My Resignation from the NC State Bar

This eloquent letter was written by Lewis Pitts, a friend, and former Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy [POCLAD] Principal

April 23, 2014

NC State Bar
Membership Department
PO Box 26088
Raleigh, NC 27611

Ronald G. Baker, Sr. , NC State Bar President
Sharp, Michael, Graham & Baker LLP
4417 N. Croatan Hwy.
Kitty Hawk, NC 27949

Re: My Resignation from the NC State Bar
State Bar # 20592

Dear Mr. Baker and Bar Folks,

I am a member in good standing with the North Carolina State Bar and have been since 1994. On January 31, 2014 I retired from Legal Aid of North Carolina and the practice
of law. After over 40 years of being a public interest attorney, I am hereby resigning
from the NC State Bar. I am aware of the options for “inactive status” but do not want
to exercise those options because they would require that I continue to be “subject to
the Rules of Professional Conduct and to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the State Bar…”
My resignation is because I see an overall breach by the Bar as a whole of the most
basic notions of professional conduct and ethics such that I do not want to be
associated with the Bar. Below is a summary of my reasoning.

But let me say first that I take no pleasure in my resignation and the assertions below. I
do not wish to be mean or flippant. The ministry of law has been a powerful force in my life and I have had the pleasure of working with many terrific people in pursuit of justice – lawyers and non-lawyers. I want these parting words to stir your minds and hearts into reflection, boldness, and transformational action. The harsh realities I describe are not readily apparent from the hegemonic corporate news that many rely on. But the naked simplicities of injustice are there in the alternative press. These should not be issues about which reasonable people differ. As my friend and colleague Michael Tigar, well known litigator and law professor, wrote: “When I speak of a prosaic and down to earth idea of justice, I mean simply that one can deduce principles of right from human needs in the present time.” “Crisis in the Legal Profession: Don’t Mourn, Organize” Vol. 37 Ohio University Law Review 537 (2011).

I became a licensed and practicing lawyer in South Carolina immediately after law
school in 1973. I was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in the early 1980’s and
the North Carolina Bar in 1994. My work has focused on racial justice, environmental
justice, children’s rights, and participatory democracy. In February 2014 I received the
Frank Porter Graham Award from the North Carolina ACLU “for longstanding and
significant contributions to the fight for individual freedom and civil liberties in North

Several years ago I resigned from the the South Carolina and District of Columbia Bars.

From my earliest days as a lawyer I have been concerned that the role of our profession
has been to serve and protect the political and business Establishment and not to
uphold Rule of Law; not to adhere to the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct
mandate of being “a pubic citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of
justice;” not to seriously fight for justice and equality for all. With notable exceptions for some very fine lawyers around the country and our state who use law as a tool for
social change and see themselves as “public citizens,” my career has seen the lawyers
in our nation forego their ethical duties to seek economic and social justice and instead
approach law practice as a business grounded first and foremost in making money.
One benchmark of such devolution was decades ago when lawyers were allowed by
their “self-regulated” system to begin to advertise their services.

Justice Harlan Stone, in an address to lawyers, law professors, judges, and law
students during the early New Deal years titled “The Public Influence of the Bar” (48
Harv. L. Rev. 1, 1934), summed up back then what I have seen during more recent
times: “Steadily the best skill and capacity of the profession has been drawn into the
exacting and highly specialized service of business and finance. At its best the changed
system has brought to the command of the business world loyalty and superb
proficiency and technical skill. At its worst it has made the learned profession of an
earlier day the obsequious servant of business, and tainted it with the morals and
manners of the market place in its most anti-social manifestations.” Justice Stone
described the plight of the country as a “sorely stricken social order” with the Bar doing
much to serve business but “…so little to make law more readily available as an
instrument of justice for the common man (sic).”

There is stark injustice in our land and the Bar stands mostly silent to its affirmative duty as the collective conscience of individual lawyers to speak out as “public citizen(s)” in opposition to these legal and moral wrongs. Law must be grounded in notions of
shared moral values. These have been made clear in our Founding Documents:
justice, equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s
own labor, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare – as well as the values
contained in the Bill of Rights. Today those values are treated as if “special interests”
or on the fringe instead of being core values. The “morals and manners of the market
place” trample these values routinely in capital’s mad hunt for profits while selectively
claiming “freedom” and “liberty” to expropriate and accumulate as much wealth as
possible. It is this hunt for profit that has turned our legal profession into the “legal
industry” serving the market instead of the People.

