[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of guest essays by people living in Alexander County, telling in their own words why they love to live, work, and play in Alexander. We hope to bring these to readers on a monthly basis. Essays are reviewed by a committee from the Promote Alexander County group: Gary Herman, Laura Crooks, and Micah Henry.]
By JOEL HARBINSON
I might have been born in Hickory sixty-six years ago, but I got to Alexander County as fast as I could when my father, a Lutheran minister, took a pastorate at Shiloh Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.
I attended Bethlehem Elementary School through the fourth grade and then moved to Taylorsville when my father took a call at another church.
I attended Taylorsville Elementary School, Taylorsville High School for two years, and the remaining two at the newly opened Alexander Central, graduating in 1972.
Upon graduation, the local postmaster, C.G. Watts, and father of my best friend John Watts, gave me the best advice of my life — “Attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and whatever career you choose to do, come back home to Alexander County” — exactly what he had done.
So when I graduated from law school from UNC in 1979, I did just that.
I came back home to Taylorsville, threw up a shingle as a solo practitioner and thought “If people come in, I’ll make some money, and if they don’t, I’ll have a lot of leisure time” — a win either way for a single 25 year old.
Forty years later, I have absolutely no regret of living, working, and raising my sons in Alexander County.
During my career, I have — either deservingly or not — been characterized as an “Atticus Finch” type of lawyer — a small-town Southern lawyer who has successfully represented wrongfully accused defendants charged with serious offenses — which criminal charges come with automatic assumptions of guilt in the general community.
I grew up here in our local public school system and was able to interact and become friends with individuals from every socioeconomic group — rich, poor, middle class, black, white, smart, challenged and so on. I have found over the four decades of my practice, that the jurors I try cases with are the same type of people I grew up with — people I know. And despite the great differences among us on religious, political, and social issues, I have discovered that the people of Alexander County, whether as individuals or as jurors, when dealing with a fellow citizen one-on-one, will put the biases and prejudices — that we all have — aside and do what’s right. There is no doubt in my mind if a any person went to a home in this county, and out of need, literally asked for the shirt off that person’s back, he or she would give it to them without any hesitation.
We come together in this county whenever we see someone else — one on one — in need of some assistance. And that is the mentality I use when I try cases — to personalize my client so that each juror will see the truth based on the facts of this particular case — not based on an assumed prejudice of either that person or the crime charged.
That is why I’m proud to have spent nearly my entire life living among my fellow citizens in Alexander County. The vast majority have no hesitation to look at another person as an individual and to do what’s right based on the need and facts presented to them.