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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, September 4, 2020

Former prosecutor Bush stresses value of second chance




Bush takes the oath to become an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve Aug. 15 at Chattanooga National Cemetery. He’s standing near the grave of his grandfather, Calvin Bush, Sr., who served as a Marine. - Photograph provided

Like many lawyers, Spears Moore attorney Brian Bush says he believes in justice. But he also believes, he adds, in giving someone a second chance.

Some might say this is a contradiction and insist there are opposing forces tugging for control of Bush’s perspective, but that’s not how he sees it.

Rather, Bush, 29, says justice and second chances can be one and the same.

“Justice isn’t always a conviction; it doesn’t always involve someone being imprisoned,” he suggests. “It could be giving someone a second chance, if that’s appropriate for them, the victim and the system.”

As a prosecutor with the violent crimes and felonies division of the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office from 2017 until this year, Bush had ample opportunities to apply this principle.

His cases only deepened his resolve. Although Bush declines to provide an example of a time when he offered someone a second chance rather than incarceration, he does illustrate his point with a fictional scenario.

“A case could be as simple as a young man who’s facing felony charges for drugs, and you don’t want to mark him as a felon because that would be permanent and life-altering,” Bush says. “That’s not to say he didn’t do anything wrong; the charges might be legitimate. But when you seek justice, you should ask, ‘Is it fair for the accused and the community to brand this person as a felon?’

“The second chance might look like diversion, and if he completes it, then he doesn’t have a felony. Those are the kinds of situations where I felt like I was making a difference.”

Making a difference was important to Bush, who learned from his mother and her parents to treat people fairly and help them whenever possible. Equipped with a desire to manifest these lessons in his life, Bush decided to become an attorney.

“I wanted to bring positive change to my community, and the law gives you the broadest avenue to do that,” he explains.

After graduating from Maryville College with a degree in political science, Bush began taking classes at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law.

While in Knoxville, Bush externed at the public defender’s office, where he worked with people he says were passionate about defense work and protecting the rights of individuals.

After law school, Bush returned to his hometown of Chattanooga and took a job with The House of Refuge, an alternative sentencing program. As court liaison, Bush worked with defense attorneys and the DA’s office to enlist people in the program, which provided employment, a place to live and substance abuse counseling.

“Our goal was to create stability and place people on a better path so they could be productive on their own,” Bush recalls.

Bush’s work for The House of Refuge opened a door at the district attorney’s office, where he saw an opportunity to pursue justice in a different form.

As Bush labored as a line prosecutor, the Chattanooga law firm of Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams was striving to increase its diversity.

Over time, the firm had boosted its number of female attorneys, many of whom became shareholders and involved in the management of the firm, but it was struggling to find African American lawyers who were either from Chattanooga or were willing to move to the city.

Eventually, Spears Moore’s leadership decided to take a more aggressive approach, says Joe White, former managing partner of the firm.

“We posted job notices at several predominately African American law schools,” White explains. “I also reached out to other sources, including Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Gerald Webb. Since he’s from Chattanooga, I thought he might know some local African Americans who were in law school or wanted to come back to the city to practice.”

White struck gold with Webb, who suggested the perfect candidate was already working in Chattanooga.

Although White and Spears Moore managing partner Dean Clements had interviewed several promising candidates, a few minutes over lunch at Figgy’s Sandwich Shop were all it took to convince them to offer Bush a job.

“Brian had a great smile and an outgoing personality,” White remembers. “He was also involved in the Chattanooga community. We had an immediate connection.”

Spears Moore’s efforts to increase its diversity overlapped with a desire in Bush to branch out into different areas of the law. So, when White and Clements offered him work as a civil litigator earlier this year, he gave the opportunity serious consideration.

Bush had reservations. The growing pandemic was causing economic uncertainty around the country, which made staying with the DA’s office tempting. Also, he had done only criminal work and was unfamiliar with the civil side of the law.

However, Bush says he believed Spears Moore would offer him the support he would need as he learned a new practice area, so he accepted the offer.

It turned out he was right. “My co-workers teach me every day, and every day, I learn new things,” he adds. “They’re helping the rookie learn what to do. Even though transitions are hard, they’ve made it go as smoothly as possible.”

White says the entire firm is thrilled to have Bush on the team and is looking forward to continuing its efforts to diversify.

“Addressing diversity can be challenging but is necessary – and rewarding when successful. We’re hopeful Brian will be an integral part of this firm for many years and will help us to continue to make progress.”

Bush’s mother and grandparents taught him another lesson that’s still with him: To give back when he’s able. To that end, he’s serving as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Having taken the oath in August, he’s scheduled to attend officer development school in Rhode Island in the near future.

Although the commission gives Bush added responsibility, he says he wants to make a positive contribution to his country. “I enjoyed serving my community while I was a district attorney. Now that I’ve put on my civil law hat, I’m serving as a military officer.”

Despite having a busy practice and taking on demanding volunteer work, Bush sets aside time to spend with his wife, Mauriel, a local teacher. Before the pandemic, they enjoyed “chilling out” on Main Street, eating at local restaurants and supporting area businesses.

As Bush discusses his life, he’s drinking from an Ear Hustle-branded mug. Produced at California’s San Quentin State Prison by former inmates, Ear Hustle is a podcast that tells the stories of those who are living an incarcerated life.

Bush started listening to the podcast while he was a district attorney. While its narratives hooked him, he says it also reminded him of why he pursues justice – in whatever form it takes.

“It reminded me that even when people are locked up, they don’t lose their humanity. They’re still people with stories.”