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Interview with Charles Tighe, June 5, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Charles Tighe, June 5, 2002
June 5, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Tighe, Charles Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman / Haas, Michael Date of Interview:  6/5/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length


Haas: This is the 5th of June 2002, and we’re interviewing today Charles M. Tighe, an attorney in Wilmington, North Carolina. I am Mike Haas and I’m here with Sherman Hayes to conduct the interview

Mr. Tighe, we’re going to begin by just asking a little bit about your early life. Where did you grow up, what sort of education did you have before coming here to Wilmington?

Tighe: Okay, I grew up in Connecticut in Litchfield County, the town of Litchfield, Connecticut and went to school there, started high school there and then I went to Kent School which is in Kent. After Kent School, I went to Harvard College and from there, I went to Harvard Law School. That’s basically my educational background.

Hayes: What time period was that?

Tighe: I graduated from law school in 1960, college in 1957. It was a notable class. Tony Scalia was a member of that class and Mike Dukakis was a member of the class, Earl Silver who is now representing the Enron president was a member of that class. It seemed to be a pretty good class.

Haas: What sort of work was your father in?

Tighe: My father was in sales. He represented several companies. He was an independent salesman. He worked for McBee which was originally Royal Typewriter Company and then he was absorbed by McBee. He had worked for Sikorsky which became Chance Vought building during the second world war, then worked for a company that made airplane seats. But then he went into sales, that was basically his career.

Haas: Kent School is of course a very famous preparatory school. Did you enjoy the life of prep school?

Tighe: Very much, yeah. It was an unusual prep school in those days anyway in that the boys did everything at the school. They didn't have people to clean up the rooms. The boys cleaned the rooms. Actually there was a farm on the school grounds in Kent and I remember the first fall. I wanted to go there, I was persuaded to go there because they had a football team. In Litchfield where I was growing up, they only had a soccer team and I thought, wow, this is going to be an opportunity to play football. So we got over there and the first thing was we were issued our uniforms and equipment and we were then told to hop up on the back of a truck and we were taken out to a potato field where we were given forks to dig up potatoes for the entire rest of the afternoon. We did that I think for about three days before we ever got out of the field (laughter).

Haas: So did you play football?

Tighe: Yes, I did play football eventually (laughter), yeah. It was a tough team, I’ll tell you.

Haas: How big was the school of Kent at that time?

Tighe: Oh gosh, 300 and some odd people.

Hayes: But with a father in sales, why law? I mean what was the motivation there?

Tighe: My father originally I think was the motivating force there. He just felt that going into law was the thing you ought to do and I don’t know exactly why. He was a very public spirited person. Before we moved to Connecticut which was in my very early years, I know he was involved in politics in New York State and was actually quite friendly with Governor Dewey.

He felt I think that this was a way to enhance your career, if you became a lawyer, and so he would mention this from time to time without really forcing it at all. But in those days when you went to school, you really didn't generate a desire to become anything. You just went along with what you’re supposed to do. You go to school, you graduate and go to school. That’s what you’re supposed to do and not really until you get very near the end of your senior year in college did you begin to think well what am I going to do. I really have to go out there.

In fact, I was encouraged, I remember there was a man, William Harris who was the head of Fortune Magazine. I throw these names around, this is funny because I worked in a horticultural farm and he owned it in Litchfield. He owned the farm and he would come out once in a while. This poor peasant in the fields hoeing and he’d ask me, you know, “Well what do you want to be son when you grow up?” And I said I didn't have any idea, I had no idea. He’d say, “Good, good, that’s the way, keep it that way” (laughter). In those days, you really didn't think about a career until it was actually right on you. I guess almost in desperation, I guess, I decided to go to law school. So okay I’ll put in an application.

I put in an application because I didn't know whether I’d b admitted. But there again, in those days, this is what happened. I applied to Yale, Virginia, Michigan and Harvard, and they all accepted me and I didn't know you know, well what was I going to do here so we got in the car. I married just that summer and we got in the car and we drove to Michigan. We got out and we got an apartment and we began to get a feel for the place and we really didn't like it. It was so modern.

