolds, who worked with Don early in her career, and later served as Dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law, was one of those lawyers. “One of the greatest blessings of my professional life has been having Don Cowan as a mentor,” Reynolds said. “Don’s heart, however, surpasses his analytical prowess. He always saved time to champion issues that favored people whom the law had forgotten or excluded. I am a better lawyer and person because of Don Cowan.”
L.P. “Tony” Hornthal Jr. was born on October 16, 1936, in Tarboro, North Carolina, the son of L.P. and Mid Hornthal. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (History, 1958) and the UNC School of Law (1963).
Hornthal began his legal career as a clerk to N.C. Supreme Court Justice William B. Rodman Jr. (1963-64). He remained in Raleigh to serve as a staff attorney in the N.C. Attorney General’s Office (1964-65), where he met Dewey Wells while arguing an appeal. Evidently impressed with the young staff attorney’s work, Wells recruited Hornthal to join his practice in Elizabeth City.
Their bond remains in place to this day, long after Wells relocated to the western part of the state. Both men went on to serve as president of the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina Bar Foundation, and it was Wells who appropriately provided remarks last fall when the L.P. Hornthal, Jr. Justice Fund was announced in a surprise ceremony held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the First Judicial District Bar.
It was also most appropriate that the First Judicial District Bar meeting provided the setting for this announcement, because Hornthal is the first attorney from the seven-county district (Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck and Dare) to be honored through the establishment of an NCBF Justice Fund. Hornthal joined the First Judicial District Bar in 1965 when he moved to Elizabeth City to join what became the firm of Leroy, Wells, Shaw, Hornthal and Riley. The firm, from which Hornthal retired earlier this year, is now known as Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland.
Hornthal served as president of the NCBA and NCBF in 1996-97, having previously served on the NCBA Board of Governors and NCBF Board of Directors from 1986-89. As the 102nd president of the NCBA, Hornthal directed his attention toward three initiatives: alternative billing practices, the education and training of new lawyers, and access to justice in the wake of funding cuts to what was then known as Legal Services of North Carolina, Inc. (now Legal Aid of North Carolina). “If there is any place for our profession to make a stand,” Hornthal said in regard to legal aid funding, “it is here. If our profession does not stand for equal justice under law, what does it stand for?”
Hornthal, continuing from his installation address, held firm that hourly billing was responsible for many of the ills being encountered by the profession at the time. “If we continue to hold ourselves out as a business, we can expect the public will come to treat us as such, to judge us by the standards of the business world and to remove from us the privileges which surround the practice of law.”
Pledging to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Education and Training of Lawyers, Hornthal further insisted that “aspiring lawyers must be educated and the rest of us committed to the notion that lawyers are counselors first and advocates second.”
“The adversary system,” Hornthal later stated to a group of aspiring lawyers at Campbell Law School, “as wonderful as it is, was meant to have a limited application in what we do: the resolution of controversies in a trial setting. We, unfortunately, have come to apply it in virtually every aspect of our endeavors.”
Hornthal’s service to the bar extended far beyond the boundaries of the NCBA. He served on the Board of Directors of Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina from 1988-2012 and chaired its Claims Committee from 2006-12. He is also a former member of the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission, the N.C. IOLTA Board of Directors and the Commission on the Future of Justice and the Courts in North Carolina. He served as president of the UNC Law Alumni Association in 1991-92 and as a member of the University of North Carolina Board of Visitors.
Hornthal is also a past president of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, which honored him in 2011 as the recipient of the J. Robert Elster Award for Professional Excellence. He received the North Carolina State Bar’s John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award in 2012. And in June he will be inducted into the NCBA Legal Practice Hall of Fame, formerly known as the General Practice Hall of Fame.
On the home front, Hornthal provided exemplary volunteer leadership to numerous organizations. He served as chair of the Pasquotank-Elizabeth City Governmental Study Commission, as Senior Warden of Christ Episcopal Church, and as president of the Elizabeth City Rotary Club, the Elizabeth City Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors and the Albemarle Area United Way.
Hornthal is married to the former Harriett Lang of Kinston and they have two sons, L. Phillip Hornthal III, with whom he practiced, and W. Lang Hornthal of Asheville, and seven grandchildren: LP, Will, Alex, Ellie, James, Ashe and Walker.
“As a lawyer,” his son Phillip said, “he handled and tried almost every kind of case, and in his early years, also handled a wide variety of matters as a general practitioner, from office practice to domestic and criminal matters. He is not only known as a skilled litigator and jury advocate, but as a wise counselor to his clients.”
