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Front Page - Friday, January 25, 2019

What's that? Funny you should ask

You never know what you’ll find on an attorney’s desk or wall

At more than 1,000 pages, the hardbound edition of “International Criminal Law and Its Enforcement: Cases and Materials” had been a daunting read for Whitney Standefer while she was a student at Vermont Law School.

But after her graduation in 2014, it was no match for a .50-caliber bullet.

While celebrating the end of law school with her husband’s family on a sprawling patch of Vermont, Standefer considered burning the book as an act of catharsis. Her family had built a bonfire as part of the festivities, and the book would have been easy fodder for the flames. But someone had a better idea.

The revelers had brought several different firearms to the party, including a Barrett M107, a semi-automatic rifle that’s nearly as long as Standefer is tall. As family members were setting up a target about 300 yards away, someone suggested Standefer shoot the book rather than burn it.

Although Standefer is a bibliophile who’s typically against harming books, she was tempted. “It was symbolic of the end of law school,” she says. “There had been times during school when I had considered damaging all kinds of books.”

Although Standefer prefers to use her recurve bow, she accepted the challenge and sat at a table on which the Barrett M107 had been placed. Then, with nearly a dozen family members standing behind her, she took careful aim and pulled the trigger.

The next thing Standefer saw was a spray of white paper three football fields away. As her family burst into applause, she considered standing, brushing off one shoulder and casually walking away as if she had fully expected to hit the book on her first try.

Truthfully, her accuracy surprised her as much as everyone else. “I don’t consider myself to be a marksman by any measure,” she laughs. The exit wound on the front cover of the book, which blossoms out like a flower, says otherwise.

Standefer kept the book, which is stored in a shadowbox in her office at Legal Aid of East Tennessee. Displayed prominently on a filing cabinet behind her desk, the perforated tome serves as both an icebreaker with clients and a reminder of her accomplishments both in the classroom and on the shooting range.

Standefer is not the only member of the Chattanooga Bar Association with unique objects on display at work. On the contrary, the offices of attorneys across the city contain a variety of odd and interesting treasures. From historical artifacts, to hunting trophies, to items of a sentimental nature, lawyers have personalized their work spaces with some surprising effects.

Photobombing The Beatles

Among these curiosities is a previously unpublished photograph of Hugh Moore and the Fabulous Four.

Before Moore became an attorney, he aspired to a career in journalism. While working as a copy boy at the Chattanooga News-Free Press during breaks from Vanderbilt University, he received an assignment that made him the envy of his peers: Cover the Beatles’ pre-concert news conference at Atlanta Stadium.

The concert took place Aug. 18, 1965, during the band’s second American tour, and in the wake of the films “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” During the news conference, the 21-year-old Moore chimed in with a single question: “Can we look forward to more Beatles movies?”

In an audio recording Moore still owns, a droll John Lennon can be heard quipping, “There will be more, but I don’t know whether you can look forward to them.”

Moore, who was there with a News-Free Press reporter named Mike, also had his camera with him. As the news conference drew to a close and The Beatles gathered together to receive the key to the city from the mayor, Moore had an idea.

“I told Mike I was going to stand behind The Beatles, and I asked him to take my picture,” Moore recalls. “As they were looking at the photographer who was taking their picture, I looked at Mike.”

In the photo, Moore is on the far left, standing just behind Paul McCartney. The moment, which was captured on film decades before “photobombing” became a cultural phenomenon, is enshrined in a frame in Moore’s office at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.

“I decided if I was going to spend a large percent of each day in my office, I should have things in there that mean something to me, and perhaps remind me of things I’ve done and enjoyed,” Moore explains.

The photograph is part of a collection of memorabilia that extends from Moore’s newspaper days to his years as a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Items from the latter era include an anti-busing poster Moore picked up while working on a desegregation case in Nansemond County, Virginia, two anti-Vietnam War rally posters from his time in New Haven and photos of him and wife Jean at anti-war marches in Washington in the early 1970s.