Living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it had old brick buildings. It was not by any means a new and modern place. But Ann Arbor, Michigan, they had these halls that reminded me in those days, in 1984, this is in retrospect now, you know, the big brother type of thing, the music in the hallways and everything. I just really didn't like it so I said, “Let’s go to Virginia. I think that would be a good idea”.

So we got in the car and we packed down over the Appalachians and down into Charlottesville and again I got an apartment there and that was fun to be down there. But there again, the cultural shock was quite extraordinary. I mean I adapted to it in later years much better, but there we, and I don’t know how much of this is usable.

But we got an apartment with a very elderly lady, maybe she was 70 some odd years old, white hair, a very nice lady, flowery dress, but every morning she would come down the stairs before we would come down and leave on the coffee table downstairs a newspaper opened to a certain page which had to do with race relations because my wife and I, we didn't know, we went out around the corner to a church and it was a black church. Well this really didn't sit very well with Miss Steptoe was her name. Didn't sit well at all.

And she would bait me by leaving…because we’d kind of get into a little bit of a discussion, but not too much. But she’d leave these newspaper articles and so there again, we thought maybe we’d better go back to Cambridge (laughter) so we went back up to Cambridge and that’s how I ended up there.

Haas: That is an amazing story. That is something. Very few people I think have seen so many aspects of where they could have gone.

Tighe: Yes, that’s right. And Yale was out of the question because you know, it’s just one of those things that in the course of investigating things and talking to people, they have their prejudices and so it rubs off on you and everybody told me, oh no, that’s just theory. Yale is, if you want to become a judge immediately, then maybe you do that or if you want to become a professor because all they talk about is theory. They don’t tell you how to practice law (laughter) which is of course absurd. You get those ideas of other places.

Haas: How about your time at Harvard Law, did you have any of the professors that are known even today as some of the greats of the period?

Tighe: Well, yeah, I had some very, very good professors, Irwin Griswold who was the attorney general or solicitor general for a number of years. I had him. He was a great teacher, very wise. W. Barton Leach I remember very well was a professor of law and property law. He actually was perhaps more, I had more of a rapport with him because he was a bomber pilot during the war and he just seemed to have more rapport with the students than some of the other professors.

One of the things that happened was that he gave this property course and it was in…the course was in estates and land and much of it was, the course was not, until we got to the spring, we didn't get much of the estates and land which has to do with fee simple estates, estate in fee tale and the rule of Shelley’s case, a lot of very, very difficult medieval concepts of the transfer and the holding of property.

The questions would be A conveys to B, then A conveys to C and B conveys to X who owns the property. That’s the way these questions would go and they were very mind-bending, let’s put it that way. And Barton Leach got sick and A. James Kasner who became quite famous in the field of estate planning, took over the course and he said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to have any questions on the exam on estates and land. So don’t worry about that. It will just be the law of finders and other aspects of property law.”

Well what happened was that the exam, the whole first half of the exam was in estates and land and it was really funny because there was a room of maybe, I don’t know, 50 people who were taking this exam and they passed out the questions you know. You sit down and dead silence. Absolutely dead silence. After about two or three minutes, somebody giggled and laughed and then another person giggled and pretty soon the entire room was laughing, just uproariously because we’d been had, you know. It was a funny occasion (laughter).

Leach was an excellent teacher and he was very, very good, a very practical man. I really very much enjoyed him.

Hayes: Now did you start to specialize in anything in particular by the end of your time period or were you once again waiting to see what moved you at the end?

Tighe: No, at school, you really were not encouraged to specialize. You just graduated. In those days, you did not specialize. You were supposed to be learned in the law and that’s it. The reason for that is that in recent times, so much of law has become legislation, laws that are passed by the Legislature or the Congress of the states on specific matters and you have to learn all of the content of that legislation and unless you know that, you really can’t practice that kind of law.