Liberty Fund Honorees
Judge Robert R. Blackwell graduated from Wake Forest University School of Law. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He practiced for 30 years and also served as Chief District Court Judge for Judicial District 17A and 9A comprising the following counties – Person, Caswell, and Rockingham. Judge Blackwell also served as an Emergency Judge until his retirement, presiding in 90 counties. He received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Governor Beverly Perdue. As an avid outdoorsman he loved to hunt and play golf. His service also included numerous terms as a church elder. Judge Blackwell loved the law and is giving back through the North Carolina Bar Foundation.
George W. Martin graduated from Duke University School of Law. He established a law firm and practiced law for many years in Mocksville, beginning in 1952 and continuing into his eighties. He had a deep and abiding love for Davie County and its people, was quietly involved with and supportive of many local charitable, civic and business organizations and endeavors, and played a leading role in the industrial development that occurred in Davie County in the 1960s and 1970s.Helping others and giving back were lifelong themes of George’s life.
Henry C. Roemer Jr., known to his friends as “Jack,” was born in Baltimore on December 20, 1924, moving to New York City at an early age and spending his childhood in New York, Paris and Havana. He graduated from Harvard College, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in World War II. After the war he graduated from Columbia University Law School and joined the New York law firm of Davis Polk Wardwell Sunderland & Kiendl (now Davis Polk & Wardwell) as an associate. In 1958 he joined the Legal Department of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, eventually becoming Senior Vice President, General Counsel and a member of the Board of Directors of its parent company, R. J. Reynolds Industries, Inc.
He retired from Reynolds in 1986, and for five years was of counsel to Petree, Stockton & Robinson (now Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton) in Winston-Salem. He served a term as a member of the Board of Governors of the North Carolina Bar Association, and served at various times as Chairman of each of the following committees: Corporate Counsel, Investment, and Dispute Resolution. He married Martha Lane Hebson, of Anniston, Alabama in 1952. They have two children: a daughter, Victoria L. “Tori” Roemer, who is a District Court Judge in Forsyth County, and a son, Henry C, Roemer III, who is a partner in the firm of Finger, Roemer, Brown & Mariani in Winston-Salem.
Walkway Bench Honorees
Robert C. Cone’s entire 39-year legal career was spent at Tuggle Duggins in Greensboro where he handled complex cases in state and federal courts. He was an N.C. State Bar Councilor for Greensboro from 2010-16 and received the State Bar’s John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award in 2016. He was President of the Greensboro Bar Association (2005-06) and Chair of the UNC Law Foundation, Inc. (2006-08).
Cone served the Greensboro community in many capacities as volunteer for Lawyer-on-the-Line Pro Bono Legal Services, Legal Aid of N.C.; Member, Greensboro Rotary Club (Past President, 2007-08); Trustee, Greensboro Jewish Federation, Inc. and Greensboro Jewish Foundation, Inc.; Former Trustee, Temple Emanuel, Inc.; Past Chair (2005-07), Greensboro Public Library Board of Trustees; Past Chair (1991-96), North Carolina Regional Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League; Past Vice-Chair (2009-11), Greensboro Urban Ministry; Past Chair (2009-10), Cone Health Foundation; Former Member, Advisory Board of the UNCG Program for Conflict Resolution.
Judge Fred G. Morrison Jr. graduated from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1963. For six years he served the Thomasville community as an associate with E.W. Hooper and then was appointed Solicitor of the Thomasville Recorders Court by Governor Dan Moore. Governor Bob Scott appointed him as Legal Counsel to the Governor in 1969 and he served in this position until becoming the first Executive Director of the North Carolina Inmate Grievance Commission on September 1, 1974. In March 1986 he accepted his current position as an Administrative Law Judge with the NC Office of Administrative Hearings.
He was State President of the North Carolina Jaycees in 1972-73 which required extensive statewide travel. He has been an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association for more than 50 years.
James R. Rogers III practiced law for 50 years in Raleigh and raised children for nearly as long. He was a Broughton High School graduate as well as a Double Deacon. Beyond his dedication to his family and his exemplary service to his clients, women’s soccer was his passion. “Coach” began his 25-year career coaching his daughters’ recreational teams with CASL in 1978 and continued through classic travel levels and retired from coaching after serving as the head coach of Saint Mary’s School in 2003. His teams won multiple state championships and were successful in regional tournaments. He was named North Carolina Youth Soccer Coach of the Year in 1993 and was the first inductee into the CASL Hall of Fame in 2006. More than the accolades, he cherished most of all the relationships with his players.
Stone Paver Honorees