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VOL. 125 | NO. 63 | Thursday, April 01, 2010

Cody Named Co-Chair Of Society Of Attorneys General Emeritus

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

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Photo: Lance Murphey

Attorney Michael Cody of Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC was recently named co-chairman of the Society of Attorneys General Emeritus (SAGE).

SAGE is an organization formed in 1990 as a compliment to the National Association of Attorneys General, the 50-member group of active AGs. Cody was attorney general of Tennessee from 1984 to 1988. His co-chair is former attorney general and governor of New Hampshire, Stephen E. Merrill.

“What we (SAGE) do is a nice relationship, because current attorneys general can use our group as sort of a resource to talk with, we help them with programs,” Cody said. “It serves the purpose of us actually being a helpful part of their organization and giving us an opportunity to get together twice a year.”

Cody began his career with Burch, Porter & Johnson in 1961 under Lucius Burch, whom Cody considers a mentor. Except for his years in public service as attorney general, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee (1977-1981) and Memphis City Council (1975-1977), his entire law career has been spent at the law firm housed in the old Tennessee Club building overlooking Court Square.

It’s a career that reads like a combination of the history of Memphis and the tale of David and Goliath. The firm was representing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in federal court when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel and stopped Interstate 40 from bisecting Overton Park in the early 1970s.

“We spent an awful lot of time making sure that Shelby Farms didn’t get developed as a residential area,” he said.

Burch was an avid outdoorsman and preservationist and set the tone for his firm as well as Cody’s outlook on life and work.

“All of us took a cue from Burch, that’s certainly the reason I came back here when I got out of  (University of) Virginia Law School,” he said. “His idea was that making a living was just a part, not even the main part, of what a lawyer could do with his talents.”

At 74, the recognition from the 200 members of SAGE, which counts President Bill Clinton and former Supreme Court Justice David Souter among its members, does not cap a distinguished career by any means, but only enhances the work he’s done and the people he has worked with.

“I love what I’m doing, I love the people that I’ve now practiced law with almost 50 years,” he said. “There are people in this office that were here with me in the early ’60s and they’ve been my friends, this has been my home away from.”

His work habits have changed with time and, though he’s not trying cases anymore, he is now involved in the mediation and arbitration of complex commercial disputes, as well as commercial litigation, internal investigations and regulatory matters.

“I really would not enjoy, even though I enjoyed it very, very much as a young and middle-aged lawyer, trying lawsuits,” said Cody, who has four times argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. “It was a wonderful experience and fun, but I wouldn’t want to do that now. I’m more comfortable trying to help people resolve lawsuits as a mediator or being an arbitrator.”

An avid runner, Cody has logged some 79,400 miles since beginning while at East High School and then as a member of the Rhodes College track team. He continues to run at least 25 miles per week and practice the law he’s studied for half a century.

“Lucius said ‘it doesn’t matter what your age is, each period in your life gives new opportunities to do different things of service or pleasure or whatever else,’” Cody said. “It’s all relative to where you are in life.”

Cody is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, American Bar Association Foundation and Tennessee Bar Association Foundation. In 2007, he received the Francis X. Bellotti Award, National Association of Attorneys General.

He has been listed in Mid-South Super Lawyers as one of “Tennessee’s Top 100” attorneys and named a Mid-South Super Lawyer in the area of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). He also was named by Business Tennessee magazine as one of the “Top 100 Lawyers in Tennessee” and was recognized by the Best Lawyers in America in ADR.

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