So nowadays if you want to go into environmental law, you have to declare it I guess in law school now and you kind of head toward that direction or some other kind of consumer protection law. In those days, when I graduated in 1960, there really wasn’t any kind of pressure to go in any particular direction or specialty so you were kind of left to do what you wanted to do or what you, in my case, just what came along. Again maybe that seemed to be my educational experience. I just did pretty much what I was told.

Then when I graduated, I got into estate planning because one of the fellows I was practicing with was in that field and so I got into estate planning. It was interesting. I did a lot of estate work and accounting for estates, but I really wasn’t too happy with it and then, this was again in Connecticut, and what was burgeoning at that time was land use planning and again, I’d never heard, like Charles Harr who is sort of the father of that. He was a very great professor at Harvard who I didn't have and I don’t think he actually was teaching at that time, but he became and so much of the law that I was then forced to learn, I got through him, but I did not have him at Harvard.

So I fell into that because in Connecticut, land was becoming scarce in terms of the population growth and the utilization of land and every inch of land became very precious if you will and people began to regulate it. The states began to regulate it and the towns. It was delegated by the states to the towns to regulate and then you had, came along the inland wetlands legislation as well. So I fell into that.

But again, the way you have to do that because much of it was legislation again, you had to just learn the law and you get out the statute and read all of the sections of the statute and then find out all the case law under that statute. So if you do that and work on that say for about a week, you can do it. I mean there isn’t anything that a lawyer can’t do if he wants to take the time and the trouble to do it. You can become very, very proficient at it I think.

But anyway I just learned all about zoning and became an expert in zoning and I did many of the regulations for many of the towns.

Hayes: But who would your clients be in this particular subarea?

Tighe: Towns, zoning commissions, zoning boards of appeals, but also individuals who had trouble with zoning.

Hayes: Businesses?

Tighe: Yes, businesses who were told by the zoning authorities, oh no, you can’t build here or you can’t add a new wing on your building, that kind of thing, or you can’t have a garage.

Hayes: Where in Connecticut then did you practice? Was this for an extended period that you …

Tighe: Yes, this was in south central Connecticut. There’s a town called Old Saybrook Essex and it’s south of Middletown which is just south of Hartford. It’s between New Haven in the west so that whole area there, Old Lyme, Killingworth, many, many of these towns. In Connecticut, the state legislature authorized the towns to adopt zoning regulations under a legislative act empowering them to do so and the towns were pretty much left on their own to do this themselves, both the enactment and enforcement. So they had to turn to their own council to enact these regulations.

Hayes: Was there a county like in North Carolina, also a county agency or was it all towns?

Tighe: County government died in Connecticut quite a number of years ago so the only thing left of the county is the sheriff’s office and so there’s no government, there’s no county government so it was the individual 169 towns of Connecticut that had zoning regulations and they had planning commissions too. It was a regulatory hothouse in Connecticut because the planning commission, zoning commissions, inland wetland commissions and then they began with regional commissions like to take care of the lower Connecticut valley and they would have what they called a gateway commission.

And then on top of that of course there is the coastal wetlands which is enacted by the federal government. So it was a tremendous regulatory _____ nest if you will and people really needed a lot of help and assistance through it all.

Haas: One question about Harvard again, how big was your class in law school at that point? Were there 100 people or 200?

Tighe: No, it was larger than that. There were 1100 in my college class and I’m not sure, I’d say 700 or 800 maybe in law school.

Haas: Wow, isn’t that something? I know that at least today I think it’s still the largest of the law schools and I wondered if it was back then.

Hayes: Any particular classroom though, how many would be sitting in …

Tighe: In a particular classroom, probably between 50 and 70 I would say. It was a big class. It was quite a lot.

Hayes: So it was just a lecture back and forth or did you get a debate or …

Tighe: Oh it was a fearsome thing (laughter).

Haas: This was the “paper chase”.

Tighe: Exactly, exactly. Abraham Shayes was another professor who under Kennedy was a very trusted advisor. I don’t know how much he had to do with the Bay of Pigs, but he did a lot of advising of the president. He taught civil procedure and the course was known as Darkness at Noon (laughter). But again, he was a very practical professor who taught a tremendous amount in a short period of time.

