Conviction, in our language, can mean a declaration of guilt or a firmly held belief. These meanings are ironic to me in light of two individuals who are the subject of this message: Fred Lind and Christine Mumma. With firmly held beliefs about our justice system, Fred and Christine have dedicated their careers to public service. And it’s the courage of their convictions that makes them special.
Fred Lind recently retired from a 45-year career in the Guilford County Public Defenders’ Office. I do not think it is a stretch to say that Fred has interacted with just about every attorney who has practiced in Guilford County during that time. Through his service in the Courthouse, his work with the Greensboro Bar Association and numerous organizations, and his genuine, upbeat attitude, Fred made himself a friend to many and a model attorney for all. When I came to Greensboro over 20 years ago as a new lawyer, Fred greeted me as if I was as important as his colleagues of 20 and 30 years. He remembered my name each time he saw me, and more amazingly he remembered everything about my world and family, as if it was as important as his own. (Anyone else have that experience?) I won’t be able to capture the profound impact Fred has had on our community in a few words, so I simply and sincerely say, on behalf of the Greensboro Bar Association, THANK YOU, FRED! We will miss you and we indeed hope you will visit us as often as you are able. You will always be welcome at our table.
Christine Mumma is a person who may be less familiar to you. She is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (NCCAI) and she was recently our featured speaker, along with Greg Taylor, a man who was exonerated of murder after spending 17 years in prison in North Carolina, at the November GBA lunch membership meeting. Christine left a career in finance for a career in law, where she has distinguished herself as a tireless advocate for the wrongly imprisoned. During her presentation, I was struck first by the very simple premise of her work: mistakes in our justice system have led to numerous convictions of actually innocent people who deserve better. (My words, not hers.) And second, although she shared insight into the source of mistakes that lead to the conviction of actually innocent people, her primary concern is and continues to be exonerating the innocent. She made this point by reminding us that this is a bi-partisan issue. That the actually innocent who are convicted of a crime are our siblings, parents, children, and friends. As such, this is a problem we should all want to eradicate.
Her presentation reminded me of one of the first lessons taught to me at Wake Forest Law School by Charlie Rose. Our criminal justice system is based on the concept that we would rather have 10 guilty people walk free, than 1 innocent person imprisoned. So, as we prepare for our respective holiday celebrations, let’s keep in mind people like Greg Taylor, who spent 17 Thanksgivings and New Years in prison. And let’s be aware that more work needs to be done. I encourage all of us to find a way to support the mission of ridding our prisons of actually innocent people. Lastly, a number of members approached me after the meeting in November about making donations to NCCAI. Their website, www.NCCAI.org, is set up to accept online donations at any time.