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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, October 21, 2016

Chancellor Peoples, Chief Justice Barker inducted into Pro Bono Hall of Fame


Legal Aid of East Tennessee honors two revered jurists for promoting access to justice



Legal Aid of East Tennessee inducted Chancellor Howell N. Peoples and Chief Justice William M. “Muecke” Barker into its Pro Bono Hall of Fame this week. - Photograph by David Laprad

Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) on Oct. 18 honored two revered jurists for their long-lasting commitment pro bono representation. In a brief but well-attended ceremony at their Chestnut Street office, LAET inducted Chancellor Howell N. Peoples and Chief Justice William M. “Muecke” Barker into its Pro Bono Attorneys Hall of Fame.

LAET had already added photographs of Chancellor Peoples and Chief Justice Barker to its Hall of Fame gallery in the corridor outside the meeting room as attorney and keynote speaker Marcy Eason began to discuss why each man deserved the honor.

Eason initially confessed to feeling as though she would be unable to illustrate the magnitude of what Chancellor Peoples and Chief Justice Barker have accomplished during their crusades to ensure every Tennessean, regardless of his or her ability to pay for an attorney, receives access to justice.

“When you’re researching two esteemed individuals, you try to find a quote that captures everything they’ve done and inspires others to do great things,” Eason said. “But I came up short. Nothing has been said that sums up their lives and service.”

Eason, who was an original Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, then eloquently achieved what she said she could not do. “Chancellor Peoples and Chief Justice Barker are well-respected jurists and dedicated public servants who have impacted the lives of thousands of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, and both deserve our gratitude. By their example, they have inspired us to become better lawyers,” she said.

Chancellor Peoples began his service to indigent clients while a student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law (UTK), where he volunteered to work in legal clinics. His reputation and the experience he gained at UTK led to his being hired as the first Legal Services Corporation attorney in Chattanooga. “You are the foundation of every Legal Services Corporation-funded attorney in this area. We’re grateful to you for establishing the path the rest of us followed,” Eason said, looking up from her notes to directly address Chancellor Peoples, who was seated to her right.

Chancellor Peoples served as Clerk and Master before becoming a judge of Hamilton County’s Chancery Court, where he remained for 32 years. But he never forgot his roots as a Legal Aid lawyer or his obligation to serve the public, Eason said. “Our profession requires us to give something back because we are blessed, and you have been a long-time friend of Legal Aid,” she said.

Eason then indulged in a telling of her favorite story about Chancellor Peoples, which she titled “Barrister’s Barometer.”

“When Chancellor Peoples was on the bench, he didn’t need words to communicate with those in his courtroom because he had a visual system of communication,” Eason said. “It wasn’t his facial expressions; he was always judicial and impartial, and his expressions were unreadable. It wasn’t his posture, either; he was always dignified in his robe. Rather, it was his glasses. Depending on where they rested on his nose when he was looking at you, your client, or a witness, you could determine the strength or weakness of your facts or argument under the law.”

After stepping down from the bench, Chancellor Peoples joined the law firm of Miller & Martin for a time before retiring.

Chief Justice Barker earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1967. After a brief enlistment with the United States Army Medical Corps, he entered private practice. In 1983, Gov. Lamar Alexander appointed Chief Justice Barker to the bench. He served 12 years as a circuit court judge in Hamilton County, three years on the Criminal Court of Appeals, and ten years on the State Supreme Court. His peers on the latter elected him chief justice in 2005. Chief Justice Barker retired in 2009, and now serves as of counsel for the law firm of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.

Throughout his career, Eason said, Chief Justice Barker has held that the legal profession and the obligation of its practitioners to serve the public are the highest calling. In keeping with this principle, Chief Justice Barker has been an active leader at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, and has served as president of the Chattanooga Trial Lawyers and president of the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society. He has also held other leadership positions in the legal profession, and is currently working with the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

After calling Chief Justice Barker a “noted scholar, amazing speaker, and wonderful problem solver,” Eason said she primarily remembers his visionary perspective, including the time he spent traveling the state discussing the importance of access to justice. “You were the first chief justice to focus on equal access to justice in our state,” Eason said, “and your work and the initiatives that followed have been recognized not only across the state but nationally as well.”

LAET previously honored Chief Justice Barker when it created the Chief Justice William M. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award in 2010 and made him the first recipient. LAET gives the award annually to an attorney who has shown tremendous dedication to providing legal services to people in need.

Speaking to both Chancellor Peoples and Chief Justice Barker, Eason ended her remarks by saying, “Your efforts have ignited a drive in us and affected many lives. Without your contributions and vision, Legal Aid wouldn’t be what it is today. We thank you as two cherished public servants.”

Sheri Fox, executive director of LAET, brought the ceremony to a close not by providing her comments, but by abandoning them. “I was going to share statistics about the extent of poverty in Tennessee, the number of civil legal aid lawyers we have, and the scope of the work that needs to be done, but the thing that matters more is what these two inductees have done every day since 1967,” she said. “They remembered to help the one client whose life they would change regardless of the outcome of the case because they listened to them and advocated for them when no one else would.”

Legal Aid of East Tennessee Pro Bono Hall of Fame

  • Max Bahner
  • Bruce Bailey
  • Tom Caldwell
  • Bill Carriger
  • Dick Crotteau
  • Buz Dooley
  • Marcy Eason
  • Sam Elliott
  • Richard Ruth
  • Hal Schwartz
  • Joe Simpson
  • Glenn Stophel
  • Virginia Love
  • Judge Jeff Hollingsworth