James E. Williams, Jr. received a B.A. in Political Science and J.D. from Duke University. He was Chief Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties from 1990-2017. He was previously the Felony Chief of the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office.
In 2010, while a member of the N.C. Advocates for Justice Board of Governors, Mr. Williams helped establish and served as Chair of the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Criminal Justice System. In 2012, the work of the Task Force led to the establishment of the N.C. Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, of which Mr. Williams served as a Board Member and later Commission Chair. Mr. Williams is also a founder and Board member of the N.C. Public Defender Committee on Racial Equity and serves on numerous boards, including the N.C. Fines and Fees Coalition, National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, N.C. Association of Black Lawyers, and Orange Bias Free Policing Coalition.
Since 2018, Mr. Williams has served in an Of Counsel capacity at The Center for Death Penalty Litigation as Racial Equity Coordinator. In January 2020, Governor Cooper appointed him to the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. Mr. Williams has received numerous awards, including the N.C. Advocates for Justice Thurgood Marshall Award, the MLK University/Community Planning Inc. MLK Jr. Citizenship Award, the N.C. ACLU Champion of Justice Award, and the North Carolina Bar Association James McNeil Smith Jr. Award. Most recently, he won the N.C. Advocates for Justice Annie Brown Kennedy Award for commitment to acquiring full freedom for all citizens of North Carolina and exceptional advocacy that protects individual liberties.