Former DA, judge dies at 71

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In life, he was epitome of action: a rock climber, a mountain climber, a fisherman known to head out to work the nets with the Ocracoke locals. In death, he will be remembered by many who sat in his courtroom as fair and wise.

The Honorable William Clyde Griffin Jr., 2nd Judicial District Attorney from 1968 to 1984 and Chief Resident Superior Court Judge from 1985 to 2009, died Dec. 22, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Originally from Williamston, Griffin was more than a familiar face to many who worked with him over those 41 years.

“He was always one of my favorite trial judges whether I was prosecuting or defending,” said District Attorney Seth Edwards. “He was a no-nonsense judge who cut through the waste to get to the meat of the case. He did not tolerate foolishness from either side and was always fair. What more can you ask of a judge?”

Tom Payne worked with Griffin as DA and Superior Court Judge for all 24 years of Payne’s tenure as Beaufort County Clerk of Court. For Payne, Griffin’s ability to “go the extra mile” made him a court standout.

“He was a wonderful person. I mean, he was excellent. It was a sheer pleasure working with him,” Payne said. “He had a keen wit and he was very smart and he was very fair. If you had a problem, he would sit down with you — any problem you had, he would be willing to sit down and listen. … It was one of the highlights of my career, working with him.”

Current Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. described Griffin as unpretentious — a man who would confuse county bailiffs when he’d park his battered old pickup truck in the courthouse parking spot reserved for the Superior Court Judge; one who loved Ocracoke, where he and his family had a home, and would fly his own plane on and off the island.

Griffin was District Attorney when Sermons first began practicing law as a defense attorney.

“He was a very fair, but business-like DA,” Sermons said. “He had a real drive to get things done. But towards the end, I think he got frustrated by the system being bogged down.”

Griffin retired in 2009 and split his time between Ocracoke and Mebane.

“I have nothing but the highest admiration for him and the way he did his job,” Sermons said. “I hope I’m half the judge he was.”

A memorial service was held Dec. 27, at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill.