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Bob Spearman, champion of the right to a sound, basic education, dies

Bob Spearman, a North Carolina attorney who represented poor, rural students in the landmark Leandro v. State of North Carolina education case, died Sunday at the age of 74.  

“Bob Spearman, an honored trial lawyer who led the legal fight to breathe life into the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantee of a sound basic education for all public school students, died on December 3, 2017.  The causes were dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Patricia Hinds Spearman; daughters Madolyn Marschall  (Mark Salditch) of Baltimore, Maryland and Dorothy Marschall of Corte Madera, California; grandchildren Zoe Salditch, Leah Salditch, Ellis Hurtado and Weston Hurtado; and sister Mary Lindsay Spearman of Chapel Hill,” his obituary stated.

“He’s one of the best lawyers I have ever known” — Gerry Hancock, co-founder of EducationNC and partner
at Everett Gaskins Hancock

According to his obituary, Spearman was a graduate of Yale Law School and clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black during his final term. He helped Black write the opinion in the “Pentagon Papers,” case. Spearman entered private practice in Raleigh in 1971 and tackled a diversity of legal matters, including antitrust cases as well as commercial and business litigation. But it was perhaps his role on the Leandro case that had the longest-reaching impact on North Carolina education. 

“Bob was best known for his creative and energetic representation of public school students from poor and rural counties in the landmark case known as Leandro v. State of North Carolina. The Leandro case, which was filed in 1994 and is still pending, resulted in two major State Supreme Court opinions,” the obituary stated. “The first ruled that North Carolina schoolchildren have a judicially enforceable constitutional right to a sound and basic education. The second affirmed a series of later superior court decisions after trials, and held the State had wrongfully denied this right to many State schoolchildren.”

“When I met him as a young person, I thought, ‘That’s the kind of lawyer I’d want to be’ — Robb Leandro, partner at Parker Poe law firm and named plaintiff in the Leandro case.

Spearman was also a founder and chair of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. He retired from Parker Poe in 2010. 

According to his obituary, “a celebration of Bob’s life will be held at a later date. His family suggests that memorial contributions be made to The Carolina Covenant Scholarships General Fund. Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, P.O. Box 1080, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-1080.”

Below, Spearman’s colleagues and friends talk about him as an attorney and discuss his work on the Leandro case. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.