William W. Taylor III ’66 will be one of the featured SEVEN Speakers during the 2018 Morehead-Cain Alumni Forum, taking place October 19 through 21 in Chapel Hill.
Bill Taylor is a firsthand witness to history. But he hasn’t just witnessed it—he’s influenced it.
Over the course of his 40-year career, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney has litigated numerous high-profile civil and criminal cases, trying more than 60 cases to judgment. His clients have included notable public officials, business executives, and a wide variety of public and private organizations, including unions and Fortune 500 companies.
“I think the Olympics case was probably the best result you can point to,” he says. “With the case I tried for the owner of coal mines in West Virginia, he was a very unpopular character and we managed to get the jury to acquit him of all felony charges. My representation of Blanche Moore on N.C. death row for the last 23 years has been enormously rewarding, but also depressing.”
The cases Bill refers to here have been headliners in the national news. In “the Olympics case,” Bill represented one of the leaders of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics bid, who was accused of buying votes from members of the International Olympic Committee. The defendants were ultimately acquitted on the basis of insufficient evidence.
The West Virginia coal mine owner is former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, sentenced to one year in prison and fined $250,000 for conspiracy to violate federal laws for mine safety. He was brought to court after 29 mine workers died in a preventable explosion, but his sentence was not directly related to the explosion. As Bill points out, his defense led the jury to acquit Blankenship of all felony charges.
As for the Blanche Moore case: In 1989, a Forsyth County jury sentenced Moore to death for attempting to poison her boyfriend with arsenic. She was also accused of murdering a past boyfriend and an ex-husband, though prosecutors dropped those charges after Moore was sentenced. Today, Moore is the oldest person living on North Carolina’s death row, and Bill Taylor has represented her since 1995.
“I like being in the position of trying to help people solve difficult problems,” Bill says. “I believe that these days particularly, people who are in conflict with the government—especially the federal government—need independent and comfortable advocates. I guess it’s kind of trite to say I want to help people and their families, but a lot of times that’s what we do.”
Bill has done a lot of work defending inmates on death row. He formerly served as a member of the board of directors for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit law firm that provides direct representation to inmates on North Carolina’s death row, and he is a former chair of the board of directors for the Fair Trial Initiative, which worked to introduce innovative approaches to the defense of death penalty cases.
“North Carolina was having a large body of executions, and there was a small group of lawyers in the state over and over again trying to defend those cases. We provided support for the lawyers defending them, and promoted the notion that the death penalty should be abolished. To be a part of that and to see the executions in North Carolina basically come to a halt. . . .”
Bill says that’s the work he’s most proud of. And that’s really saying something, considering he has an impressive record of teaching and publishing. Bill has taught at UNC Law School, the George Washington University Law School, and Catholic University Law School. He is the former chair of the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section and has authored numerous publications, including a recent widely read article urging reform of the criminal discovery rules published in The National Law Journal.
Outside of work, Bill spends as much time as he can outdoors.
“I’m sort of a fanatical fly fisherman,” he says. “My wife and I have a place in Montana, and we fish there and in other parts of the world.”
He also loves horses—and has since childhood. “I have bred and raised horses, and still do—though not in the same numbers. And I play a lot of tennis.”
Though he hasn’t yet attended a Morehead-Cain Alumni Forum, Bill says he’s happy for an excuse for the upcoming visit to NC. He’s a generous benefactor of the University, having endowed the William and Ida Taylor Fellowship at UNC in memory of his father, William Taylor Jr.
Bill says that, on reflection, maybe that’s what he’s most proud of.
“(The University) is one of the most wonderful things that North Carolina has to offer,” Bill says. His entire family can attest: His mother and her seven siblings all graduated from UNC in the 1920s and ’30s. His father, sister, and two children also attended UNC.
“When my daughter applied, they asked her to name all the family members who had attended the University, and she had to use two extra sheets of paper,” Bill laughs.
“To have my own children attend there is a special treat. Whenever I go back, it feels like home.”