Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 3, 2017

New Bar president declares war on rule breakers

Honorees at the Chattanooga Bar Association’s 119th annual meeting are, from left, Lynda Minks Hood (President’s Award), Marc Harwell (Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award), Mike Luhowiak (John M. Higgason Courage Award), Alex McVeagh (YLD Volunteer of the Year Award), the Hon. Christie Sell, Bar president; Sam Elliott (Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award), the Hon. John McClarty (Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award), and Joanne Beckman, who received the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of her father, Thomas Caldwell. - Photograph by Alex MacMahan

Bill Colvin spent the first few minutes of his term as 2017 president of the Chattanooga Bar Association issuing a call to arms against attorneys who are violating Tennessee anti-solicitation rules and others who short-change the public.

“I have been struck by how the Woodmore school bus tragedy has affected all of us and brought to light a number of issues with the unauthorized practice of law,” Colvin said.

Colvin took the podium after the Hon. Marie Williams gave him the oath of office during the Bar’s 119th annual meeting. About 190 members of the Bar attended the luncheon in the Read House’s Silver Ballroom.

Colvin also announced that the board of governors has already formed an unauthorized practice of law committee to deal with relevant issues. Attorneys Frank Pinchak, Sam Elliott and Alex McVeagh will spearhead the group.

“They will be working with the state’s attorney general to enforce our laws on the prohibition of the direct solicitation of the victims of a tragedy like this,” Colvin pointed out.

Colvin was referring to the incident that occurred in November when a Hamilton County school bus rolled over onto its side and wrapped around a tree, resulting in five deaths and multiple injuries.

Colvin said the Bar will also be addressing the issue of out-of-state attorneys, ones who are not licensed to practice law in Tennessee, soliciting clients who live in Chattanooga. Pinchak has already contacted the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding this issue.

Colvin said the Bar will continue the work of past president Paul Hatcher, who in 2015 began targeting “traveling salesmen” who promote estate planning devices designed to avoid creditors.

“The unauthorized practice of law committee will be very active in the upcoming year,” Colvin explained. “They will need your support and help in enforcing the existing laws.”

Colvin’s other goal for 2017 is to increase awareness among the middle class of the need for legal services.

“The average person does not appreciate the risks involved in the purchase of a home or hiring someone to build a home,” Colvin added.

“And many small businessmen and women do not recognize the dangers and pitfalls of inadequately forming a business and complying with the existing registration and licensing laws.”

Colvin said he believes the Bar can do a better job of educating the public on the services local attorneys provide. “We have to let people know LegalZoom is probably not the answer,” he said.

“People need to hire a lawyer in their jurisdiction.”

New board members

In addition to installing Colvin as president, the Bar inducted new officers and members of the board.

These include Lee Davis, president elect; Steve Jacoway, secretary; John Harrison, treasurer; board member Jimmy Rodgers, who will serve a one-year term; board member Sheri Fox, who will serve a two-year term; and board member George Hixson, who will serve a three-year term.

Continuing on the board are Barret Albritton, Marc Harwell and Jeffrey Maddux.

John M. Higgason Courage Award

To honor the life and career of the late John M. Higgason, Jr., the Bar last October approved the creation of the John M. Higgason Courage Award.

Higgason passed away in January 2016 after a 36-year battle with kidney failure. During his marathon ordeal, Higgason endured 26 surgeries, including three kidney transplants and open heart surgery, yet continued to practice law, engage in mediation, serve as municipal judge of Lookout Mountain and support his family.

James Haley, IV announced the establishment of the award during the annual meeting, saying Higgason remained positive and focused on others throughout his life.

“He used to tell me his goals were to see his daughters graduate from college, then to attend their weddings and then to get to know his grandchildren,” Haley said. “He achieved all of those goals and remained an inspiration to his family and friends to the end.”

The award created in Higgason’s name will honor other members of the Bar who have fought through great adversity with a courageous and positive attitude and continued to express an interest others.

“I used to tell John he was the bravest person I know,” Haley added. “His illness did not define him. Rather, he should be remembered for his indomitable spirit and the selflessness he displayed throughout his life.”

One of Higgason’s daughters, Katherine Lentz, announced the first recipient of the award, attorney Mike Luhowiak.

