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Liberty Fund Honors J. Douglas Moretz

Liberty Fund Honors J. Douglas Moretz

Zac Moretz and his children stand behind the stop arm at the Bar Center.

The J. Douglas Moretz Liberty Fund was dedicated in memory of the longtime Lee County attorney recently at the N.C. Bar Center in Cary, home of the North Carolina Bar Association.

Moretz, who died in July 2005, previously served as president of the Lee County Bar Association and the 11th Judicial District Bar. A former member of the N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization, he was a certified specialist in criminal law by the North Carolina State Bar, a Lifetime Fellow of the Roscoe Pound Institute, and was certified as a Criminal and Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He was also an advanced competition aerobatic pilot and a former state champion table tennis player.

A former Lee County Commissioner, assistant prosecutor in the 11th Judicial District and decorated Vietnam veteran, Moretz is perhaps best remembered as a fierce civil litigator and fighter for his clients’ interests, primarily in personal injury, medical malpractice and business dispute matters. Many may not be aware, however, of the contributions he made to the safety of school buses in North Carolina through the addition of the now-mandatory crossing arms on the front bumper.

His son, Concord attorney Zac Moretz, provided his recollection of how this came about in his dedication ceremony remarks. The incident involved his friend Joe B. Upsal, who was around 8 years old on that fateful day when he dropped his books after getting off the school bus in Sanford’s Owl’s Nest subdivision.

“Joe B was directly in front of the bus when he dropped his books, but the bus driver did not see him because of the high hood that school buses have,” Moretz recalled. “The bus driver pushed down on the gas pedal to go on to the next stop, and both set of tires ran over little Joe B.

“Joe B was severely injured, but he lived. He spent months in the hospital having surgery after surgery. As I recall, he had about a dozen broken bones, a collapsed lung, lost a liver, and still has one leg shorter than the other. I remember visiting him in the hospital and taking him some comic books.”

“Joe B has a wife and child now and lives near Seattle, I believe. His mom and my mom are still close friends.”

The elder Moretz entered the picture shortly thereafter as the attorney for the Upsal family.

“My dad,” Moretz continued, “was a personal injury and malpractice attorney, and in fact was one of the first in the state to come to concentrate almost exclusively on that area of the law. Joe B’s parents came to see my dad when the insurance company refused to pay for all of Joe B’s medical expenses, and of course, litigation ensued. The insurance company and the County and the State and the bus company were all defendants.

“Eventually, after about three years of legal work, my dad was able to reach settlements with all the defendants and obtain a sum of money that allowed Joe B’s parents to pay for the medical care he needed, and especially all the therapy and special equipment needed for his convalescence, which itself took years.

“But what also resulted from that case is the safety arms you see on all school buses in North Carolina now, which ensures that students are always visible to the bus driver when they cross in front of the bus, and hopefully will keep anyone from ever having to experience the horrible injuries that Joe B Upsal and his family had to go through.”

To illustrate his point, Zac Moretz arranged for a school bus to be parked in front of the Bar Center for the dedication ceremony.

“You can see up close for yourself,” Moretz concluded, “the difference these safety arms make on the school bus we have out front of the Bar Center today.”

Liberty Funds, established through gifts of $10,000 or more to the NCBA Foundation Endowment, form the centerpiece of the Bar Center’s Liberty Garden, which was formally dedicated May 11, 2006. Foremost among its numerous naming opportunities are the Liberty Funds, commemorated through the glass etchings that adorn the Liberty Wall of Honor.

Each glass panel honors a North Carolina attorney whose career demonstrates dedication to the pursuit of justice and outstanding service to the profession and the public. A Liberty Fund recognizes the honoree and his or her contributions to the state’s legal profession with a glass panel inscribed with the attorney’s likeness, name, hometown and important dates.

A Liberty Fund is a unique way to pay tribute to a North Carolina lawyer and to ensure their place in the legal history of North Carolina. It is a permanent and lasting way to honor a lawyer because it provides recognition among their peers and signifies respect within the legal community. It allows family, friends and colleagues to affirm the importance of the law to the lawyer being honored and furthers that commitment through the programs of the Foundation Endowment.

The NCBA Foundation is a tax exempt charitable organization, established in 1960, that supports the mission of NCBA by protecting and promoting the legal rights of citizens, building respect for and understanding of the law, and enhancing the professional competence of lawyers. The NCBA Foundation Endowment was established in 1987 to enable the foundation to fund programs and activities to better serve the public and the legal profession.

As of June 2009, the endowment had awarded grants totaling $3,162,700 for 420 projects.