There was a lot of interchange. The professor would expect you to be prepared. Every single one of the people in the class were expected to be prepared on the cases they had to read the previous night. They were called on to recite the facts of the case or to explain the rationale of the decision and that sort of thing. If you didn't know it, it could be quite embarrassing. It was edifying for everybody.

I remember one particular occasion. A kid answered the question well now what was this case about and I can’t remember, I’m sure that it was a federal case and perhaps it was a Supreme Court case, but I can’t remember. They asked him what was the case about and the kid gave a perfect recitation. He got all of the facts and then he gave the decision, what the decision was and then he explained the reason and rationale of the decision and whether it was correct or not.

Shay said, he looked around the classroom and he said, “The course is over”. (Laughter) Because the kid had been so self-assured about what he was saying. There are other things like that that he would say. Yeah, sometimes it would be kind of depressing a little bit I suppose. I don’t really remember anything that was savage. I mean savage or rebuke of any kind. There were some things where you would feel very bad for a kid who obviously did not study the case and then you move right along to the next person, but no, I don’t think any of the professors ever did anything really derogatory.

Haas: Do you have any summer jobs that were legally related or other things in the summer?

Tighe: No, I mean just summer jobs, sold encyclopedias one summer which was perhaps the most lucrative one, but it was cut short by a hurricane. I think it was 1955 or something, but the hurricanes came and wiped out many, many roads and bridges in northeastern Connecticut. Other than that, no, I had nothing that really geared me to the law.

Haas: And you didn't have any military service I take it or there weren’t breaks of any kind?

Tighe: I was in the Arms Security Agency at Harvard. We had a program, it was a six year program where you did your basic training in the summer time and then you went every week for a night for training and there was a unit up in Boston of the Arms Security Agency. In 1960, the Berlin Blockade occurred and they extended it for another two years, but other than that, no.

Hayes: Like a reserve unit.

Tighe: Yes, a reserve unit, exactly.

Hayes: You talked about zoning in Connecticut. You’ve now moved up or down south I guess, it’s hard to remember which way we’re going here, but is there, you know, that was a highly regulated, sophisticated, early on process. Do you see the same thing happening down here? Are we at a different timeline than Connecticut? Are we heading toward Connecticut (laughter)?

Tighe: There is much less regulation here. There is much less apparent need or desire for regulation. The only thing you can do related is the demand for land and the proximity of people. I mean Connecticut, if you look out your back window, you’re looking at someone else’s yard and what they do affects you tremendously. I mean there were teams of what we used to call little old ladies with sneakers who would go out with measuring tapes to make sure that they had set back from the side lot line the proper distances and there was a tremendous amount of watching other people to make sure that they adhered to the regulations.

That had to do, of course, with I think the density of population and the value of the land. When people bought a house there, they didn't want to have the value of their land depreciated quickly by somebody else’s trash. I think that’s…what they viewed as trash I should say. There was a certain amount of justification for that, but it kind of got out of hand too because the people who moved say to a town in Connecticut wanted to then bring up the walls around it and didn't want any changes made from thereon in which was crazy, but that was an attitude of mind.

Down here, they just haven’t reached that stage yet where land has become so precious or the realization of it. Up there, your resources other than land like water wasn’t appreciated until years later when they would begin to enact weapons regulations to protect and preserve weapons, but that came along later.

The land itself became the precious thing first. Here, it’s, it has not reached the stage yet where there’s a true and sufficient concern for the land or for the resources. There are no ______, you do hear people once in a while talk about it, but there’s not enough of people who are self-policing or neighborhood police if you will and the regulations are not very effective so I think will it come? Yeah, I presume that eventually it will come.

It is like Connecticut was. Connecticut was like that at a certain time. When I first started practicing law, zoning was not a big thing. It was not an important aspect. Zoning started back like in the 1930’s and became very effective in New York City. I think Rex Tugwell, under Roosevelt, this planning started, the whole concept of urban planning, but also city planning became very important, but it didn't reach the outskirts of Connecticut for many, many years.