Today’s “sorely stricken social order,” contains monumental injustices. To list only a few such injustices: (1) our nation’s President orders indefinite detention of individuals
without charges or hearing; astonishingly, the President also picks from a list of individuals, including US citizens, which ones are to literally be assassinated without
any formal charge or hearing; (2) our nation ranks internationally among “developed”
nations as one of the worst with regard to levels of grinding poverty and wealth
inequality between the 1% and the 99%; huge corporations and their CEOs receive
millions of dollars yet pay wages so low we have coined a new term “the working
poor;” (3) our nation has the highest rate of incarceration in the world; engages in “mass incarceration” based on racist assumptions and with racist results; every state has a growing “school to prison pipeline” so unjust that the US Senate held a hearing
expressly about this pipeline in December 2012; (4) our nation’s electoral system (state
and federal) is awash with private money based on the absurd theory that the rich
spending money that drowns out the voices of the vast majority is a protected First
Amendment activity; the blunt, but accurate statement that we all pretend not to see, is
that elected officials serve those who contribute the most to them; the distorting,
corrosive effects of huge aggregates of capital accumulated through the corporate form
and donated to politicians ensure public policy and laws that serve the interests of the
1%; we do not have one person one vote; we have one dollar one vote; we do not have
democracy; we have plutocracy; (5) our nation engages in global wars over and for
corporate interests at an unspeakable cost in human life, and suffering; financial
resources needed for human services, school teachers, infrastructure maintenance, etc.
are squandered on war; (6) our nation’s highest court in 1886 declared, without
providing any logic, history, or reasoning, corporations to be “persons” entitled to the
constitutional rights of living persons; this silly construct has lead to corporate interests
masquerading as “persons” striking down laws and regulations designed to protect the
health, safety, and well-being of the People; (7) this same corporate power and its
philanthropic “foundations” have purchased bipartisan electoral support for so-called
“marked-based reform” of public education; these policies, incorporated into President
Obama’s Race to the Top funding scheme, have translated into a dumbed-down, drill
and kill, multiple-choice test-based curriculum; trumped up attacks on teachers and
teachers’ unions in an effort to make them more like low paid factory workers; lead to
privatization and profit-making from “choice” and charter schools; lead to resegregation of schools based on race and class; such “education policies” can never provide our youth with the critical, creative, and courageous thinking skills essential for any self governing democracy of the People, by the People, and for the People; listen to how often you hear the purpose of education to be “competing in the global economy” rather than becoming a good citizen; (8) human caused (mostly by oil, gas and other big corporations) global warming and climate change that literally threatens all life in a matter of decades, not centuries. The list could go on to describe our “sorely stricken social order.”

Yet, the Bar does little but applaud as Big Firms make millions; hourly rates on the
corporate side are sinful. Meanwhile, we have no Civil Gideon to provide much needed
civil representation for the average person. The quality of legal representation on
either the criminal or civil side depends on the amount of money one has. What a
travesty: millions of people desperately need legal representation while there are a flood of lawyers who cannot find work such that bar associations discuss the crisis of too many law schools.

Yes, the Bar routinely laments the public perception of lawyers and goes through highly
publicized exercises hinting at our professed calling and noble goals. But they are
mostly to create a better public image rather than change the substance of what lawye
do to serve the wealthy. The many lawyer jokes we all know reflect how every day
folks feel about us: “What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A darn
good start.”

Hence, I resign from the Bar and have ceased all practice of law. But I will continue to
exercise my First Amendment rights to actively pursue justice along with the millions of others already doing so.

I close with my earlier point: I hope the reasons for my resignation will generate
meaningful discussion and debate within and among law students, law teachers,
lawyers, judges, and every day folks about how the legal profession can better serve,
not business and finance, but the public good. We must be a legal profession, not a
legal industry one-sidedly serving market interests. We will all be for it and so will our
nation and state.



Lewis Pitts
129 Tate Street
Greensboro, NC 27403

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