Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 23, 2022

McGowan elected president of TACDL

Criminal defense attorney Ben McGowan - Photograph provided

In a dingy Dallas hotel room in 1973, four men wrestled with a problem.

Prosecutors’ offices throughout Tennessee were increasingly professionalized, criminal defense lawyers were disconnected and bar associations were squeamish about dallying in criminal justice causes.

A collection of lawyers – a veritable who’s who of the Tennessee criminal defense bar – decided to act.

Under discussion among Jerry Summers, Bob Richie, Joe Tipton and Joe Levitt was the creation of a criminal defense lawyers collective intended to unite East Tennessee in stemming what these men recognized as widespread violations of the Constitution and citizen’s rights.

“East Tennessee? Why?” Summers asked in a go big or go home moment. “Isn’t this happening across the state?”

His co-conspirators agreed and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was born.

Now in its 50th year, TACDL has grown from four to more than 1,100 lawyer members. Its organizational records, which – as legend goes – were passed for decades from president to president in a shoebox, now fill a Nashville office staffed with a full-time executive director and executive assistant.

Organized as a §501(c)(6) to provide a trade association voice in the legislature, TACDL has in recent years spun off a tax-exempt nonprofit, The Fortas Foundation, which is steadily building an endowment to fund scholarships and training for criminal defense lawyers.

The demographics of the organization, which would best be described as homogenous at its founding, now provides a professional home to diverse lawyers of compelling backgrounds and life experiences.

What has not changed from its founding is a commitment to its mission and a recognition that a powerful union of criminal defense lawyers is as salient now as it was in 1973, says 2022 President Ben McGowan.

In August, TACDL named McGowan of Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers its first Chattanooga-based president in more than 25 years.

McGowan was named at TACDL’s annual meeting and conference, held over two days in the historic Read House Hotel to a capacity crowd. (This marked the first time in TACDL’s five decades that Chattanooga hosted the event.)

According to McGowan, the conference was successful.

“TACDL is the only organization in Tennessee solely dedicated to strengthening the skills, knowledge and abilities of lawyers willing to do the sometimes thankless and often heartbreaking work of defending criminal defendants,” he says. “If you don’t think your rights as a law-abiding citizen are tethered to and dependent upon how the government treats the least among us – the criminal defendant – then you haven’t been paying attention.”

Invoking Darrow, “attorney for the damned,” McGowan says, “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom.”

Sources: Ben McGowan; Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers