Civil Rights

For decades, Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys have committed themselves to advancing the public good. We have litigated class action cases to uphold the rights of voters, government employees, prisoners, and mentally disabled children, and have represented individuals in cases of wrongful convictions, police brutality, and governmental discrimination.

Representing the Wrongfully Convicted

Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys have recently been involved in some of North Carolina’s highest profile wrongful convictions. Two of these cases recently settled for a total of more than $12,000,000.

In September 2013, Patterson Harkavy settled a case on behalf of Greg Taylor for $4,625,000. Taylor had served 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. His conviction was based on a state crime lab report that falsely indicated a connection between Taylor and the crime scene. Following Taylor’s exoneration, Patterson Harkavy attorneys filed a civil rights suit against the crime lab officials responsible for the misleading lab report. Three years of litigation confirmed that the lab had a long-standing practice of producing misleading reports.

In November 2013, Patterson Harkavy settled a case on behalf of Dwayne Dail for $7,520,000. Dail served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In 1995, Dail began requesting that crime-scene evidence be subjected to DNA testing, as was his statutory right. The Goldsboro Police Department inaccurately and repeatedly told Dail that all evidence had been destroyed. In 2007, a Goldsboro employee finally found an envelope containing evidence related to the crime. Dail was exonerated after DNA testing demonstrated his innocence. In litigating Dail’s civil claims against in federal district court, Patterson Harkavy defeated the city’s motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment, eventually settling the case after three years of litigation.

Our attorneys continue to work with individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and organizations dedicated to securing their exoneration.

Fighting for our Public Schools

Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys are committed to protecting public education in North Carolina. We are currently working with the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina Justice Center to challenge the constitutionality of legislation eliminating the rights of North Carolina’s public school teachers and undermining the integrity of North Carolina’s public schools.

In December 2013, Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys, together with attorneys from the Justice Center, filed suit alleging that a recently enacted private school voucher scheme violates the North Carolina Constitution. If implemented, the scheme would reduce public school funding to subsidize tuition at private schools. In August 2014, the superior court granted our motion for summary judgment in full, permanently enjoining the program’s implementation. The Court of Appeals has since partially stayed this permanent injunction; a full appeal of the superior court ruling is currently pending in the Court of Appeals.

In 2013, Patterson Harkavy’s attorneys, together with the National Education Association, filed suit alleging that legislation eliminating teacher tenure violates the North Carolina and United States Constitutions. If implemented, the legislation would strip career status teachers of their employment rights. In May 2014, the Superior Court partially granted our motion for summary judgment, permanently enjoining the repeal as it applied to teachers who had already earned tenure. Appeal of this order is currently pending before the Court of Appeals.

A Distinguished Record of Defending the People

In addition to the work described above, our attorneys have won cases improving state prison conditions, establishing a statewide right to treatment services for troubled youths, and changing the method of electing local officials in many North Carolina communities. Our attorneys have regularly prepared amicus briefs on behalf of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the North Carolina Advocates for Justice on issues including employment discrimination, unlawful drug testing, and unconstitutional searches.

Civil rights violations are particularly difficult to prove, especially in today’s legal climate. As a result, we are able to accept only a limited number of these cases. If you believe you have suffered serious damage because of a civil rights violation, or are one of a number of people suffering a systemic injustice, please contact us online or call (800) 458-2541.

Read our blog posts about Civil Rights.