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VOL. 133 | NO. 33 | Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tough Love

Dunavant Awards honoree Dwyer judges with hands-on approach

By Michael Waddell

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For the Honorable Tim Dwyer, helping people who stumble get back on their feet and have a second chance is a trademark of his distinguished career. Dwyer is recipient of this year’s Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards for an elected official. He and the non-elected award winner, Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy, will be honored at the 15th annual Dunavant Awards luncheon on Feb. 28 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis on Central Avenue.

The awards are named after the late Shelby County Probate Court Clerk, who is universally recognized as a model for his more than 40 years of public service.

“I am deeply honored,” Dwyer said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest awards I’ve ever received. I was really shocked when they called and told me about it because I knew Mr. Dunavant for a long time, and he’s a guy I think is the greatest as far as being a public servant. So to be even mentioned with his name is overwhelming for me.”

Judge Tim Dwyer, one of the 2018 Dunavant Award recipients, said Bobby Dunavant was the model public servant and he is humbled to receive an award with his name. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Dwyer has worked in county government for 36 years, the past 34 as General Sessions Criminal Court judge for Division 8. In 1984, at age 30, he was elected to Division 8 as the youngest judge in the state of Tennessee.

In 1997, he founded the Shelby County Drug Court – the largest drug court in the state, with more than 300 ongoing participants. Over the years, more than 2,500 people have gotten the help they need through the court.

Dwyer realized early on that incarceration alone, without dealing with the underlying disease of addiction, was an incorrect path.

“All of the felony drug cases are assigned to my division,” Dwyer said. “My staff will review each case to see if the reason they are down there is because of their addiction.”

The drug court will take any case that is drug-driven, other than crimes of violence.

“We have a voluntary treatment program, and defendants who agree to attend are generally in the program from 12 to 18 months,” he said. “If they are successful in completing the program, they have the chance to have that felony dismissed and cleared off their record.”

In instances where an individual who has attended the program relapses, Dwyer makes sure they receive free drug treatment, and he writes letters of recommendation to help get them in school or obtain employment. He knows each person by name and maintains a deep interest in their recovery.

15th Annual Dunavant Public Servant Awards:

What: The Rotary Club of Memphis East recognizes the importance of public service by honoring two public servants each year – one elected official and one non-elected.

When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m, Wednesday, Feb. 28

Where: Holiday Inn-University of Memphis

Keynote Speaker: Carolyn Hardy, chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle and president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments

Reservations: A table for 10 can be reserved for $400 and individual tickets are available for $50. 

Contact: Lee Hughes, lmhughes@costconsulting.net

“While conducting drug treatment court, Judge Dwyer takes off his robe and comes off the bench to walk though court, shaking hands with participants and giving them words of encouragement, which is very similar to how Bobby Dunavant ran his office,” said David Leake, attorney with The Winchester Law Firm PLLC and founder of the Dunavant Public Servant Awards. “He was right in the middle of the clerk’s office conducting business, and Judge Dwyer has that same hands-on approach.”

Outstanding characteristics that defined Dunavant as a person and a public servant included being honest, unpretentious, accessible, energetic, involved, generous, empathetic and highly attentive to detail – all qualities that also define Dwyer.

“My family has known Judge Dwyer for quite some time, and he was a particular favorite of my mother,” said Bobby Dunavant’s son, Mike Dunavant, manager of financial services in the Shelby County Finance Department and member of the Dunavant Awards selection committee. “He’s done a great job with the drug court, which is a very thankless job. It’s been an amazing program for the county to help people with drug and addiction problems. He’s the kind of person who does a lot of the work and gives the credit to his staff.”

One of the things that marked Bobby Dunavant’s career was helping mentor young lawyers, and that’s something Dwyer has also made a priority.

“That’s the thing that distinguishes him on the bench is that he gets involved in people’s lives,” Leake said. “Judge Dwyer’s a hard worker, and he’s done a great job in an area that needs a lot of attention in our community.”

Dwyer was also an assistant district attorney in Shelby County.

Dwyer has received Judge of the Year honors from the Memphis Bar Association on numerous occasions, and is a member of the Christian Brothers High School Hall of Fame as one of the school’s distinguished alumni.

He has been married to his wife, Belynda, for the past 10 years, and they have a young son, Conner.

The Dunavant Awards are given annually to one local elected official and one non-elected public official. This year’s winners were selected by a committee of members of the Dunavant family and the Rotary Club of Memphis East, with nominations coming from the public.

This year’s event is co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and The Daily News, and it is expected to draw 400 to 500 attendees.

Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments and chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, will be the keynote speaker.

A table for 10 can be reserved for $400 and individual tickets are available for $50.

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