It is a function again I guess of the attitude of mind toward the land and the value of the land. If people don’t really value it, then they’re not going to regard it as precious and stand for much regulation. But down here, that is something that is very definitely needed, is regulation, land use regulation of many kinds. But there again, it takes a population that is interested in having that done and occurring. I don’t really see it right now.

Hayes: Although it seems like in the paper, the county, the city, the developer, it seems to be a growing…unless that’s just the paper. It just seems like it’s, as we get bigger and bigger, the irritation level is going up and I don’t want that store next to me. I mean there’s an awful lot of that that I see. I mean Mike, you’ve only been here a year, but it seems like that’s starting to be a note of contention.

Tighe: There is, I see that. There is a rising level of concern I guess. The newspaper here perhaps is ahead of the population. I think that’s true in many social respects, but I think that yes, there is a consciousness. Just recently, Middlesound Loop Road, there was a controversy about somebody wanting to put in, I guess a developer, wanted to put in a store or something and there was some concern about that. I don’t know how that all turned out, but….

Hayes: They stopped it.

Tighe: They stopped it. Well see that sort of thing happened every evening. I mean it was a cottage industry up there. Oh yeah, I mean every night you could go to a meeting in some town within a radius of a small area where there would be some very heated debate about just that kind of thing. So that’s an encouraging thing, that there was a regulation in effect that could stop it, but then you have to follow it and make sure that it did in fact get stopped cause sometimes these things come back then you know…

But anyway, hopefully, this will occur with this area as well. Same way with the water and drainage. Drainage, I mean it would be inconceivable in Connecticut to have the type, the lack of regulation of drainage that is existing here. The Planning Commission here in this county anyway, particularly New Hanover County, they just have not seemed to take care that the developer put in place the facilities that are needed for the proper drainage of the land that the developer is developing.

In Connecticut, for example, they would make a developer post a bond at the outset of the development in the full amount of the cost of those improvements that had to be made. I mean the first thing is that they would call an engineer who would advise the commission as to what was needed and then they would make the developer make a part of his plan to put those in place.

Then post a bond in the full amount of the cost of those and he would not be able to sell lots or offer lots for sale until the roads for example had all been put in or he had posted a full amount and most often was a cash bond he had to post. So he’d have to borrow the money and put it up or he would go to an assurance company which would bond the amount of the cost of the improvements. A half a million dollars is pretty costly to a developer.

But it was effective because all the drainage got put in. Here, they do not require that. They just let them go out and sell the lots. Sometimes they will require the developer to plan effective improvements, but not always. Sometimes the improvements the developers discloses as a part of his plan are not really going to be effective. Where the commission requires effective improvements, there’s no assurance that it will ever get built. In many cases, they never do.

So the people who move in are the ones who are going to have to suffer basically. So that’s another thing that has to happen here too. Again, there has to be a kind of a ground swell of insistence that these things, what that does of course is to drive up the cost of the lot or the cost of the home that’s going to be built. But if you’ve bought a house and you’ve borrowed the money from the bank and you owe all this money and then you find that in a good rain, not necessarily a hurricane, that you have three feet of water in the lot, you can’t sell that lot anymore. You have to live there.

Hayes: We live in Pine Valley and it was one of the first county developments in the early 1970’s and only two years ago did, after it had been annexed for 25 years, did they put in some drainage, but we had those same problems and it was just, it was a county development. There must have been no control and the cost was just amazing for drainage which would have been put in back in 1970, but I think you’re right. It’s about keep it low and there’s lots of land and it’s mine.

I wonder if there’s also a difference just in the southern attitude. Maybe that’s just history. Maybe the north/south difference is just history.

Tighe: I don’t think so. I think it has entirely to do with the economy and the value of the land, the perceived value of the land. I don’t think it has anything to do with… ethnicity…

Haas: One thing I wanted to ask you about was I think you took the Connecticut Bar first.

