|Judge J. Calvin Hill Photo by Johnnie Grant|
A stately, yet discerning man, Judge J. Calvin Hill rules the bench with a sovereign unbiased certainty.
By Johnnie Grant
Appointed to the bench in January of 2007, Judge J. Calvin Hill is the second African-American appointed to the 28th Judicial Court District for the state of North Carolina. Robert L. Harrell, the first African-American judge in the district, was appointed by former Gov. Jim Hunt in 1983 to complete the unexpired term of retired Judge James Israel.
graduate of North Carolina Central University’s School of Law, Hill
passed the bar in 1994. He began to practice law at the firm of C.C.
“Buddy” Malone in Durham, N.C. and was mentored by Malone himself. Hill
recalls beginning work at the law firm.
“The Malone Law
Firm was a training and mentoring ground in the early 1960s, 70s and
80s for approximately 90 lawyers, Buddy and I calculated over the
years, with the majority being African-American. We were a small firm
that did general practice law but was well respected for how well we
managed our cases,” Hill said.
Not sure of what
to expect, Hill didn’t realize he would begin work in the court room
soon after he graduated. “Being fresh out of law school, I was certain
I would just be following Malone around carrying his books and doing
research for his pending cases. The first time I stepped into the court
room as an attorney I was put on a first-degree murder case. Malone
allowed me to argue this case, examine witnesses and do closing
arguments…basically everything,” Hill said. “We were able to get very
good results from the disposition of that case. That was an awesome
opportunity for me being two weeks out of law school that Malone had
confidence in my ability. As a result, there was not a case that came
through the firm that I could not handle.”
It was a good
career move to get the early experience, according to Hill. “I soon
became aware there were lawyers who practiced for years that had never
argued a first-degree murder case. There were also lawyers who
practiced law that have never stepped into a court room. He gave me
those opportunities. I was honored to be able to practice law with
someone of the caliber, integrity and notoriety of C. C. Malone. He was
a remarkable man,” Hill said.
Still with the
successes at the Malone Law Firm, Hill’s preference was to be closer to
his family in Upstate South Carolina. A move west would put him in a
closer proximity. “My children, my son and daughter, were very busy
people during their high school years,” Hill said. “The drive from
Durham took eight hours one way and even with that, it was important
that I played an active roll in their lives.”
In the interim,
little did Hill know, there were ‘works in the making’ that would put
him closer to his family. There had not been an African American in the
Buncombe County public defender’s office since Harrell.
Ellison spoke with Professor Thomas Mdodana Ringer about possible
candidates for the position. At that time, attorneys from this area
thought the assistant public defender position would better serve the
county if there was an African American in that position. Professor
Ringer called me to talk about the available position and ask if it was
amenable for me to move to Asheville,” Hill said. “Without hesitation,
I said yes; I came for interviews and was accepted. Also, during the
four days I spent in Asheville at that time, I fell in love with the
ambience of the city. I’ve been here since then.”
Even with the
passion Hill displays for his present position, practicing law was a
second career choice. Hill’s undergraduate degree from Benedict College
in Columbia, South Carolina, was in social work. It was a natural
transition from social work to civic attorney, according to Hill.
“Coming to the
public defender’s office was a natural transition for me in direct
relation to my being a social worker. Most of the clients I worked with
as an assistant public defender had very similar lifestyles and crisis
situations that I dealt with in social services. Throughout my career,
I have worked with underprivileged people with disadvantaged
circumstances,” Hill said.
“Serving as a
social worker and subsequently as an assistant public defender from
July of 1995 until my appointment to this Judgeship, helped me to hone
my skills. I am able to take those experiences to the bench and render
proper and just decisions. The discernment afforded me by these career
opportunities throughout my life up to this point are invaluable.”
As Hill glances at his watch while donning his robe, he gave encouraging advice for young people…
irreplaceable – you’ve got to have it and as much of it as possible. It
is expensive, but not having an education is a lot more costly. Get
involved in a church community. Whether you are a religious person or a
spiritual person, just remember there is a power greater than you.
There is no replacement for motivation, self-discipline, hard work, and
confidence. Remember… if you enjoy success, it is not all because of
your hard work – there is that degree of karma whereby people are
willing to help you succeed.”
As of July 1,
2007, Judge J. Calvin Hill will be seated as the president of the Bar
Association for the 28th District of the state of North Carolina. In
the one hundred plus years the 28th District Bar Association has been
in existence, Hill is the first African American elected by his fellow
attorneys to hold this distinguished position.
C.C. Malone, now deceased, was one of the most legendary attorneys in
the state of North Carolina. Malone was one of the first trial lawyers
to participate in the Greensboro, N.C. civil rights “sit-in” cases and
thereafter traveled throughout the country trying other civil rights