Legal History

Heirs of Early Supreme Court Justice Win Legal Fight for His Papers

Heirs of a justice appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by George Washington are entitled to his papers, according to a ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

A descendant had loaned the papers of Justice James Iredell Sr. to the North Carolina Historical Commission in 1910, the Associated Press reports. The descendant wrote that the papers were on loan and he retained “the right of recall and repossession at any time if I see fit.” He died in 1923 without asking for the return of the documents.

The state had claimed the papers were converted to a gift with the death of the descendant who loaned them to the state. The state also argued the statute of limitations barred the descendants’ claim. The North Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed with both arguments.

The statute of limitations does not begin to run, the court said, until a demand is made for the return of a loaned object and the demand is refused. How Appealing links to the ruling (PDF).

Raleigh lawyer Dan Brady represented the winning side. He told AP his clients would be interested in a settlement that would allow the papers to remain with the state. “We have no idea what they’re worth,” Brady said. “It’s kind of like the dog chasing the car. Now that we’ve got it, what do we do with it?”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.