Tighe: Yes.

Haas: And was that the one where you took bar review courses and all beforehand?

Tighe: Yes, yeah I did. I took a bar review course at Yale (laughter).

Haas: (Laughter) Very good. And why and when did you move to Wilmington?

Tighe: We moved here I think it was 1993. The reason we moved was in Connecticut was the second most defense dependent state in the union after Texas and when the cold war ended and General Dynamics and Pratt and Whitney no longer had contracts, and there were other companies that I haven’t mentioned, but the defense industry put a lot of people out of work and not only the people in those industries, but also subsidiary industries which served them.

At the same time, you had the government, the costs of government were rising and taxation was very high and again, the regulatory, the regulations were oppressive in New England. I think that the only way to describe it is people became kind of surly, if that’s the way you put it and you know, you’d go to the post office or you’d go to the Motor Vehicle Department and you would not be received well, let’s put it that way.

After zoning, I got into corporations and business planning which I really liked very much. Many of my courses at Harvard were directed toward that and so I finally began to use that kind of thing because I was very interested in accounting, financial statements. So I fell into that and began advising companies on exchange even and would organize corporations in Connecticut. Well by the 1990’s, actually the 80’s and 90’s, this fell off tremendously because when people would come to me and say they’ve got a bright idea and the other has money, we want to incorporate a business, I would have to say are you sure you want to organize your company in Connecticut, you know, because there’s some disadvantages.

More often than not, they’d say well thank you very much and they’d take off and go somewhere else, many times to the south. One, I remember one gentleman who had a business in Connecticut and some very, very bright ideas for improving that business and product, decided that he’s going to move to Georgia and that’s it and he wanted my help cause I was his counsel, corporate counsel. So I, with my wife, we went down to Georgia and spent about a week getting him set up down there, introducing him to various things, west of Augusta and east of Atlanta. I can’t remember the name of the town now.

We got there and spent some time down there and we were quite impressed. It was quite nice and my mother used to always say, oh the south is just nothing but mosquitoes and swamps and we were very, very impressed by it and thought gee…and the people were very nice, really nice. You didn't have a hassle. So a couple years later, a year or so later, we decided to go on vacation and we came down to North Carolina. We were in the western part of the state. I don’t know why, but we stopped off at Davidson and I met a friend from school who was a professor there.

We chatted and it was nice to see him and we asked about North Carolina and he said, “Well, you know, here’s Charlotte and Chapel Hill, it’s all pretty much the same as up in the northeast corridor. At least it’s getting to be that way very quickly. What you ought to do is go out to the coast there somewhere near Wilmington. I understand that’s really nice”. So we said okay, fine.

We got in the car, we came up near here and again this looked like an old town that we used to remember. It was very pleasant again. I mean the people we met were pleasant and very, very different from New England so we just decided to make the move almost out of the blue because of the – I don’t want to say aggravation, but things – it wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t pleasant any longer in New England just because of all of these things that were going on. So just very much by chance we decided to come down here.

Haas: Do you have children?

Tighe: Yes, I have one, let’s see, I’ve been married twice so I started a second time and I have one son who is a lawyer up in Connecticut and a daughter who’s married in Massachusetts and another son who is teaching up in New York State at a private school in New York State. Then I have two children here, a daughter and a son, who are 12 and 14.

Haas: My goodness.

Tighe: So yeah (laughter).

Hayes: You’ve been working at fatherhood for a long time (laughter).

Tighe: Yes I have. That’s the truth.

Hayes: It explains why you’re still practicing law (laughter).

Tighe: (Laughter) Yes it does. You’re absolutely right.

Hayes: So what kind of practice did you establish here then? You had this background in corporate and in zoning. In these nearly 10 years now, what practice are you doing now?

Tighe: What I’m doing, again, you just sort of fall into it, I’m doing a lot of employment law and civil rights law.

Hayes: Interesting.

