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General Practice Hall of Fame Inducts Three

General Practice Hall of Fame Inducts Three

Inductees, from left, John Vernon III, Sheila Lambert and Richard Wiggins.

The three newest members of the North Carolina Bar Association’s General Practice Hall of Fame were inducted on Thursday, June 18, at the 117th NCBA Annual Meeting in Asheville.

Sherry Everett, former section chair who chairs the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, presided.

Attorneys comprising the 2015 induction class were Sheila M. Lambert of Asheville, John H. Vernon III of Burlington and Richard M. Wiggins of Fayetteville.

The Hall of Fame, sponsored by the NCBA Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Section, was established in 1989. This year’s induction class brings membership in the Hall of Fame to 149 attorneys.

Sheila M. Lambert was born and raised in Macon, Georgia. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia in 1972 and moved to Asheville. There she worked as an advertising copywriter for Billy Graham’s radio station and for a small advertising agency before becoming director of the regional office of the North Carolina Easter Seals Society. She earned an MBA from Western Carolina University in 1977. 

Encouraged by her sister, who proclaimed the family needed a good attorney, Lambert entered Tulane University Law School in New Orleans in the fall of 1979. She served as managing editor of the law review and was a member of the Order of the Coif. She was a summer law clerk at what was then Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer and Wood, and received her J.D., magna cum laude, in 1982.

During the 1980s, she practiced with the noted New Orleans firm of Stone, Pigman, Walther, Wittman and Hutchinson in securities defense, real estate, family law and commercial litigation. She returned to Asheville with her husband and their young son and opened her solo practice, Law Offices of Sheila M. Lambert, in 1988.  In Asheville, she has concentrated on family law, creditor’s rights and civil litigation.

Lambert has served as an advisory member of the North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee and Authorized Practice Committee and as a member of the 28th Judicial District Bar Pro Bono Committee.  She volunteers in the North Carolina Bar Association 4ALL program.

In 2009, she was honored with the 28th Judicial District Bar and Pisgah Legal Services Outstanding Public Service Award for her dedication to representing clients pro bono and her steadfast commitment to the Volunteer Lawyer Hotline program and Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyer program. She received from the NCBA and 28th Judicial District Bar the 2011 Centennial Award for Outstanding and Exemplary Community Service.

She has also been an active member in the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. As chair of its Judicial Endorsement Committee for four years, she has guided conversations and led by example. Her work on the local event committee for honoring Women of Wisdom (women attorneys licensed in North Carolina at least 25 years) helped the initial event to be a huge success, honoring Western North Carolina trailblazers in the profession.  The success of that event has led to it being a biannual tradition.

She maintains her work-life balance in part through her pottery studio in Asheville’s popular River Arts District. Her community service includes being president of the Rape Crisis Center, a longtime Girl Scout leader, and a full-service volunteer at her children’s schools, in youth sports and in her church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.

Lambert and her husband, Larry Lan Sluder, have two children: son Brooks Lambert-Sluder and daughter Rose Lambert-Sluder.

John H. Vernon III was born in Burlington and attended Wake Forest University, where he received his bachelor of arts in 1964 and his law degree in 1967. He then attended New York University, receiving his LL.M. in Taxation in 1969.

Upon completion of his formal education, he returned to Burlington to begin his law practice in the firm his father had founded in 1933. He took over the management of the firm upon his father’s death in 1986. Since then, the Vernon Law Firm has continued to grow and is now the oldest and largest private practice firm in Alamance County.

Vernon has been active in the Tax and Business Law sections of the N.C. Bar Association, served as a State Bar Councilor (1982-89), on the IOLTA Board of Trustees (1992-98) and as president of the N.C. State Bar (1991-92). He was a founding director of the Olde Forest Racquet Club and has held positions on the boards of May Memorial Library, the Alamance County Arts Association, the Board of Legal Aid of North Carolina, the Elon University Board of Visitors and the Alamance County YMCA Board.

Vernon and his wife, Vicki, have been married for 49 years. They reside in Burlington and have three grown children: Sara L. Vernon, Katherine H. Vernon and John H. Vernon IV.

Richard M. Wiggins was born in Cumberland County and graduated from its public schools. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an undergraduate from 1951-55 and graduated from the UNC School of Law in 1958.

Prior to graduating law school, he clerked in the office of Sanford, Phillips, McCoy, and Weaver. He spent those summers learning to search title and driving Terry Sanford to political events, as Sanford began to gear up for the gubernatorial race of 1960.

After graduation, he was invited to join that firm. Dick Phillips, later dean of the UNC School of Law and a judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, was his first mentor. Don McCoy and Stacy Weaver were also outstanding lawyers in the firm with great client relationship skills and were both a great help to him.

In 1960, Sanford was elected governor and Phillips left shortly thereafter to teach at UNC law school. McCoy, Weaver and Wiggins continued to practice together, along with other members of the firm who subsequently joined.

His practice evolved to doing defense work for several insurance companies. He eventually became trial counsel for Mid-South Insurance Company, a health insurance carrier then based in Fayetteville. During the course of that representation, he traveled throughout Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi trying bad faith insurance cases. 

One case that he defended was a bad faith insurance case filed in Gulfport, Mississippi. The plaintiff was represented by Will Denton, who happened to be a law school classmate of John Grisham. That case had many twists and turns. After it was over, Denton turned over parts of his file to Grisham. “The Rainmaker” was published several months later, with the events of the case making up parts of the plot. In real life, Wiggins won on summary judgment.

For many years Wiggins has been counsel to the Mehta family, who are owners of several regional hotels. In 2013, the Mehtas named the conference center attached to their new Embassy Suites the Richard M. Wiggins Conference Center in his honor.

Wiggins has received numerous honors, including a Centennial Award from the North Carolina Bar Association in 2011. He has been honored for his philanthropy toward a number of causes, including the UNC School of Law and the NCBA Foundation. He is a Founder Fellow of the NCBA Foundation Endowment.

He was married to Peggy Wiggins until her death on June 6, 2010. He has two daughters and six grandchildren.