Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 3, 2023

CBA celebrates history, honorees

As Juvenile Judge Rob Philyaw began his term as the 2023 president of the Chattanooga Bar Association, he told the story about the organization’s birth from the ashes of the Richardson Building and urged members to rekindle the flames of camaraderie he said has made the organization the envy of bar associations across the state.

Philyaw, who was inducted during the CBA’s annual meeting Jan. 25 at The Westin Chattanooga, said the details of the 125-year-old story would be familiar to most of the attorneys and judges in the room. But he insisted they bear repeating because the bar’s history acts like a compass that still points it due north over a century later.

“We all know how the grand Richardson Building, which housed most of the law firms in Chattanooga, as well as thousands of law books, burned down on April 3, 1897,” Philyaw began. “And we know the leaders of the firms met on April 15 and incorporated the CBA as a way to allow the lawyers to pool their resources and establish a joint library.

“That mutual help and respect guided this organization through its first 125 years and continues to today.”

Philyaw told the gathering of 170 members and guests the spirit of the 1897 accord persisted to his first day at Shumacker Thompson in Chattanooga in 2001. As he began to practice law, he says the firm made clear it expected two things beyond exemplary work for its clients: for its attorneys to contribute pro bono work to Legal Aid of East Tennessee, or a similar entity, and to become active members of the CBA.

“The leadership said those things were part of a healthy practice and engrained them in us,” Philyaw recalled. “And they never left me.”

By the time Philyaw spoke, the CBA had already established that the spirit of service is still rooted in many of its members, including the six who received annual awards for selflessly serving the Chattanooga community and the legal profession.

YLD Volunteer Award

Melody Shekari, the 2022 president of the CBA’s Young Lawyers Division, said she had to choose a recipient for the organization’s Volunteer Award from an embarrassment of riches.

“A lot of people volunteered last year, so this wasn’t easy,” Shekari declared. After much deliberation, she said she chose Alexis Crutchfield, an attorney who reminded her of the Oliver Wendell Homes quote regarding the Supreme Court of the United States, “We are very quiet there, but it is the quiet of a storm center.”

“As most of you know, I have a particular leadership style. Let’s say I’m not the strong and silent kind,” Shekari noted. “But [Alexis] has a quiet leadership style. When she says she’ll show up, she does, and she’s always helpful and informed.”

Crutchfield most recently practiced at Miller & Martin, where she worked on business litigation and labor and employment matters.

Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award

CBA Executive Director Lynda Hood pulled a fast one on the Hon. Jackie Bolton when she asked the retired judge and former attorney to join her at the podium as she made a presentation about the bar’s efforts to document its history on video.

As part of the project, Bolton interviewed on camera every surviving past president of the association about their year at the helm. Before each discussion, Bolton poured through the minutes of meetings and other materials from the relevant year to prepare.

Bolton’s extensive and tireless work earned her the Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award for 2022, Hood told the gathering.

“Who better to interview the attorneys than our own Jackie Bolton? Jackie was not only a wonderful lawyer and judge, but before becoming an attorney, she was the first woman news anchor in Chattanooga – and we needed a pro.”

A surprised Bolton said working on the project was fun.

“I love doing things like that. And I didn’t expect an award for it. My prize was seeing the lawyers and talking with them.”

Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award

“Flossie Weill, please join me as I announce the recipient of the Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award,” petitioned outgoing CBA president Lee Ann Adams as she took the podium.

Flossie Weill has been a fixture at the annual meeting since the inception of the award in 2006 following the death of her father the previous year. According to Harry Weill’s obituary on the Chattanoogan website, he was a well-known local attorney who left behind a legendary practice spanning more than six decades.

The CBA remembers Harry Weill’s celebrated legacy each year when it presents a member of the bar with an award for reflecting his energetic service to clients and his polite and dignified manner, even in contentious circumstances.

Measuring up to the Harry Weill standard is no small task, said Adams, but the Hon. Robin Miller rose to the occasion in 2022 as she served as Hamilton County’s clerk and master.

“[Robin] excelled as a litigator for several decades, which alone would have been enough to merit this award, as she represented her clients with passion and compassion,” Adams explained. “But I would argue she’s found her true calling in her current role.

“Her calm and insightful mediation skills have brought difficult matters to resolution and provided quality services to individuals who otherwise would not have been able to afford it. The chancellors have said she elevates the office, as she puts a human and caring face on what they can perceive as being a confusing and cold legal system.”

President’s Award

Adams remained onstage as she delivered the President’s Award to attorney Sam Elliott, her partner at Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon.

Each annual meeting, the outgoing CBA president honors the person they assessed to have been the most helpful during their term. Adams said Elliott provided invaluable guidance throughout her year in office.