These and other items of interest in Moore’s office do more than stir feelings of nostalgia; they also tell a story about a part of his life that’s far removed from his work as a litigator today.

“At this stage of my practice, it’s good to be reminded of what I did that was worthwhile,” he says.

Stamp of approval

At least one item within the chambers of the Chattanooga legal community is more than an ornament or relic of the past. Sitting on the desk of Hamilton County Chief Probate Deputy Anne Fricker is an antique stamp that still imprints the seal of the court.

The word “antique” does no justice to the object, which the court has been using since 1904, according to the date on the base of the stamp. This means the object survived the fire that destroyed the original courthouse in 1910, a switch from Part One of Chancery Court to Part Two in 1952, and two changes of the guard since that year. (Fricker is only the third person to serve as chief probate deputy since Part Two of the court was established.)

Made at Chattanooga Rubber Stamp & Stencil Works, the stamp is a beautifully detailed piece consisting of an ornate handle, a lion’s head curving up from the base (at least that’s what Fricker thinks it might be), and the actual stamp, which protrudes from the animal’s mouth. The date “Sept. 27, 1904” is engraved on the base.

Made of an unknown metal, the stamp is heavy, unwieldy and harder to press than modern stamps, but Fricker insists on using it on every document she certifies. “I use it every day,” she says. “It’s the official seal of this court.”

Fricker says she’ll never stop using the stamp, which connects her directly to the past. “I won’t give it up; it means a lot to me,” she adds. “Everything today is about what’s new, and it’s nice to have a piece of history I can touch and use.”

A window through time

Less than a decade after the stamp came into service, celebrated local photographer A.W. Judd snapped individual portraits of the students who were a part of the Chattanooga College of Law’s Class of 1912. Judd also took individual photographs of the school’s professors. These images were then composited onto a single large sheet suitable for framing.

Although the Chattanooga College of Law no longer exists, local attorney and historical nonfiction author Jerry Summers says the school was one of the largest in the South and enrolled students from not just Tennessee but several surrounding states. The faculty consisted of practicing lawyers and elected judges who taught in one of the courtrooms in the Hamilton County Courthouse, he adds.

About 100 years later, attorney Martin Pierce of Pierce & Huisman in Hixson randomly saw one of the composites of the class for sale on eBay. Simply put, he “thought it would be a neat thing to have.”

The interest of the current Bar in the photo suggests Pierce was right. When the CBA distributed a digital copy of the composite and a list of the names printed under the photos to its members, the Hamilton County Herald heard from several attorneys claiming to be aware of familial connections between the men in the photo and prominent Chattanooga citizens of the last century.

In addition, three attorneys currently practicing in the city identified descendants in the composite. Ewing Strang, an attorney with Spicer Rudstrom, says “S.B. Strang,” a professor seen on the right side of the composite, is the late S. Bartow Strang, his grandfather. S. Bartow Strang was one of the founders of the Chattanooga law firm Strang Fletcher, which closed in 2004.

The late “M.N. Whitaker,” known fully as Madison Newton Whitaker, was a professor of the college, and is related to two lawyers currently practicing in Chattanooga: Philip Whitaker of Baker Donelson and Doug Campbell of Campbell & Campbell.

Whitaker says Madison, who also served as a local lawyer, district attorney and judge, was his paternal great-grandfather. Campbell says Madison was his maternal great-grandfather. Until learning of the composite of the Class of 1912, neither was aware he had been a professor.

Pierce’s 107-year-old eBay find not only offers a window into the local Bar’s past, it’s the beginning of a thread that runs unbroken from 1912 to certain members of today’s legal community. As Pierce says, that’s “a neat thing to have.”

Golden gridiron memories

While many of the personal items in law offices throughout Chattanooga link the owner to a place or time, attorney Steven Moore has assembled a collection that connects him to an important individual in his life: his father.

Close to where Moore sits in his Broad Street office is a display case containing ticket stubs from five University of Alabama football games. Each ticket represents one of the decades during which Moore attended Alabama games with his dad.

