Federal Judge Hiram H. Ward (JD ’50) is remembered fondly for treating his clerks like extended family
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Office of Communications and Public Relations
September 21, 2013
In the 30 years he sat on North Carolina’s Middle District Court bench, Judge Hiram H. Ward (JD ’50) was known as a principled man who respected the law, as much as he did the broad swath of humanity that came through his courtroom.
But to a generation of Wake Forest Law students, Ward was also a mentor, friend and father figure, who eased the transition from law school into law practice. Aspiring clerks from all over the country applied for positions with Judge Ward. His widow, Evelyn Ward, said her husband found that graduates of the law school worked best.
“He needed good writers and good strong analytical minds that could ferret out all various aspects and complexities that go into hearing a case,” Evelyn Ward said.
Judge Ward served North Carolina’s Middle District Court from 1972 until 2002, when he died at the age of 79.
The life of a federal judge could often be a lonely one, Evelyn Ward said, and her husband treated his clerks like extended family members.
On the weekends, Judge Ward liked nothing more than adjourning to his 200-acre family farm in Denton for a weekend of hunting and fishing.
“When we’d go home on Friday afternoons, within 15 minutes, he would have changed his clothes and he’d bring back our supper from the pond,” Evelyn Ward said.
His clerks often joined the Wards at their farm for “pond parties” that featured barbecues and walks through the woods. Even after their clerkships ended, the Wards welcomed the former clerks, and eventually their families, back for parties.
Steve Berlin (’81, JD ’84) served as a clerk for Judge Ward from 1984 to 1986. Berlin is now a partner at the firm of Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton.
Berlin described Judge Ward as a meticulous, thoughtful man with a weathered face, who often puffed on a pipe while he thought through the intricacies of a case. “He gave us law clerks a lot of responsibility,” he said. “We’d always talk about the opinions we were writing. It helped me gain an appreciation for how things really worked.”
His perspective as a judge helped his clerks understand how to be more effective lawyers and he took his responsibilities as a mentor seriously.
Judge Ward often asked for Berlin’s thoughts on a case and Judge Ward would often say, “Well, Steve this is what you might want to consider.”
Once Berlin came into work sad because his dog had died. Judge Ward took him into his office and talked about how hard it had been for him to lose his own dog. “He was a great judge of human character,” Berlin said. “He was a person who lived as he spoke.”
Judge Ward enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and rose to the rank of Master Sergeant. He served in Europe, North Africa and Burma, where his plane was shot down.
After graduation from law school, he practiced law in Denton and Lexington until 1972, when he was appointed to the U.S. District Court. In 1999, the federal building in Winston-Salem was named in his honor.
Richard Bennett (’68, JD ’74) served as a clerk for Judge Ward from 1974 to 1976 and is now a partner at Bennett & Guthrie. “He was really a stickler for doing things right,” Bennett said. “There was never a more honorable person who put on a robe.”
Serving as a clerk for Judge Ward was a chance to see a lot of different lawyers in action and to understand a judge’s thought process, Bennett said. Judge Ward was not a fan of flowery language and flowing rhetoric. “He wanted to be sure that the people who came before him were treated the same, whether they had overalls on or were dressed in fine Italian suits,” he said.
There were times that Judge Ward didn’t like the precedents his clerks might find in case law, but he followed the law, Bennett said. “He never thought in terms of ‘I want to make this case come out a certain way,’” Bennett said. “The facts were the facts.”
Grady Barnhill (JD ’58), a partner at Womble Carlyle Sandridge, said that trying cases in front of Judge Ward was both challenging and exciting. “You were getting to argue before a master,” Barnhill said, “a man who was keenly attuned to human nature and the law. He could spot a liar a mile away and expected and tolerated only the absolute truth from witnesses and lawyers.”
Dan Taylor (JD ’76), a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend, clerked for Judge Ward from September 1976 through August 1978. Taylor wrote an essay about Judge Ward, which was published by the North Carolina Bar Association in summer 2014 below. You can read the full article here.