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VOL. 124 | NO. 118 | Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big Names, Big Plans For TBA Convention

By Rebekah Hearn

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Attorneys and judges from throughout the state will convene this weekend at The Peabody hotel for the 2009 annual Tennessee Bar Association convention, where big-name speakers such as former Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. will speak – and where current TBA president, George “Buck” Lewis, will pass the gavel to the new TBA president for 2010-2011.

Gail Vaughn Ashworth officially will be named the new TBA president at the convention. Ashworth works at the Nashville firm of Gideon & Wiseman PLC.

Other events include panel discussions, continuing legal education (CLE) classes, a pro bono legal clinic and the presentation of TBA awards.

Giving the honors

Today’s events kick off with the Bench/Bar program at 8:30 a.m., and the Bench/Bar Luncheon at noon, which will be held at the Marriott East. At the luncheon, Lewis said he will confer several awards and then pass the gavel to Ashworth.

Lewis will give out about six awards, he said. Some of them are particular to Lewis’ “Access to Justice 4ALL” campaign.

“I’ll be giving awards to people who have worked in the campaign … people who went above and beyond the call of duty on that,” he said.

Lewis will also present three President’s Awards, which are given every year. Another award, the Frank Drowota Award, goes to a Tennessee judge who has given outstanding service.

Then Lewis will give the stage to Ashworth, who will be the fourth female TBA president.

“(Ashworth is) going to be carrying on some of this work, so she’ll be commenting on what she plans to do in the coming year,” Lewis said.

He did say he hoped Ashworth would continue with the Access to Justice initiative, particularly the Statewide Service Day, which was held for the first time this year on April 4.

Big all around

Also on Friday, the speakers and panels begin.

At 9 a.m. Friday, former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Cooper and five other former justices will speak about the history of the state high court. Former Justices Frank Drowota, Mickey Barker, Lyle Reid, Riley Anderson and George Brown will sit on that panel.

Brown, the state’s first black justice, is a former member of the Memphis City Schools board and a former Shelby County Circuit Court judge.

“It will be interesting to get his perspective,” Lewis said. “He’s going to talk about contested elections for judges.”

Drowota, Anderson and Barker all served as chief justices during part of their time on the state Supreme Court.

“Also, Robert Cooper’s father, Justice Robert Cooper, served with Drowota on the court in the early ’80s,” Lewis said. “So it’s kind of cool that he’s the attorney general, but also his dad was on the court. So it’s a good history there.”

At 10:15 a.m. on Friday Ford Jr. and former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker will present “What Our Country Must Do Now.” They each will take questions after their presentations.

Also on Friday, at 2 p.m., the ethics lawyers who prosecuted the 2006 Duke lacrosse team case will make their presentations.

“(Their program is) about their prosecution of the (North Carolina) district attorney when he brought those false charges against the Duke lacrosse team players,” Lewis said. “And they talk about how he manufactured the case, and why he manufactured the case and what his motives were politically.”

Questions are also welcome for the ethics attorneys.

At 4 p.m., Cesar Alvarez, the managing partner of the Greenberg Traurig firm, will give a presentation on diversity.

Alvarez grew up the son of an immigrant in Miami, where he was able to make it through college and law school. He went to work for a Miami law firm, eventually worked his way up to managing partner and grew the firm into the single largest law firm in the country, with nearly 2,000 attorneys.

“What I like about him is he talks about diversity without any hint of entitlement,” Lewis said. “I’ve heard him speak, and he’s the best speaker on diversity I’ve ever heard, and I’ve probably heard a couple dozen people speak on that topic.” ?

All the pieces fall together

Lewis said he tried to garner the best speakers and panels he could and tried to spread out several big events rather than host a spectrum of smaller events that could conflict with each other.

“I wanted to try to get a few big-name programs that everybody could go to together,” Lewis said. “(And) with the CLEs, we want to provide (attorneys) some useful and timely training that they can use in their practice every day.”

The TBA acted as co-sponsor for the CLE programs, along with the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women and the Tennessee Alliance for Black Lawyers. The first program on jury selection, which will be Saturday at 9:30 a.m., will feature a panel from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

Another Saturday session at 10:45 a.m. is called “Discovery of Electronically Stored Information.” Magistrate Judges Diane Vescovo and Tu M. Pham of the U.S. District Court of Tennessee, Judge Lorrie Ridder of the Shelby County Circuit Court and Chancellor Russell. T. Perkins of Nashville will hold that session.

“We’ve got a new electronic discovery rule that goes into effect July 1, a new state rule,” said Lewis. “So we’re having a couple of federal magistrates to talk about what they’ve seen under the federal rule and then talk about the state rule and the differences, as well as what we expect the impact of the state rule to be on practice.”

A Saturday legal clinic will be held at 9 a.m. by the Memphis Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee. Lewis said the 35 lawyers in the bar’s Leadership Law class will staff this particular legal clinic as their graduation project.?Linda Warren Seely, director of pro bono projects at the MBA, has estimated they will have about 50 clients at the clinic, Lewis said.

“That clinic will be available to be viewed by other bar leaders from around the state, and my wife will have as her guest Donna Pettus, the incoming president of the Arkansas Bar Association,” Lewis said. “Donna’s coming to see how we’re going to do this clinic; she’s looking at doing something like that in Arkansas.”

Lewis hopes the message of access to justice he has emphasized will take hold in other states as well as resonate with Tennessee attorneys.

“We want to provide them with some inspiration to continue with the fight for access to justice,” he said.

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