“Let’s be honest. Who didn’t help me during my term? However, without [Sam’s] mentorship and encouragement, I wouldn’t be standing before you as president. And I wouldn’t have been able to serve with whatever grace and calmness I was able to muster.

“It never occurred to me to serve on the CBA board of governors, much less be an officer, until Sam suggested it. He advised me throughout my term, he bolstered my confidence when necessary and he provided perspective lest I lean toward self importance. I owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Elliott was president of the CBA in 2001.

Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award

As former CBA president Jeffrey Maddux extolled the life and accomplishments of the recipient of the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award, perhaps a whiff of mystery hung in the air as he mentioned the recipient’s 53-year practice and extensive experience.

“He began his career at the Department of Justice, where he tried cases in the deep south. He’s both prosecuted and defended numerous white collar criminal cases, he’s represented companies in criminal and civil cases and indigent defendants in death penalty cases, and he’s been involved with hundreds of asbestos injury lawsuits.”

Although Maddux had not yet mentioned the recipient’s name, by this time, a small ripple of heads had turned in his direction.

Maddux then listed the ways in which the recipient channeled the spirit of Chambliss, who died in 2010 after practicing law for 78 years. Like the venerable attorney, Maddux said, the recipient had demonstrated the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitated access to the justice system, served and supported the Chattanooga community, inspired respect and fellowship among the members of the profession and maintained a high standard of ethics.

It was a tall order. But the recipient has served on several professional associations, Maddux continued, including the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Advisory Commission on the Rules of Practice and Procedure.

He was also a member of the International Caravana of Lawyers to Colombia in 2010, which issued a report on the life-endangering conditions in which human right lawyers in the country worked.

In addition, he is a past board member of the CBA, served as president of the Chattanooga chapter of the Federal Bar Association and has acted as Hamilton County’s grand jury foreman.

Finally, he presently serves on the Criminal Justice Act Mentor Panel, which provides criminal defense attorneys with experience with the federal criminal justice process.

At this point, many of the people in the room began to murmur and nod, as they knew the identity of the recipient.

When Maddux mentioned the recipient’s 20 years of service on the board of Friends of the Festival, a nonprofit that produces the Riverbend Festival, his deep love for music and the hundreds of concerts he’s attended, everyone likely knew he was referring to attorney Hugh Moore.

As Moore made his way to the front of the room, a standing ovation that reached the opposite ends of the sprawling room flanked him on either side. Upon grasping the award, he simply raised it in acknowledgement, nodded and returned to his seat.

Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award

The accolades attorney Cindy Hall lavished on Rosemarie Hill, the recipient of the Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award, rivaled the sheer volume of Maddux’s pronouncement.

The bar bestows its community service award to a member of the legal profession who’s provided commendable service to the community of Chattanooga through civic and professional activities aimed at improving and preserving the lives and property of its residents.

To that end, Hill, a litigator who retired from Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel in March after 38 years of practice, served two terms on now ex-Governor Bill Haslam’s Council for Judicial Appointments and three terms as a hearing panel member for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

Hill has also served as president of Girls Inc., Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Ballet Tennessee. She is a new member of the advisory board of Hart Gallery and will soon begin a term as president of the board of Signal Centers.

“Rosemarie is, by every measure, a well-deserved recipient of this award,” Hall concluded.

Party president

Perhaps because 2022 was packed with more CBA events than Hood says she can recall cramming into one year, Adams says she tells people she’s been “the party president.”

“When you take a role in an organization, you sometimes find yourself saying, ‘I have to attend such and such.’ But I heard myself saying, ‘I get to attend a retirement celebration; I get to attend a portrait unveiling; I get to robe the new judges – all seven of them.’

“I’ve had a front row seat to many personal celebrations and I appreciated being a part of them. And all of you were very kind and supportive; every time I stood before you, you made me feel like I was standing before good friends.

“I’m excited for next year and am confident Rob Philyaw’s leadership will take the CBA onward and upward.”

Focus for 2023

Philyaw said the goals of the CBA remain unchanged as he takes office. Through its members, the organization will work for the betterment of the legal profession, pursue the administration of justice, encourage mutual respect and set a high standard of ethics and integrity, the judge intoned.

The bar will also strive to cultivate good fellowship in the wake of the pandemic, which Philyaw said isolated many attorneys.

“I have lawyers friends who start their day in front of a computer screen and end it there, many times with very little personal interaction. For all these reasons, the CBA is as important today as it was in 1897. And the bar has never been more needed as we try to bridge the interpersonal gaps that have arisen in our profession. We must – and we will – continue to rise to these challenges.”