Old Man Winter might have delayed the Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA)’s annual meeting by one week, but he didn’t hamper attendance at the yearly get-together. Seven days after the CBA cancelled its Wednesday, Jan. 20 luncheon mere hours before it was scheduled to take place – resulting in the donation of thousands of dollars worth of cooked food to Chattanooga Community Kitchen – local attorneys filled the Silver ballroom at the Read House to honor the most esteemed among them with awards and to elect and install new officers.
Speaking as the newly installed president of the CBA, Judge Christie Mahn Sell said, “It’s remarkable that we ... were able to clear our schedules and be here this week. That wouldn’t be an easy thing to do if it weren’t for your commitment to the Association.”
Before Judge Sell delivered her post-installation remarks, Paul Hatcher, whose presidency was extended by a week when snow fell on the Scenic City, guided the membership through its annual ritual, beginning with the invocation by Judge Clarence Shattuck and Hatcher’s recognition of judges, other elected officials, and guests.
Hatcher then thanked the members of the CBA’s 2015 Board of Governors for their service. This included President-elect Judge Sell, Secretary Lee Davis, Treasurer Bill Colvin, Immediate Past President Timothy Mickel, YLD (Young Lawyers Division) representative Jeffrey Maddux, and board members Jeffrey Billings, Curtis Bowe, Blair Cannon, Tracy Cox, John Harrison, and Steve Jacoway.
“You did a great job,” Hatcher said before moving on to the distribution of awards.
YLD Volunteer of the Year
Subterfuge was necessary after the Board decided the winner of the YLD Volunteer of the Year Award would be Maddux, 2015 president of the YLD. Typically, the YLD president presents the award, but Hatcher made the presentation instead as Maddux was stepping up to the podium.
“In addition to serving as YLD president, Jeffrey did a tremendous amount of work last year in support of Court Appointed Special Advocates,” Hatcher said. “In addition, he’s on the Alumni Boards of Boyd-Buchanan and Lipscomb University, he’s a graduate of Leadership Chattanooga, and he’s taking part in the Tennessee Bar Association’s 2016 Leadership Law program.”
Maddux also spearheaded several YLD-led events, including the high school mock trials and the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) YLD’s local Wills for Heroes clinic.
Harry Weill Zealous Practice
of Law Award
The Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award honors not just the annual recipient but also its legendary namesake, who worked as an attorney for more than 60 years in his native town of Chattanooga. Weill passed away in 2005 at the age of 88 after a life of fervent devotion to his family, career, and community. Each year, one of his three surviving children, attorney Flossie Weill, presents the award to a member of the bar whose energetic and enthusiastic service to clients is worthy of praise.
This year, the award was given to the late John Higgason, who died Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 after a 35-year struggle with kidney disease. The CBA had arranged for Higgason to be present for the presentation of the award on Jan. 20, but his daughter Katherine Lentz accepted the award on his behalf.
Flossie said her law partner, Ira Long, describes Higgason as “one of the few seniors at Baylor School who was actually nice to the seventh and eighth graders.”
“His life and career were marked by the most incredibly kind disposition you can imagine, by the most courageous attitude any of us has never known, and by his constant smile,” Flossie said.
Higgason will be one of 11 attorneys honored at the CBA’s annual Memorial Service, to be held Friday, March 4.
Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award
Each year, the CBA presents the Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award to an attorney who has provided exemplary volunteer service to the CBA and the larger legal community. The 2015 recipient was attorney David Kesler, who for three years has headed the CBA’s mentoring program, and has mentored several young attorneys through the program.
Kesler has been a strong advocate of mentoring since his early days at Strang Fletcher, where he worked for 11 years under the tutelage of the late Hodge. In an email to the Hamilton County Herald after the luncheon, Kesler said he still thinks fondly of his former mentor. “Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of Albert, which made the award even more special,” Kesler wrote. “He was an incredible mentor to young lawyers. We all gravitated to him. I sincerely loved the man.”
Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award
Maddux returned to the podium to announce the winner of the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor given to a member of the Bar who has demonstrated the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitated access to the justice system, served and supported the community, and maintained a high standard of ethics.
“I have the distinct privilege of presenting this award to an individual I have learned from my entire career,” Maddux said. “This individual’s contributions to the local, state, and national bar associations are numerous. If you ask any of his colleagues at the Chambliss firm, or any of his adversaries, or any of the judges he’s appeared before, they’d tell you Jac Chambliss would be proud this man has won this award.”
The man of whom Maddux spoke was Bruce Bailey.
Hatcher then announced Mickel as the winner of the President’s Award, which is given to the person who has most helped the president during his or her year in office. “A handful of people could have received this award, but I think everyone will understand why I’m giving it to … [Mickel],” Hatcher said. “Last March, Judge Hollingsworth asked me if the bar would sponsor a Bar and Bench conference.
“I asked ... [Mickel] to chair the event. He did a wonderful job. The forum was an incredible success.”
Hatcher said the event was possibly the largest in CBA history, with 141 attorneys in attendance.
Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award
Last but not least, Hatcher called on Lynda Hood, executive director of the CBA, to present the Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award, the highest honor the Association bestows. The award is given to a member of the legal profession or judicial officer who has provided outstanding service to the Chattanooga community through civic and professional activities directed at improving and preserving the lives, property, and dignity of its citizens. The 2015 recipient is Art Grisham.
“In my 22 years at this association, this person has exemplified humanity in everyday life,” Hood said. “He doesn’t judge anyone, he doesn’t try to figure out if someone deserves something, he just lifts the fallen, helps to restore the broken, and does his best to heal the hurting.”
Hood then provided the account of one person Grisham helped as an example of why he deserves the Humanitarian Award. “Attorney Joe was a good man with an alcohol problem, and he lost his license to practice for a few years. During those years, Art was in contact with him almost daily. He took him to AA meetings, church, and lunch or dinner, and he took his phone calls when he needed to talk. When the day for Joe’s hearing to get his license restored arrived, Art was there.
“Art has helped many attorneys. We don’t know all of their names, but we do know his story is one of true humanity and compassion for the lives of others.”
Grisham received a standing ovation as he accepted his award, saying, “I don’t feel like I deserve this, but I’m grateful for it, and for the Chattanooga Bar Association.”
As a final order of business, Hatcher announced and then led the members of the bar in the election of the 2016 Board. The new Board consists of Judge Sell, president; Davis, president-elect; Colvin, secretary; Jacoway, treasurer; and Barret Albritton, Marc Harwell, Linda Norwood, Billings, Bowe, and Harrison, board members. Judge Shattuck gave the oath of office to Judge Sell.
With the end of the meeting drawing near, Hatcher quickly recapped the accomplishments of the CBA in 2015. Highlights included: launching the new website (www.chattanoogabar.org); revamping the Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), available through the website; a 50 percent increase in the number of lawyers participating in the LRS; greater CLE attendance, which boosted CLE revenues by approximately one-third; and a slight bump in membership. The CBA also robed several judges, conducted numerous portrait unveilings, held the annual Law Day event, and honored CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) on its 30th anniversary, among other activities.
“It’s been a productive year. Thank you for letting me be a part it,” Hatcher said.
Before stepping down, Hatcher suggested the CBA’s bylaws be amended to state that the results of the biannual judicial poll not be published unless “at least 30 or 40 percent” of the members of the Association participated in the poll. “We had 17.5 percent participation last year, and that’s not a poll,” he said.
With only one minute remaining in the meeting, Judge Sell simply thanked the members of the CBA for entrusting her with the position of president, and said she’s excited about the year head.
Judge Sell then carried out her first official action as president of the CBA by calling the meeting to an end.
To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.