Burton Craige accepts Thurgood Marshall Award

The North Carolina Advocates for Justice presented Patterson Harkavy attorney Burton Craige with the organization’s Thurgood Marshall Award at its annual convention in Wilmington, North Carolina. NCAJ established the award “to recognize extraordinary and selfless service to the people of North Carolina in keeping with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

In accepting the award, Burton gave the following remarks:

It is a great honor for me to join the ranks of those who have received this award, beginning with the first recipient, my amazing partner Hank Patterson, and culminating with the most recent recipient, the equally amazing Joe Cheshire.  The first is a great workers’ compensation lawyer.  The second is a great criminal lawyer.  Many years ago, our founders had the wisdom to build an organization that would bring Hank and Joe together, in the spirit of Thurgood Marshall.

Marshall was a great and courageous civil rights lawyer.  At the same time, he was a great and courageous criminal lawyer.  He saw no conflict in those roles. When he walked into every courtroom, his mission — like Hank’s, like Joe’s, like NCAJ’s — was the same: to protect the vulnerable, to fight for equal justice.  

Early in my legal career, I started a practice that has helped sustain me. At the end of a particularly memorable case, I ask the client to send me a photo.  I frame the photo and put it on my wall. Now the wall is almost full. I have photos of black agricultural extension agents who suffered years of racial discrimination, of women who were sexually harassed on the job, of the children of a pregnant woman who died after she was denied treatment in an emergency department, of men who spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit. In the office late at night, when I need inspiration and hope, we look at each other, and I remember what we went through together.

There are other inspiring faces, not on my wall, but in my mind’s eye. I’m thinking of members of this organization who taught me so much. People like Adam Stein and Charles Becton, who took me on as a clerk when I was in law school. My law partners Hank Patterson, Mike Okun, Melinda Lawrence, Trip Van Noppen, Marty Geer, Leto Copeley, Valerie Johnson.  And Bill Thorp, Allen Bailey, Howard Twiggs, and Charlie Blanchard, who founded and built the Academy, and were so generous to those of us who followed.

Lately I’ve been thinking of the next generation. In the past ten years, a group of terrific young lawyers has joined our firm: Brad Bannon, Narendra Ghosh, Paul Smith, and Trisha Pande. Working with them has been a great gift to me. And my role as Legal Affairs Counsel for NCAJ has brought me in touch with many other fine young lawyers. When I see the dedication of Anne Wright, who drove from Boone to Chapel Hill a few weeks ago for a moot court to prepare for her first oral argument in the Court of Appeals; when I see the generosity of lawyers who give dozens of hours to write an amicus brief for NCAJ – as Jon Wall, Laura Wetsch, David Weiss, and Shawn Howard are doing this weekend; when I see the energy and joy of the new Women’s Caucus; when I see the courage of those who take on difficult cases to protect people’s rights, like the lawyers we heard this morning in the civil and criminal sessions…

When I see all these things, I’m happy to know that the spirit of Thurgood Marshall is alive and well, right here, right now.