The latest episode of All Things Judicial features excerpts of an interview with former Judicial District 18 (Guilford County) Chief Public Defender Wallace C. Harrelson. He has the distinction of serving as North Carolina's first and longest serving public defender. The interview was recorded in 2008 as part of the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism's Historical Video Series and was conducted by former Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Douglas Albright. In the interview, Harrelson shares how he chose the law as a profession, the implementation of North Carolina's public defender system, and the details of one of his most memorable cases.
"(Public defenders) had to set a standard of representation that showed that you were doing what the office was set up to do–providing the best representation possible," said Harrelson on the podcast. "It took a period of time to convince all the parties that the public defender program was what was needed to be spread throughout the state."
Wallace "Wally" Harrelson was born in Cherryville, North Carolina, and graduated from Duke University with an undergraduate degree in political science. Harrelson attended Duke University School of Law and graduated in 1962. He served as a prosecutor in Guilford County and then worked in private practice until his appointment by Governor Bob Scott in 1970 as the first Chief Public Defender in the state. He served in that role for his entire career until his death in 2011. His tenure as Chief Public Defender in Judicial District 18 lasted over 40 years and spanned the terms of seven governors and five local senior resident chief superior court judges. The full video interview with Harrelson can be found on the North Carolina Judicial Branch YouTube channel.