State Bar Honors Cunningham, Holshouser
The state bar has honored two local attorneys with an award named for the son of a longtime Southern Pines doctor.
At the March meeting of the Moore County Bar Association, Tony DiSanti, president of the North Carolina State Bar, presented John B. McMillan Distinguished Service awards to former Gov. Jim Holshouser and Bruce Cunningham.
In accepting his award, Holshouser took a moment to note that it bears the name of a former state bar president who grew up in Southern Pines, where his father practiced medicine. McMillan's office was in a brick building still standing just down from the post office on the other side of what was then the public library.
"It is supposed to be because you are doing things beyond just keeping your nose to the grindstone," Holshouser said. "It is obviously an honor and unexpected. The fact that it had McMillan's name on it had special meaning for me. I knew the family and knew him well."
Holshouser noted what he termed the irony of the state bar president, who made the awards, being from his own hometown up in the mountains.
"Jim Holshouser is from Boone," DiSanti said. "Being from Boone, I am especially privileged to make this presentation on behalf of the North Carolina State Bar."
His own office, in the building once owned by the Holshousers, had been the office of the former governor, he said.
"I plan for the town of Boone to erect a historical marker in front of my office, which states that Jim Holshouser, the 68th governor of the state of North Carolina, practiced law there," he said. "I believe that would be more appropriate than stating 'Jim Holshouser, the 68th governor of the state of North Carolina, slept here."
DiSanti noted that Holshouser graduated from Davidson College, received his law degree from the School of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was admitted to the bar in 1960.
"Jim served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives before he was elected as governor in 1972," DiSanti said. "When his term expired in 1977, Jim began practicing law in Moore County, where he is known for friendliness and humility despite his many accomplishments."
Holshouser worked on the Committee on Court Study for the North Carolina Bar Association and was appointed by the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court to serve on the Judicial Response Committee.
He served on the boards of multiple colleges and universities and currently serves on the advisory board of Elon University School of Law.
"Jim's commitment to enhancing the legal system, his service to the state of North Carolina and his leadership in many civic activities have earned him the respect and admiration of the bar and the broader community," DiSanti said. "I have always been impressed with his legal skills and his lack of self-importance notwithstanding his many accomplishments."
The McMillan Award is not for success in the practice of law or for community service in general, according to Southern Pines attorney Douglas Gill, who serves on the bar committee that makes the awards.
"There is not any particular number to be given out," Gill said. "A committee of the state bar looks at nominees and makes selections. There is no set number of these awards in any given year.
"It is like the Medal of Honor. It is distinguished from good community citizens because it is for doing good works as lawyers like Jim Holshouser's on the judicial standards committee or Bruce Cunningham mentoring students. It is not because Jim was governor or Bruce is on the school board."
Cunningham was a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1973. He has been a criminal defense lawyer in Moore County for more than 37 years, according to a summary Gill prepared for the bar journal that outlined much of the volunteer service Cunningham does as a lawyer.
"He acted as legal adviser to the North Carolina chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and held several leadership positions in the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ)," Gill said. "Bruce promotes legal education by frequently speaking at seminars and CLEs about criminal practice. He has contributed to legal scholarship by authoring several law review articles on criminal sentencing issues. He devotes considerable time to mentoring and advising less experienced criminal defense lawyers in his community and through the NCAJ listserv.
"Bruce recently presided as 'chief justice' in a mock Supreme Court argument by 10th-grade civics students at a local high school. The exercise promoted public awareness about the legal system by teaching students about the law and civil debate. Bruce is known as a quietly dedicated advocate for his clients, a passionate opponent of the death penalty, and an admired mentor and role model for criminal defense lawyers in North Carolina."
The awards are inscribed pedestals, with clocks embedded.
Cunningham said this particular award means a lot to him.
"I am very honored to be a recipient of the John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award and particularly pleased that I was able to share with my good friend Gov. Jim Holshouser," he said. "The award recognizes contributions by attorneys helping younger attorneys be successful in the practice of law and in public service. It is also to recognize public service as lawyers."
He said he particularly enjoys the mock Supreme Court sessions he has been doing with Pinecrest teacher Carla Neal's civics classes.
"I very much enjoyed the opportunity to introduce students to the practice of the Supreme Court of the United States and was impressed by the level of understanding and performance when they present mock arguments," Cunningham said. "They researched and argued the violent video game case from Oregon on the same day it was actually argued in Washington. The issue was: Can the state prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors under 18?"
Cunningham got the actual briefs from both sides for the students.
"The case has not been decided yet in D.C." he said. "When it is, I will go back to the class for discussions about what the decision was. She (Neal) is doing it again this semester. I will be going back within the next couple of weeks to help a new class."
When Cunningham first came to practice law in Moore County, there were not even copy machines in the clerk's office. Today, he can represent an appellant in Alaska whom he has met only online.
"The award recognized willingness to help other attorneys in their cases," he said. "I participate in several legal blogs and share thoughts with other lawyer across the state and the country. I was consulting with an attorney in Alaska about a sentencing issue. He took it as far as he could in state court, so now I represent a defendant in Alaska seeking relief in the Supreme Court that I only met through the Internet.
"When I came here, I saw Mosely Boyette dictating a deed to secretary taking it down in shorthand because we didn't have copy machines. Now we are practicing law online."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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