By Ret Boney
RALEIGH, N.C. — Melinda Lawrence, a Raleigh lawyer with decades of experience defending the rights of workers, prisoners, children and others, has been named executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center.
Lawrence, who is of counsel to the law firm Patterson Harkavy, where she was a partner from 1979 to 2003, will assume her new post on Feb. 5.
“We believe a progressive agenda works for all North Carolinians,” says Reuben Blackwell, co-chair of the Justice Center, a statewide anti-poverty advocacy organization. “We need someone who can speak the message from Asheville to Wilmington and all the communities in between…and Melinda can do that.”
Lawrence has spent decades litigating cases on behalf of some of the same populations the Justice Center serves, experience Blackwell says will be helpful in bringing the group’s message to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and economically-diverse communities across the state.
“I’ve spent my career working on social-justice issues and I am very passionate about that,” says Lawrence. “I bring a familiarity with these issues and with the communities the Justice Center serves. Those people have been my clients for the past 25 to 30 years.”
Lawrence was tapped for the post through a national search launched after Rhonda Raney resigned from the center’s top spot in July of 2006 after two years at the helm.
While Lawrence has collaborated with the center on legal cases in the past, she says, she plans to spend her first week or so getting to know the organization better through conversations with the staff and board, she says.
She also will review the group’s strategic plan, says Blackwell, and work with the board and staff to do any necessary retooling.
“I see it as an opportunity to work with a group of wonderfully talented people,” Lawrence says. “I can’t imagine a place that would give me an opportunity to really live out my own passion better than here.”