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More focus on financial crimes means more cases for him

Diana Smith//August 6, 2010

More focus on financial crimes means more cases for him

Diana Smith//August 6, 2010

By DIANA SMITH, Staff Writer

[email protected]

Kearns Davis is a partner with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard in Greensboro. Davis leads the firm’s practice in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, felony trials and appeals, grand jury proceedings and government investigations. He is also an adjunct professor in trial advocacy at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

From 2003-2007, Davis served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. He also served as a law clerk to former state appeals court Chief Judge Sam Ervin III from 1995-1996.

Davis is past chair of the N.C. Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and Young Lawyers Division. In addition to other professional affiliations, Davis is a member of the Greensboro Rotary Club and the Greensboro Sports Council.

NCLW: What is the most memorable case or client you have dealt with?

Davis: My most memorable was a federal criminal appointed case. Representing indigent clients is important to me, and the first client I was appointed to represent after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office was a defendant indicted in a crack cocaine conspiracy.

The government had evidence, and my client had a record. We discovered, though, that he had a very low IQ. He had basically just done what his brother had told him to do. Still, under the federal sentencing guidelines, he was facing more than a dozen years in prison.

My client was completely helpless. Mentally, he was like a child. I felt acutely that the course of his life was in my hands. After 14 months and 10 or more hearings on various issues, we worked out a resolution under which he was sentenced to probation and six months in a halfway house.

He completed his time, and later was asked to come back and talk with other halfway house residents about his success in the program. He still calls me occasionally and is doing very well.

NCLW: Who was your mentor and what important lessons did they teach you?

Davis: I have been fortunate to have several mentors as a lawyer, but the most influential was the first one -Judge Sam J. Ervin III -for whom I served as a law clerk.

I learned a lot about the law that year, to be sure, but I learned even more about being a professional and a citizen. Judge Ervin achieved more than most lawyers would even dare to dream, and he was comfortable in his role, but he never saw himself as more important than others because of his job. And he never failed to thank, at oral argument, lawyers who handled appointed cases.

NCLW: How do clients find you?

Davis: Usually through other lawyers. The focus of my practice is on federal and white-collar criminal work, which is not the kind of thing that most clients need repeatedly, so typically I am called by clients’ regular attorneys when they learn of criminal investigations.

NCLW: If you took the bar exam today, would you pass?

Davis: Yes, but I don’t want to try.

NCLW: Which professional organization benefits you the most?

Davis: There are several, but the N.C. Bar Association is most important to me. It consistently brings together leaders of the bench and bar on issues that matter to the North Carolina justice system, and its CLE programs are excellent.

NCLW: Do you feel CLEs are a waste of time? Why or why not?

Davis: Absolutely not. The law changes fast, so keeping current on issues related to my practice is vital.

NCLW: How has the economy affected your practice?

Davis: My practice continues to grow. The federal government’s response to the economic downturn has included an increased emphasis on investigating and prosecuting financial crimes – mortgage fraud, for example – so I am busy.

NCLW: How do you manage to take time off during the holidays/vacation?

Davis: I have learned to vacation opportunistically. I think about my clients and cases compulsively, so the best time to get away is when I have an unexpected break in my schedule.

Editor’s note: If you would like to participate in a Q&A interview, contact Diana Smith at [email protected].

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