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Editorial: Keeping law a high calling

During a special afternoon gathering of the local bar Friday, retired Superior Court Judge John Holshouser took time to remember some of the colorful characters that once populated the Rowan County Courthouse.

“I could tell stories for 10 years and not get them all in,” Holshouser said.

In Holshouser’s young days as an attorney, he sometimes had questions about what to charge his clients as a fee, and he looked to experienced men such as Max Busby for help.

Busby liked to say, “You never want to gouge them, you just want to rough them up a bit,” Holshouser recalled. At times, Busby also would recite a little rhyme about paying up. “A shell for you, a shell for me, the oyster was the lawyer’s fee,” he would say in a sing-song voice.

Holshouser recalled the lawyer from Wadesboro who traveled daily to the Rowan County Courthouse. In making that regular trip, the lawyer had to pass through small towns such as Richfield, Gold Hill, Rockwell and Granite Quarry.

The attorney was questioning a man as a potential juror one day and couldn’t shake the feeling he knew the man, though the Rowan countian said he did not know the lawyer. Finally, the attorney asked him where he worked.

“I work at the ABC store in Rockwell,” the man answered.

Holshouser was part of the entertainment, if you will, during Friday’s more serious discussion on professionalism in the courtroom. If a consensus emerged from the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys participating, it was that the decorum in Rowan County courtrooms reflects a high-degree of professionalism — something these officers of the court take quite seriously.

The keys mentioned as being important for professionalism seem obvious, but they bear repeating — be prepared, be respectful, give your peers every professional courtesy, know the law and know your case. N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin, who also attended, described it as demonstrating excellence, integrity, civility and service to others.

North Carolina established the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism in 1998, and one of its main objectives is “to ensure the practice of law remains a high calling, dedicated to the service of clients and the public good.”

This is a self-policing kind of deal, and it doesn’t mean defense attorneys can’t be passionate for their clients, nor does it mean prosecutors aren’t aggressive on the state’s behalf. But by its construction and purpose, the courtroom is an adversarial place, and judges and attorneys doing their jobs in a professional manner make it work best.

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