Law School Honors Former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr. with Outstanding Alumni Award

I. Beverly Lake, Jr., former chief justice of the NC Supreme Court, was recently honored by the law school with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Service to the Legal Profession and to the State of North Carolina.  At a dinner for the Law School Alumni Council and Board of Visitors this past Friday evening, Lake was praised for his many contributions  to NC’s judicial system and received a standing ovation as he was presented with the award by Dean Robert Walsh.

Lake, who retired from his position with the NC Supreme Court on January 31, 2006, ends an exemplary career in public service to the state of North Carolina.  He began his journey into the legal profession as an assistant attorney general in 1969.   After a short stint in private practice, he was elected to the NC Senate in 1976 and served two terms.  In 1980, he ran for governor but lost to Democrat candidate, Jim Hunt.  He went on to serve as a Superior Court judge based in Raleigh for five years and, in 1992, was appointed by Governor Jim Martin to the NC Supreme Court.  He was elected to the court in 1994 and to the chief justice position in 2000.  Since that time, he has been a tireless advocate for the NC courts and for improvements in NC’s justice system. 

Lake’s many accomplishments as chief justice include the creation of the Commission on Professionalism in 1998, the NC Actual Innocence Commission in 2002, and the Commission on Permissible Political Conduct by Judges and Candidates for Judicial Office in 2004.  On the eve of his retirement, Justice Lake also created a state commission to improve access to civil courts and a commission to improve rural court services.  All of these initiatives reflect Justice Lake’s deep commitment to fairness and integrity within NC’s judicial system.

The NC Actual Innocence Commission, now hailed as  a model for other states, brings together law enforcement officials, prosecutors, victims and defense lawyers to discuss the prevention of wrongful convictions and to propose legislation toward this goal.  Lake, who is known as a consensus-builder, is credited for persuading each of these constituencies to come together to address this issue.  His conservative, tough-on-crime stance over the years was particularly helpful in drawing law enforcement officials into these efforts.  He envisions that one of the outcomes of this commission will be the creation of a state agency to formally review felons’ claims of innocence, an accomplishment that he had hoped to fulfill during his legacy on the court.

Lake has also campaigned tirelessly to convince the General Assembly to increase funding to the courts, allowing the judicial system to improve its organization and efficiency.  Unfortunately, the state’s financial crises during this decade have complicated  these efforts.  Perhaps the currently brighter financial projections for NC will allow the legislature to address the issues that Lake has painstakingly pointed out over the past several years.

Justice Lake will be remembered by colleagues not only as one of NC’s most astute jurists, but also for his keen sense of humor and his loyalty to Wake Forest.   A story exemplifying both characteristics is often recounted by his friends who say that Justice Lake once donned a Wake Forest sweatshirt at his office on the day after a WFU basketball team victory over rival UNC-CH.  Without mentioning the game, he simply dribbled a basketball into the offices of  fellow justices who attended UNC-CH with a wide grin on his face. This humor, along with his good-natured demeanor, often guided even the most heated discussions on the court through a civil and congenial process and outcome.  

Justice Lake’s esteemed career as a lawyer, legislator, jurist and leader in North Carolina has left an enduringly positive imprint upon our state.  He is well-deserving of the law school’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and we honor him for his service to the legal profession and to the state of North Carolina.