Tighe: Yes, it is interesting. I mean I did do trial work in Connecticut, but mostly contract trial work, not slips and falls and automobile accidents. I didn't do very much of that, but I got involved down here in the employment scene for some reason or other and again, you just don’t know how this comes about, there’s just no way to tell. But I did one and then another and then another and I’ve gotten very interested in it.

Once again, a lawyer who wants to succeed can succeed without any question if you’ll get the books down, get them out, read it and learn what the law is on that subject because there are just not an awful lot of people who care to do that. It’s a grueling thing. You have to get them out and learn it or at least have an idea of what it is so you can easily refer to it. But once you’ve done that, you’ve mastered the subject and you can practice that area of the law and I don’t care what stage of your career you’re in, you can do it.

There is not much history to employment law. I mean there’s not a huge long history to civil rights law in the workplace at least. The 1964 Civil Rights Act only occurred in 1964 so there’s not a huge background. You don’t have to go back to the Middle Ages to learn that subject, but you have to intensely study it. But anyway, I fell into this and just got very interested in it and it’s obviously an area of the law which is in great need of improvement.

I’m pontificating, but in North Carolina, the employee is trash. The employment picture here is not very protective of the employee. The state of North Carolina appears to take the view that we want to encourage industry to come to North Carolina and settle here and we don’t want industry saddled with a whole lot of costs and regulations relating to the employment picture. So that kind of leaves the employee out in the cold.

It is an at will state of employment, but most states are at will. The employment relationship is established and continues at the will of either party. I mean that’s always been the common law, but over the years, most states have engrafted on to that protections so that an employee cannot be discharged unfairly in a manner which is patently unfair or cannot be discharged for a reason which is just clearly against public policy.

But North Carolina doesn’t join in that. I mean their idea of a wrongful termination of employment here in North Carolina is where the employer requires an employee to do an illegal act as a condition of his employment. In that situation, there’s protection. Unless it’s an illegal act, there is no protection. Your only recourse is to quit and that’s the only thing that you can do.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act is a federal law, not a North Carolina law and North Carolina adopted a declaration and that’s all it is, that North Carolina public policy does not favor gender based discrimination or racial discrimination. But that’s all it is. There’s no enforcement procedures at all. It just is a declaration and there, it’s confined as the civil law, the federal law is to 15 or more, employees of 15 or more implying that North Carolina doesn’t care what an employer does less than 15 times.

So North Carolina is in a situation, I do remember my first case here was on behalf of somebody who was accused by the employer of falsely and provably falsely of stealing. Well I thought this is absolutely wrong. I mean I’ve got them dead here. Well I got bounced out of the courtroom on a summary judgment like that because an employer can accuse an employee of stealing and then fire them because the employer believes that the employee has stolen from them.

There’s no recourse, no recourse whatsoever. The employee has no right to a trial or any fair hearing on the issue at all. And furthermore, the employer can also go around to all the other employees and say, “I’m investigating this matter of George Smith here. I think he’s stolen from us.

He’s been stealing money” and tell all the other employees about it and you can even fire the man and say “Pick up your bags” and go out and have all the other employees go out – this is all perfectly okay and there’s nothing the employee can do about it whatsoever.

There is what they call a qualified privilege on the part of an employer to investigate his employees and to assess whether or not they’ve … and to talk to his other employees about the matter.

There is really basically a very lopsided situation in North Carolina as far as the employment market is concerned. I found that kind of interesting and I’m trying to use my education and background and whatever experience to try to help the employees here to the extent that I can.

Hayes: So your client base is…I’m trying to figure out how would clients know the person that could help with this. In other words, it’s kind of a very narrow area.

Tighe: Word of mouth is all I can say. I don’t do an awful lot of advertising which I probably should do. I think basically it’s word of mouth.

Hayes: And in many cases are you attempting to get the employer to respond as an advocate so it doesn’t go to court and doesn’t get that. I mean are you doing a lot of negotiation? Is that part of what you’re….

Tighe: Absolutely. Any law suit in this day and age, the costs of litigating are tremendous today so that a large part of the practice of law is an attempt to work out a short of trial solution. No doubt about it.

