01/27/04 — Pou Bailey: N.C. loses a colorful judge

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Pou Bailey: N.C. loses a colorful judge

The defendant in a civil case was confident that he would win.

This happened in Durham County some years back, and the presiding judge in Superior Court was James H. Pou Bailey of Raleigh. Bailey’s son had gone to a private, out-of-state school with the defendant’s son, and the judge and the defendant had become friends.

The plaintiff in the case knew about that and asked his lawyer if it might be a good idea to attempt to get the case tried by another judge. The lawyer, who was also from Raleigh, knew Bailey well. No, he said, everything will be fine.

As it turned out, he was right.

After hearing the evidence, Judge Bailey applied the law. He apologized to his old friend, the defendant, and ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

That’s an illustration of the kind of person, and the kind of judge, that Pou Bailey was. When he died last week at age 86, North Carolina lost a leader who was his own man, a man of integrity and wit. He loved the law and took it seriously, but he liked good humor, too, and he was one of the most colorful judges who ever sat behind the bench in North Carolina.

Bailey was something of a patrician, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Josiah Bailey, but he was a down-to-earth fellow who loved a game of poker with close friends.

If he was presiding at a murder trial, he might have a pistol concealed under his robe. He didn’t try to keep it a secret, either. If he said, “Order in the court,” he meant, by golly, order.

Once, a distraction at a first-degree murder trial caused him some chagrin.

During jury selection, the judge was leaning over the bench and rolling a long piece of paper. Absent-mindedly, he formed a paper string and tied it into a knot.

Suddenly, the defense lawyer pointed to the bench and moved for a mistrial. Bailey looked down and realized that the knot he had formed was a hangman’s noose.

The judge made a quick, humble apology and promptly granted the mistrial so jury selection could start over with a new set of prospects.

Bailey was a World War II veteran, joining the Army soon after he got his law degree. He didn’t go in as a lawyer but as an artillery officer, and he landed at Normandy on D-Day.

After the war he returned to Raleigh to practice law, and he served for several years in the state Senate. Gov. Dan Moore appointed him to the Superior Court bench in 1965, and he was re-elected several times until he retired in 1985.

Bailey appreciated the Constitution and was one of its fondest protectors. He served on the North Carolina Media-Administration of Justice Council, a group of court officials and journalists which sought resolution to conflicts between the First and Fourth Amendments. He was chosen for the North Carolina Press Association’s annual William C. Lassiter Award for devotion to the First Amendment in 1991.

Judge Bailey summed up his own legal values in a description that he once gave for another Raleigh lawyer: “He’s a first-class lawyer,” Bailey said. “You can’t scare him and you can’t buy him.”

The same might be said of Pou Bailey — along with this: He wouldn’t bore you. His presence will be missed.

Published in Editorials on January 27, 2004 11:31 AM