HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) – High Point University officials are standing firmly by their appointment of former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin as the founding dean of their planned law school despite a new call for them to reconsider.

Carolina Forward, a progressive activist organization based in Carrboro, announced Wednesday that it had leased a billboard along eastbound I-74 near HPU to call for university officials to think again before giving Martin this job.

Carolina Forward has leased this billboard along I-74 near High Point University to protest the hiring of Mark Martin as the founding dean of HPU’s planned law school. (CAROLINA FORWARD)

Martin, who served on the state Supreme Court from 2014 to 2019, was named June 7 as the first dean of the law school that HPU plans to open, but it is his apparent connection to former President Donald Trump and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that has brought questions about that decision.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Martin was among the persons Trump called for counsel on Jan. 6 during the riot by his supporters to upend the congressional certification of the election of President Joe Biden. Those rioters believed Trump’s unfounded claims that election fraud had caused his defeat and violently sought to stop House and Senate from fulfilling their constitutional obligation.

Martin’s connections to Trump inspired Carolina Forward to employ the billboard in “urging university leaders, faculty, staff, students and the general public to just say no to Mark Martin. … He should no longer practice law in the State of North Carolina – let alone guide legal education here. Please join us in respectfully urging High Point University President Nido Qubein and the university board to rescind Martin’s appointment as law school dean.

Former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin has been named the founding dean of High Point University’s planned law school. (HPU)

HPU, which had not mentioned Martin’s connection to the reporting about Jan. 6 until WGHP brought the matter to the public’s attention on June 7, responded Wednesday to queries from WGHP with a statement released by spokesperson Pam Haynes that seems to indicate that the university’s decision was based somewhat on the fact that Martin has not been named in the investigation by the Select Committee to Investigate Jan. 6th Attack on the Capitol.

“This is an institution that believes and earnestly strives to live by civility, integrity, and fairness to all – including a commitment of fairness to all our employees,” the release said. “We absolutely respect the rule of law, including our nation’s legal due process.

“We hope you can appreciate that Mark Martin was hired following a search process that included recommendations and reviews from legal professionals, academic deans, and other leaders from both sides of the political spectrum. Below is a sample of the comments we received. In addition, his record demonstrates significant success as a leader of a law school.

“As it relates to the events of Jan. 6, more than 1,000 people have been interviewed as part of the thorough work of the House Select Committee, and Mark Martin has not been one of them. HPU’s Board of Trustees and President will always make important decisions like employment status based on merit, but unless legal due process has rendered proof of anything illegal, then decisions cannot be made based merely on hearsay and media reports.

“If legal due process renders facts in the future that prove an individual has done something illegal, the university would take appropriate action based on such facts.”

Haynes’ release – as had been the case in a note from spokesperson Allison Lightner in June – included a variety of testimonials on Martin’s behalf.

The High Point Enterprise, which first reported its presence, included a release in which HPU’s words suggest the university has examined the issue more closely since the announcement was made and that Martin had been vindicated.

“Chief Justice Martin assured HPU that he was not retained as a lawyer by anyone in connection with the 2020 presidential election process,” the statement said. “Based on HPU’s understanding of all the information available and our candid and open conversations with Chief Justice Martin, we believe that he has done nothing wrong.”

WGHP has asked for an interview with Martin, who has not responded to questions from media outlets seeking his comment on the reports about Jan. 6.

No report had suggested that Martin had been hired by Trump, as was the case with Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell, among others, but the Times did report that Martin was the author of a lawsuit in Texas that was used to that end.

The back story

The Times reported that Martin, at the time dean of the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia – where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. is among the guest lecturers – was part of a “team of lawyers with close ties to the Trump campaign” and to being part of two controversial legal maneuvers that Trump employed.

First, the Times reported, Martin was an author of the lawsuit in Texas that attempted to overturn Biden’s electoral victories in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. That suit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Then, the Times said, Martin reportedly advocated for what has become a pivotal issue in the run-up to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021: that Vice President Mike Pence could reject any state election returns and set aside the electoral votes.

Martin’s name also is listed on the White House’s call log for Jan. 6, The Washington Post reported in March. The report cited that Trump asked for the call to Martin, which was made at 7:30 p.m. Martin was known to be a friend of then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who is a former member of Congress from North Carolina.

In the in-depth report of the back story behind Trump’s maneuvering on and around Jan. 6, 2021, the Times said Martin worked behind the scenes in drafting legal opinions to support Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud.

Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Perspective on his role

Former colleagues such as retired state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr and former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell have said that even if you disagree with Martin’s opinions, that doesn’t mean he did anything illegal or unethical.

Rich Eisen, an expert on law and legal corruption at the Brookings Institution – and one of the authors of the “Trump On Trial” report issued this week – told The News & Observer in Raleigh last year that Martin’s actions, as described in the Times’ report, should be subject to legal review.

“All the lawyers who whipped up Trump’s followers into a frenzy based on the completely baseless belief that the election had been stolen must bear a share of the responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6,” Eisen, a special counsel in Trump’s first impeachment, told the N&O.