Luhowiak has over 40 years of experience in the general practice of law with an emphasis in litigation. In 2006, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as a rare complication of that disease known as Richter’s transformation.

He began treatment in 2007. Against his doctor’s advice to scale back and prepare for an early retirement, he missed little to no work, Lentz added. During this time, he experienced additional health issues and underwent several surgeries.

Luhowiak responded positively to chemotherapy and is currently in remission. In addition to continuing his regular practice, he is now also serving as public administrator for Hamilton County.

“Mike approached his former illness with humor, faith and grace,” Lentz said. “Colleagues and friends alike said he had a wonderful attitude and treated everyone with great kindness. My dad would be thrilled with Mike being the first recipient of this award.”

A surprised Luhowiak said he could not think of a person he admires more than Higgason.

“Life is one thing after another, especially when you’re sick. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, like Johnny did, and with the blessings of God, you’ll make it through.”

Additional awards

The Bar also announced the 2016 recipients of six previously established awards.

Corrin Fulton, president of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Bar, presented the YLD Volunteer Attorney of the Year award to Alex McVeagh.

Fulton called McVeagh’s volunteerism, which includes serving on the boards of the local and state YLDs as well as Legal Aid of East Tennessee, extraordinary. In 2016, McVeagh also helped to organize the state YLD’s local Wills for Heroes event and the Chattanooga mock trials and played an integral role in the local YLD’s first expungement clinic.

“His willingness to volunteer is tireless,” Fulton noted. “He is also a wonderful individual and friend.”

The Hon. Christie Sell, the 2016 president of the Bar, presented the Albert L. Hodge Volunteer Award to Marc Harwell. The award is given to an attorney with an exemplary record of service to the Bar.

Sell cited Harwell’s work on the “When You Become 18 in Tennessee” booklet as a factor in his selection. The booklet informs local high school graduates of their legal rights and responsibilities as an adult. The Bar gives a free copy to every graduating senior in Hamilton County.

“Mark worked tirelessly on the updates,” Sell added. “We appreciate everything he does.”

Sell also presented the President’s Award to Lynda Hood, the executive director of the Bar. The honor is given to the person who most helped the president during his or her year in office.

Flossie Weill presented the Harry Weill Zealous Practice of Law Award, named after her late father, to the Hon. John McClarty of the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals. The award is given to a member of the Bar whose energetic and enthusiastic work is deemed worthy of praise and whose polite and dignified manner, even in contentious situations, provides a model of civility.

“[Judge McClarty] epitomizes the qualities of the award given in memory of my dad,” Weill said. “He is unwavering in his diligence and values and a true gentleman.”

John Harrison announced Thomas Caldwell as the recipient of the Jac Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award. To receive the award, an attorney must demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in the legal profession, facilitate access to justice and serve his or her community, in addition to meeting other criteria.

Harrison said Caldwell’s brilliant work as an attorney, tireless labors for Orange Grove Center, a non-profit organization serving adults and children with intellectual disabilities, and other volunteer efforts make him worthy of recognition.

“[Thomas] is a phenomenal human being who has given selflessly of himself,” Harrison said.

Joanne Beckman, Caldwell’s daughter, accepted the award on her father’s behalf.

The Hon. Clarence Shattuck presented the Ralph H. Kelley Humanitarian Award to his long-time friend and local history enthusiast Sam Elliott of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon. The award is given to a member of the Bar who has provided exceptional service to his or her community.

“A colleague of Sam’s recently called him the ultimate lawyer’s lawyer. He’s always willing to share his knowledge and experience with others and has been the mentor of every young lawyer who has joined his firm,” Shattuck said. “Our recipient has also given many hours to charitable and civic organizations.”

A partial list of the latter includes: past chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission; past president of the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; board member of the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association and the Chattanooga History Center; and trustee of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Elliott is also a member of the Signal Mountain Historical Committee, the Rotary Club of Chattanooga and the National Association for the Craniofacially Handicapped (FACES). He is also an inductee of Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s Hall of Fame.

“Sam overwhelmingly meets the criteria established for this award,” Shattuck said.

In closing, Sell thanked the Bar for allowing her to serve as its president, and Colvin expressed gratitude for being entrusted with the same responsibility.

“Our success as an organization depends on all of us stepping up when we’re asked to do so,” he said. “Thank you for allowing me to serve you in the year to come.”