Those who knew Doug Parsons, as well as his contributions to his community and the court system, want to honor him in a way befitting that legacy.
The Sampson County Bar Association is seeking to name the Sampson County Courthouse Extension Building in honor of former Senior Resident Superior Court Judge William (Doug) Parsons, a Clinton native and practicing attorney for nearly four decades. Parsons served as Superior Court judge for Judicial District 4A, encompassing Jones, Duplin and Sampson counties, for five years before his sudden passing on Sept. 24, 2017.
“Doug never met a stranger. He loved his family, his friends and the people of Sampson County,” a resolution unanimously adopted last month by the Sampson Bar Association stated in part.
The request was presented Monday night to the Sampson Board of Commissioners by Bar Association President Tiffany Naylor. District Court Judge Billy Sutton, a friend of Parsons and fellow Sampsonian, also spoke to the issue. They said the naming of the Courthouse Extension — the old First Citizens Bank — to the “W. Douglas Parsons Judicial Building” would be a fitting honor in recognition of a lifetime of dedicated service by Parsons. He was known and loved by many, they said.
“If they didn’t know him personally, I’m sure they know his role in our community and how important he was to our community,” said Naylor. “We think it would be a great honor for him and there is no one more deserving of that honor.”
Parsons graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and earned his law degree from Wake Forest University, going on to serve as an assistant district attorney, a U.S. attorney and a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Among many accolades, he was awarded Best Lawyers in America, Legal Elite, Top 100 Criminal Lawyers, and lectured for the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers. He was a former trustee at Sampson Community College, a former commissioner on the N.C. Wildlife Commission and a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church in Clinton, which he served in a variety of capacities.
Parsons was officially appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue in March 2012 to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Russell Lanier Jr. Parsons’ was the first judgeship held by a Sampson County attorney in 41 years, since Judge Howard Hubbard left the bench in 1971. Even when he was a young judge, Parsons quickly separated himself from the pack.
“He was a great criminal lawyer way back then; tremendous respect by everybody,” said Sutton, whose law career mirrored Parsons’ in many ways. Sutton began as an assistant DA and he was recalled early on being told by fellow attorneys Dewey Hudson and Leonard Thagard, a future District Attorney and judge, respectively, that if he had a question, to ask Parsons.
“That is a great honor for a prosecutor to rely on a defense lawyer to tell you how to do it,” said Sutton. “Doug wanted to help. He would serve all the way through my career as a mentor to me.”
That included as a co-counsel, an opponent against whom he tried cases, then as a colleague on the bench.
“He was always a lawyer’s lawyer, one of the best in the state, recognized that way by everybody; and he was a judge’s judge, one of the best in the state, recognized that way by everybody,” Sutton stated. “He was a great friend to me and to many of you. I know there’s a precedent about naming buildings … I think in my humble opinion, this is worthy of such an honor, because of his great legal career and the fact that he was a Superior Court Judge who died in office.
“Unfortunately, (his career) ended way before it should have,” Sutton stated.
Sutton recognized others in attendance at Monday’s board meeting, including attorneys Ross Holland, Ben Wright, Robert Gilmore and Frank Bradshaw.
In addition to the honor, Naylor said the building naming would also serve a practical purpose, as Sampson has four courtrooms located in separate locations in and around the downtown. Naming the extension would cut down on some confusion and tardy jurors, defendants and plaintiffs. Sutton agreed, saying that it would help to designate one of those scattered buildings as “the Parsons building.”
“I hope that I can walk out there and see ‘W. Douglas Parsons Judicial Building’ on the building. I think it is something that would be great. He should be remembered. We are here to promote it and help you anyway we can,” said Sutton.
Given the precedent that would be set for future requests for the naming of county buildings, commissioners came to a consensus that the matter be taken under advisement for additional research and deliberation, board chairman Clark Wooten said.
He thanked the attorneys for their presentation and said the matter would receive further consideration.
“It’s a wonderful thing that you have brought before us, and we greatly appreciate it,” said Wooten. “All of the things you have said about Judge Parsons are true and well-deserved. It is our consensus on the board that we would like to take this under advisement, we would like to review it and we would like to proceed with all of our faculties in order. If that is acceptable to allow us to do our due diligence, we would greatly appreciate it.”
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