VOL. 112 | NO. 159 | Friday, September 4, 1998
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Justice for all
Mark Wards actions support
his belief in equal justice
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
Mark Ward got his first taste of lawyering when he was a senior in high school.
During a mock Supreme Court trial, he argued the case of Dredd Scott, one of the first civil rights cases.
Ward nearly won, but his sister and classmate, the presiding chief justice, upheld the ruling denying Scotts freedom.
That decision did not impede Wards career, however.
After graduating from high school at 16, he entered college and earned a bachelors degree by the time he was 19.
In three more years, Ward had earned a doctor of jurisprudence.
He then clerked for Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Mark A. Walker before joining the private practice of Padgett, Whitworth, Donohue & Ward in 1981.
Believing in the ideal of equal justice for all, Ward began in 1983 working as a part-time assistant public defender for Shelby County in the appellate division.
Ward said he enjoys practicing appellate law because it puts him on the cutting edge of shaping and changing the law.
"The opportunity to change the law, not just react to it," makes appellate work challenging, he said.
"A lot of what I do has implications beyond the individual cases," said Ward, who handles cases before the Supreme Court of Tennessee that often affect hundreds of subsequent cases.
Passing on the ideal of equal access to justice, Ward is an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis Law School and in the department of criminal justice.
But, for the last few months, he has spent most of his time spearheading a movement for the rights of mentally ill defendants.
Ward argued for the recent release of Michael Paige, the mentally ill man who was jailed for months because of his failure to pay for a steak dinner.
"Instead of arguing in the Supreme Court, Im arguing Michael Paiges steak dinner," Ward said.
That brings Ward back to his fundamental belief in the adversarial process and ensuring that all people have equal access to justice.
Ward also shows his commitment to that principal by volunteering to work on pro bono cases for Memphis Area Legal Services and the Community Legal Center, which provide legal services to the working poor.
That commitment was part of the reason Ward was named 1997-1998 Attorney of the Year by the Tennessee Bar Association.
He was nominated for the award by Garland Erguden of MALS.
In her written recommendation supporting Wards nomination, she wrote, "Mr. Ward has never refused a case or told us that he was too busy to handle something."
Ward also volunteers to serve as a mentor for new lawyers, is active in the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which named him the recipient of its 1998 award for outstanding service, and serves on the board of directors for Dismas House, a transitional housing facility for recently paroled penitentiary inmates.
Most recently, Ward applied for a vacant seat on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and was one of three finalists.
But, due to a procedural snafu around election time, Ward and others have had to resubmit their applications, and the judicial selection committee will restart the process.
Ward said his only reluctance about winning a judgeship is it would take him out of the adversarial process he holds so dear.
Since 1997, has worked as a full-time public defender in the appeals division.
It is a job that Ward said is often unpopular.
"Many people see public defenders as helping the enemy," he said.
But, Ward sees the role of public defenders as an integral one to the American system of criminal justice.
"We cant run that system without someone to step forward to represent people even when that decision is unpopular," he said.
name: W. Mark Ward
date of birth: Nov. 4, 1956
place of birth: Memphis
education: University of Memphis, 1976
B.A., law enforcement
University of Memphis School of Law, 1978
University of Memphis, 1986
University of Memphis, 1998
M.A., criminal justice