Neighbor in the news: Attorney Lewis Pitts makes legal history to spotlight a ‘travesty’: how money rules the justice system

headshot of Lewis Pitts

Lewis Pitts

Lewis Pitts is fed up with the justice system, and he’s especially fed up with lawyers. What makes him different from most who feel that way is that he’s a former lawyer himself.

In North Carolina, that’s quite a distinction. It’s not easy to become a former lawyer, at least not voluntarily. And it’s possible now only because Lewis pushed for it as part of an effort to spur reform in what he sees as a system in which justice depends on how much money you can afford to spend.

Lewis is a resident of College Hill. He and his wife, Dr. Spoma Jovanovic, live on Tate Street.

He was a legal aid and children’s rights lawyer, and a pretty distinguished one, at that. After practicing for 43 years, Lewis decided not just to retire but to completely disassociate himself from the law in a way that would get his fellow lawyers’ attention. In his resignation letter to the state bar, he wrote, “I want these parting words to stir your minds and hearts into reflection, boldness, and transformational action.”

But the North Carolina State Bar operates somewhat like the Irish Republican Army: Once in, never out. There was no process for lawyers to renounce their profession.

From The News & Observer:

Pitts, 68, was so troubled by what he perceived to be the common practice of attorneys and law firms to put making money above goals of seeking economic and social justice that he pushed the N.C. State Bar to establish a procedure for resigning from the profession.

Though the state bar, for many years, had allowed non-practicing lawyers to slip into “inactive status,” Pitts wanted something different, but he had to go to the N.C. Supreme Court to win approval for the resignation procedure that fit his goals.

“My resignation is because I see an overall breach by the Bar as a whole of the most basic of professional conduct and ethics such that I do not want to be associated with the Bar,” Pitts said in a letter on April 23, 2014, to Ronald Baker Sr., who was president of the N.C. State Bar at the time. …

Reached by telephone recently, Pitts talked enthusiastically about the conversation he hoped to start when taking the unusual step of relinquishing his bar membership. Pitts said he was concerned his colleagues in the legal profession had known for years about injustices in the justice system that have laid the foundation for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and this country’s high rate of incarceration. He complained about the indefinite detentions ordered by the president and contended that people and corporations with financial means get better representation than those who cannot afford high-priced attorneys.

“Yet the Bar does little but applaud as big firms make millions; hourly rates on the corporate side are sinful,” Pitts said. “…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.”

Click here for the full article from The N&O.

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