A judge who left his mark in Sampson County is set to be forever remembered for his service to the county, as local officials have given their endorsement for an effort being made locally to have retired District Court Judge James Nello Martin’s image placed within the Sampson County Courthouse.
Sampson County Bar president Melissa Hales, of the Law Offices of Hales and Conaway PLLC, recently requested the Sampson County Board of Commissioners allow the hanging of a portrait of Martin. The efforts to see Martin immortalized locally was spearheaded by local attorney Doug Parsons and formally requested at the recent meeting by Hales.
“It would be quite a deserved honor to commission and hang a portrait of Judge James Nello Martin in one of the Sampson County courtrooms,” said Hales, “and we are respectfully asking the commissioners to allow this to be done.”
The request was approved unanimously by the board.
Hales recapped Martin’s biography, one that is filled with military decorations and various accomplishments during his long legal career.
Born in Rockingham County, North Carolina, on Aug. 9, 1920. Martin graduated from Stoneville High School in Rockingham in 1937, and then from Wake Forest College (now University) School of Law in 1943, before going on to life in the military.
Martin married the late Winifred Nelson, daughter of Dr. William Nelson, Clinton and established his legal residence on Finch Street in Clinton from 1941 through 1970. He would later live on Tomahawk Trail, Clinton, where he resided until 1987. Following college, Martin enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and enjoyed a successful career, Hales noted.
He was designated as a Navy Law Specialist in 1947 and served as a judge for the trial of Courts-Martial from 1952-1960. In 1960, he was promoted to captain in the U.S. Navy and was one of the first three Navy judges assigned to new Judiciary Activity. From 1960-64, he was the head of the Navy Judiciary Activity and served as the Senior Navy Judge for the Southeastern United States. Upon retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1970, he settled down and began his private law practice in Clinton, where he practiced until 1979.
In 1979, he was appointed by the governor to the office of District Court judge for the Fourth Judicial District, elected to the position the following year and re-elected in 1984. He ultimately retired in 1987 due to wife Winnie’s terminal illness.
Except for the Honorable Leonard W. Thagard, who is currently serving as Chief Judge of the District Court for the Fourth Judicial District, Martin is the only elected judge from Sampson County since the late Judge Paul Manly Crumpler retired in 1976. The fourth judicial district encompasses Sampson, Duplin, Onslow and Jones counties.
Martin is currently 91 years old and married to the former Grace Williams Brock, living on John Mark Road in Clinton. Local officials said a portrait of Martin would provide an indelible tribute, one befitting the example to which fellow attorneys and judges should hold themselves.
“We believe it would be a great honor to recognize him this way,” said Hales. “We’re very proud of the work he has done.”
The portrait will likely be unveiled sometime next year, “after the holidays,” Hales said Monday. The Bar was awaiting commissioners’ official approval before getting under way with the commissioning of the Martin portrait. With that OK this month, the effort is closer to becoming reality.
“It’s definitely in the works,” she said.
The portrait will come at no cost to the county, Hales said. A local attorney himself, Commissioner Albert Kirby said that no-cost arrangement has been the case with the other portraits unveiled in recent years to take their permanent place in the courtroom. While requiring commissioners’ approval, the tributes do not necessitate county dollars, Kirby noted.
Kirby, whose career as a local attorney overlapped with Martin’s judicial service briefly, acknowledged and lauded a man he said was both honorable and “very knowledgeable.”
“I think it’s an honor to have his image in the courts of this county,” said Kirby.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.