Lawyers in Service: An Interview with Justice Mark D. Martin
Article Date: Monday, April 09, 2012
Written By: Luke A. Dalton
According to Justice Martin, public service means “taking the opportunity to give back to the community by using your best talents to contribute towards the good of all society—Public service is an honor and a privilege.” Few have devoted as much time and energy to improving the administration of justice as Justice Mark D. Martin.
When reflecting on his earlier years—when his family moved from place to place as a result of his Father’s service in the Air Force—Justice Martin noted the commitment to public service and strong work ethic he witnessed in his Father. After his retirement from the Air Force, Justice Martin’s Father served as a business professor at Western Carolina University until his passing in 1990. The people of North Carolina and the legal profession are fortunate that Justice Martin applies the traits he learned from his Father to every task placed on his desk.
Justice Martin attended Western Carolina University, graduating summa cum laude. After college, Justice Martin attended the University of North Carolina School of Law, where he graduated with honors and was the Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation. Later, he obtained a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from the University of Virginia.
Justice Martin began a career devoted to service and the promotion of fair and impartial justice as a law clerk to the Honorable Judge Clyde H. Hamilton, then a United States District Court Judge. Justice Martin was quick to say that serving as a judicial law clerk is an excellent experience that law students should consider: “Whether you have an interest in being a litigator, a law school professor, or a judge, every law student should consider judicial clerkships. Serving as a judicial law clerk gives young lawyers a first-hand look at how our court system works to resolve disputes in both civil and criminal cases.”
Justice Martin went on to explain that whatever career path is chosen, it is imperative that every “young lawyer does the best job possible with what is on their desk at the present time.” Moreover, young lawyers must work to develop and maintain reputations of honesty and integrity, and a reputation as a fine lawyer: “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation—young lawyers should uphold their reputation at all times.”
Hearing Justice Martin reflect on his early legal career allowed me to better understand the foundations of his demonstrated ethical values. After his clerkship, Justice Martin entered private practice and later served as legal counsel to Governor James G. Martin (no relation). His time with the Governor reinforced in him that “a commitment to high ethical values must be a part of public service.”
In light of his demonstrated work ethic and commitment to high ethical values, it is easy to see why the people of North Carolina would entrust Justice Martin with the responsibility of serving as a member of its judiciary. During his career, Justice Martin has witnessed the importance of the fair and impartial administration of justice while serving on the bench as a Resident Superior Court Judge, as a Judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and now as a Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Justice Martin is the only active member of the North Carolina State Judiciary to serve on all three of these Courts.
During his career as a Superior Court Judge, Justice Martin worked with lawyers, citizen jurors, law enforcement officers, and court officials throughout 28 North Carolina counties. His experiences as a Superior Court Judge solidified his belief that our institutions, founded on constitutional principles, allow people to resolve any conflict when they identify the problem, set aside their differences, and put forth a collaborative effort to find a solution.
Justice Martin authored hundreds of opinions in civil and criminal cases as a member of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He was quick to highlight the importance of judges who serve on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, as it is the final destination for the overwhelming majority of cases.
In 1999, Justice Martin joined the distinguished few who serve on our State’s highest Court when he was installed as the youngest Justice in North Carolina’s history. It is evident that Justice Martin enjoys the analytical rigors of the appellate bench. Justice Martin explained that under the common law system our law develops over time, as legal principles are enunciated on a case-by-case basis. Justices must think about the facts presented, but must also consider the “internal logic of that particular area of law to understand how the proposed case resolution will fit into the overall legal landscape.” Although the system may not work perfectly each time, one of the things Justice Martin enjoys most about serving on the bench is that “each case presents an opportunity for justice to prevail through uniform application of legal principles.”
Justice Martin emphasized that the most important consideration in any state court system is that it be fair and impartial: “The paramount consideration must be that all cases, whatever the facts, are fairly and impartially reviewed to ensure an outcome consistent with the rule of law.” He went on to explain the role of lawyers in promoting the rule of law and the fair and impartial administration of justice. Justice Martin stated that our legal education allows us to give back “by helping others understand the importance of the rule of law and how our constitutional principals aim to ensure that all people are treated fairly.”
Outside of his judicial responsibilities, Justice Martin has served on numerous committees aimed at promoting the rule of law and improving the administration of fair and impartial justice on a state, national, and international level. In 2003, Justice Martin chaired the Commission on the Future of the North Carolina Business Court and was quick to compliment the group of individuals who served on this Commission. Among other achievements, the Commission helped to broaden the excellent work of the Honorable Judge Ben Tenille by aiding in the expansion of the Business Court from a single-judge model to a multi-judge model. Justice Martin currently serves as Chair of the Appellate Judges Conference and Vice-Chair of the Judicial Division of the ABA, which aim to improve the administration of justice in our court systems.
Justice Martin noted that one of his most enjoyable projects was volunteering with the World Justice Project. As a member of the Commission’s rule of law subcommittee, he helped organize more than a dozen multidisciplinary rule of law conferences for adult participants. Justice Martin has since collaborated with other volunteers to adapt the multidisciplinary framework of the World Justice Project for college and high school participants. The first conference for high school students was held at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh in 2010. The Wake County Bar Association adopted this conference and now convenes it on an annual basis for local high school students. Justice Martin also helped organize the first World Justice Project Conference for college students, which was held in February of this year at the North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Among his other achievements, Justice Martin chaired the 2008 Appellate Judges Education Institute Annual Summit for appellate judges and justices, staff attorneys, and appellate attorneys from across the country. He noted that one of the highlights during the Summit occurred when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended a reception he had organized for Summit leadership.
Justice Martin has also served as Chair of the ABA Justice Center Coordinating Council, where he oversaw administration of the ABA John Marshall Award. In 2009, he co-chaired the ABA National Summit on Fair and Impartial Courts, where representatives from thirty-seven jurisdictions convened in Charlotte, North Carolina to discuss funding for state justice systems. As an attendee of this Summit, I saw first-hand the beneficial impact of Justice Martin’s efforts to improve state court systems and governments throughout our country.
In recognition of his long-term dedication to the improvement of the administration of justice in the United States, Justice Martin was inducted into the Warren E. Burger Society in 2011. According to the National Center for State Courts, membership in this Society honors individuals “who have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to improving the administration of justice through extraordinary contributions of service.”
In addition to his many other professional roles, Justice Martin has served as an adjunct law professor and taught law students at UNC, Duke, and NCCU. In this capacity, Justice Martin has served as a mentor to students who will play an important role in ensuring the administration of fair and impartial justice in their future professional lives.
As this brief look at his legal and judicial career illustrates, Justice Martin uses his best talents to serve the people of North Carolina. As young lawyers, we should all aim to follow in Justice Martin’s footsteps and also take steps to help improve the administration of fair and impartial justice. •
Luke Dalton practices with Harris, Creech, Ward & Blackerby, P.A. in New Bern.
Views and opinions expressed in articles published herein are the authors' only and are not to be attributed to this newsletter, the section, or the NCBA unless expressly stated. Authors are responsible for the accuracy of all citations and quotations.