VOL. 122 | NO. 193 | Thursday, October 11, 2007
Memphis Law Talk
From Overton Park to Shelby Farms, Newman No Stranger to Conservancy
By Andy Meek
"I'm proud of this firm. I think it's continued to be an interesting and good firm that's made a lot of contributions to the community."
- Charles F. Newman
Name: Charles F. Newman
Firm: Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC
Basics: Since joining the firm in 1965, Newman's career has included a plethora of high-profile cases such as the Overton Park/Interstate 40 fight and continues today with his recent work over the past year to preserve Shelby Farms.
Had he stopped with the famous case he helped win more than three decades ago, Charles Newman's legal career already would have reached a zenith other lawyers could only dream of matching.
As a young attorney in 1971, Newman fought Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The stakes were high; at issue was a decision by then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe that would have seen the completion of Interstate 40 in Memphis slice through Midtown's Overton Park.
On one side of the case was a daunting array of business and political interests. Newman, on the other side, represented a band of grassroots activists, which a certain generation of Memphians around today still remembers as the "little old ladies in tennis shoes."
The high court sided with the activist group on the grounds that the federal government can only fund construction of a highway through a public park in the absence of a "feasible and prudent" alternative.
Newman since has remained an active member of Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC, one of the oldest law firms in Tennessee. Most recently, he has handled legal matters that came up as the result of an effort to create a conservation easement with which to protect Shelby Farms from future development.
Newman is a 1959 magna cum laude graduate of Yale College and a 1963 graduate of Yale Law School.
Q: How did you get into practicing law as a career?
A: During the first year I was in law school, I came home to Memphis the next summer, still not knowing for sure what I was going to do. While I was here, Bailey Brown - who was then a partner in this law firm I'm in now - had been appointed a federal judge by John Kennedy. He was in the library at this firm studying federal criminal law in preparation for becoming a district judge, and he asked me if I would like to clerk for him at the end of law school. ... In the course of that year, when I was clerking for Bailey Brown, I developed deeper roots in Memphis, an attachment to this law firm and was invited to come back to this law firm, so I did.
Q: What's been some of your most challenging work so far?
A: I don't know if it was a challenge, but the Overton Park case was certainly one of the more interesting things. Also, shortly after I got here, maybe three years after I got here, I got a call one day from Lucius (Burch Jr.) who said we had been hired to represent Martin Luther King Jr. who was going to have another march in the city. There was to be a hearing the next day in federal court and we needed to go down to the Lorraine Motel where he was staying and meet him and talk to him and be prepared to represent him. Burch was really the lawyer, but he brought along Mike Cody and me and David Caywood, and we all went down there ... and we met with King in his room that day, that afternoon, and he hired us. The next day we had the hearing all day, and by the time we got back to our office we heard the sirens. King had been shot. So that was not that significant or difficult or challenging a piece of legal business, but it was still very important.
Q: How long have you been with Burch, Porter & Johnson?
A: I've been with the firm full-time since early 1965.
Q: What's the best part of the job to you?
A: The thing I've always liked about this law firm is we have a very diverse practice and a very congenial group of people. We have always had very interesting clients and interesting matters to handle. Lucius was a very charismatic guy who had a particularly interesting practice, and the whole firm has always been that way.
Q: What are you most proud of, personally and/or professionally?
A: That's kind of hard to say. I'm not sure I know the answer to that. I'm proud of this firm. I think it's continued to be an interesting and good firm that's made a lot of contributions to the community.
Q: What do you do when you're not working?
A: I've always been interested in the outdoors, done a good bit of hiking and some hunting and fishing. I spent much of the last year working on putting together the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. My job, what I've done is - with lots of help from other people - I've done most of the legal work in drafting and negotiating the conservation easements the county granted that restrict the use and development of Shelby Farms, also the negotiating and drafting of the management agreement between Shelby County and the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. And that's taken a good bit of my time for the last several months. I've also worked a lot on a related matter in which a group of people are trying to acquire and convert into a trail the CSX railroad line that runs from roughly Poplar and Union north to the corner of Shelby Farms, then on beyond into Cordova.