“We went to at least one Alabama game a year,” he recalls. “The earliest ticket stub I could find was from 1978.”

When Moore’s father died a year ago, his mother gave him several boxes filled his dad’s belongings. One contained dozens of tickets from the games they had attended together.

While they took in many forgettable games, Moore does remember several specific contests, including the 1981 match against Alabama rival Auburn that made legendary coach Bear Bryant the most winning coach in NCAA history.

While Moore was thrilled to be there, the day has endured in his memory as a special moment because he and his father experienced it together. “That was our thing,” he says. “Like most fathers and sons, we had our issues over the years, but when football season came around, we put them aside. He’d call me in June and ask if the schedule was out yet.”

Moore continues to attend Alabama games. However, the scenario has shifted, and he’s become the father who’s taking his sons.

And, like his dad did, he’s saving the tickets. “Maybe that will mean something to them someday,” he says, looking at the display case in his office. “Perhaps they’ll look at the tickets, and remember the moments we spent together.”

A fishy story

No article about the unique personal items to be found in the offices of the local bar would be complete without a fish story. But this fish story is no tall tale. Attorney Joseph Willard can prove it’s true.

The evidence is hanging on the wall just inside the front door of his general practice in Rossville, Georgia office: a world record freshwater drum weighing 31 pounds, 6 ounces. It’s been there since 1988, soon after Willard caught it on Nickajack Lake.

An avid angler, Willard had just returned from a bass fishing trip to Florida, and the heavy line he’d used in those distant waters was still on his reel. Tied to the end of his line was a well-known lure called a shad rap.

As Willard fished next to his buddy Skeeter Williams (no fishing story would be complete with a buddy named Skeeter), his line started to pull, but the tug was so inconsequential, he thought he’d merely caught his line on something. After Willard realized he’d hooked a fish, it took him 20 minutes to reel it in.

“The fight wasn’t spectacular; it just wouldn’t come in,” he recalls.

When Willard finally got his hands on the drum, it was too big to fit in his live well. He credits his father-in-law with suggesting he’d snagged a record-breaking fish.

Proving that hunch was more complicated than weighing the drum on his bathroom scale. For starters, Willard had to send a 75-yard sample of the line on his reel to the International Game Fish Association, which tested its breaking strength.

He then had the fish weighed on certified scales. Since a regular restaurant scale would not have qualified, he took the drum to Wingfield Scale and Measure in Chattanooga.

Willard never considered eating his trophy, as he says the only way to consume the foul-tasting fish is to cook it on a wooden plank, then throw away the fish and eat the plank. So, he had it mounted and then hung it in his lobby, where’s it been silently greeting clients with a gaping mouth for over 30 years.

Long live the king

Attorney Richard Buhrman treasures his historical artifact, a common law writ from England. He acquired the document, which dates to the reign of King George II of Great Britain (1727-60), from an Englishman, Jeremy North, who maintained a bookstore at Duke University, where Buhrman went to law school.

As Buhrman tells the story, “About every other year, Mr. North would travel to England and purchase items for resale. I happened to be in the store in August of 1965 when he was uncrating items. I went through the entire shipment with him and got the pick of the litter.”

Buhrman’s common law writ measures 30 inches by 36 inches and is written on velum, or sheepskin. It contains an action in trover which starts out, “George the Second by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.”

The border of the writ is steel engraved, and the body of the pleading is hand lettered. There are two blue tax stamps in the upper left margin, each for five shillings.

At the bottom of the parchment is a slit, and the writ was originally folded up with a strip of velum and sealed with wax to ensure it was undisturbed while in storage.

Buhrman framed his treasure and has displayed it in his office since 1965. “It’s a genuine curiosity,” he points out. “Clients and visitors often ask about it, and I gladly explain what it is.”

While these items are merely a sample of what could be found in the offices of attorneys and judges in Hamilton County, they hint at the diversity of interests and personalities among the local Bar. They also show that having something personal at work can make the many hours legal professionals toil under the law a little more bearable, and remind one that there’s more to life than what takes place within those four walls.