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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, July 22, 2016

Celebrating life


After going under the knife in 2015, attorney Scott Johnson is back, and as strong as ever



Scott Johnson is a trial attorney with Fleissner, Davis & Johnson. After surviving serious surgery in 2015, he’s back with a clean bill of health and a greater appreciation for life. - Photograph by David Laprad

Scott Johnson is known locally as a preeminent trial attorney. But across the U.S. and Canada, he might be better known as a southern gospel singer. Formerly one-third of the trio called Three Bridges, Johnson once sang about the things people sometimes feel like they have to do, but he says he gets to do:

“I get to wake up early / I get to go to work / I get to make an honest living / And put my hands down in the dirt.

“There are a lot of things I don’t have to do - I get to.”

Each verse of “I Get To” begins with Johnson singing about something he once thought of as an obligation – such as going to church or telling his wife he loves her – but that he now considers a privilege. He sang from his heart, and his appreciation for the blessings in his life was evident in his robust baritone voice.

But even then, Johnson didn’t appreciate what he gets to do as much as he does today. After what he and his family overcame in 2015, he could probably sing “I Get To” with newfound gusto.

“Last year, I was really sick. I was in the hospital for three months. It was touch and go,” Johnson, a name partner at Fleissner, Davis & Johnson, says.

Johnson had endocarditis, an infection that attacks the heart. After entering his bloodstream, the contagion made its way to Johnson’s aortic valve and set up house. Then it tried to kill him. “My organs failed. Then my doctors gave me a 50-50 shot at surviving the surgery to put in a new valve,” Johnson says.

Johnson says two things pulled him through: prayer and the love of his family and friends. “Prayer works. I believe in it,” he says. “People all over the world were praying for me, and that made a difference.”

Johnson says the support of his colleagues at the Chattanooga Bar Association also helped. As Johnson faced an uncertain outcome to his surgery, attorney Joe Hollis and Judge Marie Williams arranged for attorneys in Chattanooga to gather on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse on the Monday before the procedure and pose for a photo of everyone giving him a thumbs-up.

“When I saw the photo, I was sitting in my hospital bed not feeling well, and it picked me right up,” Johnson says. “I went through the picture, wrote down everyone’s name, and said a little thank you prayer for each one.”

It was a scary time for Johnson, his family, and his firm, but he survived – with his sense of humor intact. “I lost 38 pounds during that ordeal, but I don’t recommend that diet plan,” he says, laughing.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Johnson grew up in Tullahoma, where he learned the value of hard work by doing chores at home and holding down a job while in high school. A fan of Volunteers football, his first choice for college was the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but his parents told him to go where it would cost the least – the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). Johnson didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, so he double-majored in psychology and English.

While attending UTC, Johnson took a job as a runner for Campbell & Campbell. He liked working at the firm, so after graduating with two degrees and no professional prospects, he decided to go to law school. Once again, Johnson went with the institution that would cost him the least – the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

Reasonable tuition was not the only reason Johnson chose to attend law school in Memphis. While at UTC, he’d met Memphis native Jennifer Odom, and the couple had become serious. Since both of them had family in Memphis, going there made sense.

Johnson and Odom married while he was in law school. When Johnson graduated, he had job offers in four Tennessee cities. He and Jennifer chose Chattanooga. “I was an average student, but there was a lot of demand, so I had my pick,” he says. “Everything good was happening in Chattanooga, and my wife and I wanted to raise a family here.”

The job offer in Chattanooga came from Luther-Anderson. While Johnson would like to think the firm hired him because he showed promise as a trial attorney, he jokingly says they probably took him in to improve the performance of their softball team. “When I was a runner, I played softball with them in the lawyer league,” he says. “I was pretty good, which is probably why they hired me.”

While at Luther-Anderson, Johnson did insurance defense work. After Phil Fleissner hired him in 2001, Johnson began to expand his practice. Today, he represents clients in a variety of civil matters including personal injury, product liability, workers’ compensation, construction, insurance coverage, bad faith, contract disputes, and other business, insurance, and entertainment industry matters. He has also earned his designation as a Tennessee Rule 31 listed general civil mediator, and serves as a mediator on all types of legal disputes.

“When you do insurance defense, you’re exposed to different kinds of cases,” Johnson says, “so I’ve learned a lot of things over the years.”

When Fleissner passed away in 2006, Johnson and Scott Davis formed a new firm that kept their former colleague’s name – Fleissner, Davis & Johnson. Johnson says he enjoys practicing law with Davis. “Scott is a hard worker and a good guy,” he says.

Johnson’s stint with Three Bridges took place from 2007-2009. During that time, the group traveled across the U.S. and Canada playing up to 165 dates a year. Somehow, Johnson also maintained his law practice. “We’d drive to Nashville on Thursday to get on a bus, and we’d get back in Monday morning at 4 a.m.,” he says. “I’d drive back to Chattanooga, shower, and show up tired to motion calls.”

Johnson left Three Bridges in 2009 after he tore his ACL and his wife became pregnant with their third child. “Working two full-time jobs was aging me quickly, so that was a good stopping point,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, though.”

Nor would Johnson swap his life on Signal Mountain for a home elsewhere. With a clean bill of health and no restrictions on his physical activity, he can occasionally be found on a golf course, outdoors with his wife and kids, or at a gospel music concert. Although Johnson is no longer a member of Three Bridges, he still exercises his vocal chords by singing in the choir at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.

In a YouTube video in which Johnson performs “I Get To” with Three Bridges, he introduces the song by saying, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to do something, but you get to, thanks to God’s mercy and grace?” Johnson believed those words when he spoke them because he had lived them. But his ordeal in 2015 gave the song profound new meaning for him, and made him appreciate each new day.

Johnson is also grateful for the people who have been a part of his life. “I’m thankful for my wife, my family, my law partner, and our firm’s attorneys. I also remain grateful for the opportunities Mr. Campbell and the Campbell brothers, the great folks at Luther-Anderson, and the most honorable man I’ve ever met – Phil Fleissner – gave me.

“And I’m thankful to Lynda Hood, Joe Hollis, and Judge Marie Williams for spearheading the amazing efforts of the Chattanooga Bar Association last summer to provide cheer to my family during a fearful time. Many people think lawyers don’t have hearts, but most lawyers are simply real people doing a tough job and trying to earn a living.

“When I was ill, I received well wishes from lawyers I thought didn’t know me or wouldn’t care if a reckless driver ran over me while I was crossing Georgia Avenue after motion call on a Monday morning. Some of these folks didn’t know me, but they cared enough to reach out to an old Tullahoma boy because he’s a member of this Bar,” he says.

Johnson’s words are sincere, but they don’t say what his smile does: he knows the people who opened doors for him, gave him their friendship, and supported him and his family during a difficult time did so not because they had to, but because they got to. 

Scott Johnson 

Licensed in:

Tennessee

Admitted to:

Eastern District of Tennessee

Middle District of Tennessee

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

Memberships:

Chattanooga Bar Association

Tennessee Bar Association

American Inns of Court

UTC English Dept. Alumni Assoc.

Gideons

Awards:

Martindale-Hubbell preeminent attorney