Haas: How do the other attorneys here in Wilmington, how do they accept you coming in from the north, Harvard, not Wake Forest and Chapel Hill or were you accepted into the bar as you expected or were there any problems with this?

Tighe: No, when I first came down, I went around and talked with lawyers, many lawyers in Wilmington and I was really well received. I mean just…that was one reason why we felt so good about coming here, is that I mean everybody had a good thing to say. It was very, very heartening and no, there was no animosity as far as where I was from or anything like that.

You know, I don’t know what they actually thought, but I must say that I was always received, I mean nobody did not have time to see me and that kind of thing and many of them spent a good deal of time with me, more than you would expect. Since that time, yeah, I never had any problems or difficulties.

I mean I’ve certainly met quite a few attorneys that I’ve become very good friends with here and that includes not just in Wilmington, but throughout the state, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Charlotte. There are a lot of very good colleagues I guess you’d put it, here in North Carolina. I guess because I’m making such a fuss about this, that you might say that it was not like that in Connecticut and to a large extent, that’s true. It was not as friendly so I was quite surprised and gratified to find so many people who welcomed my coming here.

Haas: Do you wind up being in the courtroom very much here?

Tighe: Yeah, quite often, yes.

Haas: What about the judges here? Any comments or insights as to their actions?

Tighe: What I would say I guess is (laughter) the system of electing judges is not a good one. I know they’re false with the system of appointment especially if it’s not hedged about with thorough background checks. If it’s left entirely to political appointment, then that’s no good. If it is done well, I think you get better judges than you do by the elective process. There are excellent judges here and then there are poor judges here. That’s the only way you can say it, just like anywhere, you’d expect that.

Hayes: And one of your jobs is to try to get your client into the ones that are excellent.

Tighe: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, if you can do it. That’s exactly right which is easier here than it was in Connecticut to do that. I don’t know why exactly that is, but…

Hayes: Which level of court are most of your cases then ….

Tighe: Superior Court.

Hayes: Superior Court, cause there’s a substantial amount of money involved?

Tighe: Yeah, there is that jurisdictional difference, that’s correct, it’s more than $10,000 usually. Then the District Court seems to have a lot of, well of course criminal traffic, but Domestic Relations, I just don’t do much of that. I don’t have an awful lot to do with the District Court and so I don’t know the judges that well.

Hayes: You had done a lot of corporate work. Have you tried to do a parallel set of that or has it mainly just been the specialized…

Tighe: No, I’ve done other types of work here as well, yes. It just depends on what comes in. That’s an interesting thing about the practice of law is you just don’t know if the door is going to open tomorrow or not. I remember that right from the very beginning and it was always a miracle that, you know, gosh the next day, somebody does come in (laughter). But that’s part of the private practice of law, the stress of it I suppose.

But again, one thing that I guess I might observe, if you’re interested in practicing law and really get into it, that is enjoy it, you cannot fail. You will just make a swath right through your competition if you will apply yourself to the practice of law and do it as best as you know how. I mean there’s just no doubt about it because there are too many people now who are practicing law who just are unwilling to put out the time and the effort that are absolutely necessary.

It is a huge strain, the practice of law is a difficult and time-consuming thing. The preparation for a trial is enormous today just because of the statutory nature of litigation or the matters over which you litigate. There are so many arcane rules that are a part of the legislative program that you’re litigating about that you have to know all of those rules and all of the exceptions and when you do, you prepare for a trial, you have an enormous amount of work to do, just a tremendous amount of work.

There again, if you’re willing to do it and do it as well as you can, you just will succeed. There’s just no doubt about it. And there’s always a demand for a lawyer like that. That was one thing – when I read the yellow pages here in North Carolina, I said, “My gosh, that’s a tremendous amount of lawyers here”. But the lawyers who were here, when I asked them about that, they said there’s always room for a good lawyer. And that’s true, there’s always room for a good lawyer.

Hayes: This has been wonderful. We want to thank you very much for your words and thanks a lot.

Tighe: Not at all.

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