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Front Page - Friday, May 13, 2016

Chattanooga Bar Association celebrates the law

The Hon. Rob Philyaw, Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA) Executive Director Lynda Minks Hood, Liberty Bell Award recipient Joe Smith, the Hon. Christie Sell, and the Hon. Clarence Shattuck at the CBA’s annual Law Day luncheon, held May 4 at the Read House. More pictures on pages two and nine. - (Photo by Alex McMahan)

Thirty years ago, Joe Smith placed a loaded pistol beside him on the seat of his pickup truck and set out for the place where he intended to end his life. A product of a broken home, he was living to use, and using to live, and his addiction had turned him into a miserable man. Smith’s vehicle ran out of gas before he made it, though, and a Good Samaritan intervened and helped him enter a rehabilitation program.

Last week, Smith placed a hand on the back of the friend seated beside him in the Silver Ballroom at the Read House and laughed. He had just found out he was the 2016 recipient of the Chattanooga Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award, which the Bar presents during its annual Law Day luncheon. The CBA gives the award to a local citizen who has performed community service that has strengthened the American system of freedom under law.

Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw had the daunting task of summarizing in a few minutes why Smith, a man of great contribution to society, deserved the honor.

“Among the activities the CBA considers in selecting the Liberty Bell Award recipient is encouraging a greater respect for the law and the courts, and stimulating a deeper sense of individual responsibility so other citizens recognize their duties as well as their rights,” Philyaw said to a ballroom packed with lawyers, judges, and other members of the Bar. “The 2016 recipient exemplifies those things and more in his service to our legal system and to our greater community.”

Smith has received numerous awards, including the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Humanitarian Award in 1996, the 2013 United Way Advocate of the Year Award, the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame’s Jim Morgan/Alan Morris Award for distinction in overcoming adversity, also in 2013, and others. “But his biggest rewards are the 19 foster children he and his family helped raise, the hundreds of young men he has affected in a meaningful away, and the family that stands near him now,” Philyaw said.

As several family members gathered around Smith, Philyaw shared the story of how the man discovered his passion for working with troubled youth while employed as a security guard at an adolescent treatment center. For the next 25 years, Smith served as a TSSAA basketball and football referee, and a certified amateur boxing judge, official, and coach. “Some of you are probably thinking Joe had a background in boxing. Not so. Joe adopted boxing as a means of reaching boys,” Philyaw said.

After working as a licensed addiction counselor and a youth minister in several area churches, Smith decided he could do more to reach inner-city youth by getting them involved in positive after-school activities. This lead to him starting the YMCA Community Action Program (YCAP).

Smith’s devotion to ministry through boxing led to him being named team manager for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Boxing team for the 2008 Beijing Games, among other opportunities. “But nothing was more important to him than teaching character, perseverance, and the benefits of hard work to the kids who desperately needed those things,” Philyaw said. “Whether he’s putting his arm around an emotional Kobe Bryant minutes before the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, or putting his arm around a 12-year-old who thinks nobody loves him, Joe lives his mission.”

Today, YCAP serves as a model for church groups, agencies, and people everywhere who want to reach at-risk youth and their families in a lasting, meaningful way, Philyaw said. “As Joe says every morning on talk radio in an attempt to encourage people to become involved in their community, ‘This world is not our final destination. We are all just passing through,’” Philyaw said. “Joe, this world is a better place because you’re passing through, and the Chattanooga Bar Association applauds your service to our community.”

Law Day celebration

Each year, the U.S. sets aside May 1 as Law Day, an occasion to meditate on the importance of the law in the foundation of the country and recognize its importance in society. The CBA celebrated Law Day on May 4 with a luncheon at the Read House. The theme this year was “Miranda: More Than Words.”

Lynda Hood, executive director of the CBA, began the event by describing the impact the Miranda Rights, created in 1966 as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, has had on the pursuit of justice in society. “Miranda has become engrained in law enforcement and permeated our public consciousness, yet it is only part of the story with regard to the procedures that ensure justice,” Hood said. “The Court’s decision in Miranda affirms the notion that equal justice under the law is more than words; it’s the cornerstone of our nation’s legal system. No matter who you are, you will be treated equally and afforded due process. So on this Law Day, let us recommit to building a future rooted in the rule of law, in which our law is applied equally to everyone, and our children know a fair and just world.”

The Hon. John McClarty echoed Hood’s thoughts in his invocation, when he said a prayer of thanks for “our fathers and mothers in his legal profession, those who paved the roads which we now travel. We give You thanks for allowing them to have the foresight, courage, audacity, and tenacity to do what they needed to do to make our laws and enforce them so all people may be free and live in a society of justice.”

The Hon. Christie Sell, the 2016 president of the CBA, then welcomed the elected officials who were present and thanked them for attending.  “Law Day is an important part of the CBA. It’s a time for us to come together to honor those who are carrying justice forward,” she said.

The Hon. Curtis L. Collier then introduced the guest speaker – Sam Elliott of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon. Elliott offered an account of the quo warranto (Medieval Latin for “by what warrant?”) cases of 1870, when the U.S. attorney sued to remove half of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Afterward, Allen McCallie, president of the Chattanooga Bar Foundation (CBF), spoke favorably about Elliott’s talk. “I’m not sure I have ever, or ever will again, sit down for a speech ... about one of the most obscure subjects in the legal history of Tennessee and hear it delivered with such richness and detail,” he said.

McCallie also announced the new Fellows of the CBF. “Once a year, the Foundation pauses to recognize those of you who have demonstrated both outstanding service to the Bar and to the community in addition to performing your jobs as judges and lawyers with distinction,” he said before naming the honorees. This year’s additions to the CBF’s Class of Fellows include: Sheri Fox of Legal Aid of East Tennessee; Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz; Steve Jacoway of Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway; Stephen Powers of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; and Ward Nelson of Miller & Martin.

After the conclusion of Law Day 2016, the members of the Bar returned to the task of contributing to the freedoms all Americans share, with everyone focused on doing the work that will give them a reason to celebrate the rule of law again in one year’s time. 

To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.