First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - As a black child growing up in Lumberton, Tiffany Powers says the dream that she might one day become a lawyer was never far-fetched.
Powers says District Court Judge Herbert Richardson is partly responsible for her belief that she could achieve.
“Everybody knew who Judge Richardson was when I was a kid. You couldn't help but know,” said Powers, a trial lawyer with the Lumberton law firm Bowen, Berry, Powers & Slaughter. “He was always in the schools telling his colorful stories and always telling kids that the only thing that would stop them from making something of their lives was them.”
Richardson will be honored Friday by the N.C. Bar Association as the 2006 recipient of the Liberty Bell Award. He will receive the award at the North Carolina Bar Association’s 49th annual Law Day awards ceremony held at the N.C. Museum of History in Daniels Auditorium. The ceremony begins at 2 p.m.
The Liberty Bell Award, one of the most prestigious awards given by the state Bar Association, is presented to a person who has “strengthened the American system of freedom under law.” It is presented by the bar's Young Lawyers Division.
“Judge Richardson has been an asset to the North Carolina legal community, and to the greater community as a whole,” said Winston-Salem attorney Candice Wooten, who considers Richardson a mentor. “He freely gives of his time to impact the lives of students throughout the state, not simply providing an insider's view on a career in the legal profession, but providing motivational words for youth across the state.”
Other winners of the award include Gov. Jim Hunt, William C. Friday, Sam J. Ervin III, Terry Sanford and Henry Frye.
“I'm in pretty high cotton with the group,” Richardson said. “But I do it because it is fun. I didn't even know you could win an award.”
What Richardson does is visit with high school students around the state as part of the bar's Minorities in the Profession seminars. Richardson is joined by other minority judges, lawyers and bailiffs to talk about what they do in the courtroom. Students can ask questions and meet the panelists. The group, which visits about 15 high schools a year, held a seminar at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke last year.
“In some of these rural areas, kids have told me that I'm the first black judge they've ever seen,” Richardson said. “That's part of it too. To let them know that judges and lawyers are just regular folks who pay bills and raise families that go to basketball games …. that a career in the law is not out of reach.”
Richardson said, in the 15 years that he has been involved in the effort, there has been an upswing in the number of minority and women in the legal profession.
“That's important,'' he said. “When people go to court they want to see someone there that looks like them. That doesn't mean you won't go to jail or be fined, but it does that there is something looking out for their interests - that the doors of justice will swing both ways.”
Richardson has served on the District Court bench since 1979, including a term as chief judge from 1994 to 2000.
A Nash County native, he earned his bachelor's and law degree from North Carolina Central University. He began practicing law in Durham, then moved to Lumberton to serve in the District Attorney's Office prior to his appointment to the bench by Gov. Hunt.