Letters of the Law

Paine’s Mark on Tennessee Law

When a student at the University of Tennessee College of Law, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Don Paine, who, just out of the military, then served his alma mater as an adjunct professor. As a practicing lawyer and a budding academician, Don not only represented real people with real problems at that time, but also helped prepare students for the bar examination and taught practicing attorneys to better represent their clients. During the years after my graduation, I occasionally called upon Don for advice and counsel. So did many others. In that regard, he was a mentor to young lawyers well before anyone even thought about having a formal mentoring program. After I was appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, I quickly learned that every one of our opinions had an audience of at least one — Don Paine. He read everything, and, on occasion, even offered our appellate courts “suggestions” for improvement — especially on evidentiary issues. While getting his point across, he used both diplomacy and humor so as to ensure that his criticism would be perceived as constructive. And, of course, he was almost always right on.

Don Paine loved the law and exhibited daily the qualities that each of us, as lawyers, aspire to — courtesy, civility, and, of even greater importance, a remarkable generosity with time and talent. In my opinion, no one in Tennessee has had a greater impact on the quality of our profession in Tennessee. The life he lived, the courage displayed, we are all better for that … and, like Lincoln, he now belongs to the ages.

— Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, Tennessee Supreme Court

Note: The following letters were written to columnist Bill Haltom and editor Suzanne Craig Robertson about their January columns in tribute to Don Paine and John Smartt.

I picked up my copy of the Journal at my post office today. I immediately turned to Don’s column and smiled when I saw his photo. Then I looked across the page and saw “He loved the law … and this Journal.”  I knew immediately who “he” was. What a wonderful tribute — it was just perfect!  In fact it was so nice it made me cry, but that’s not a bad thing.  I also enjoyed reading  the excerpt from 1992. The Chicago pro bono case meant so much to Don. I remember very well the call from him telling me they won the case. It meant more to him than a million dollar judgment — that’s what made Don so special!

— Karen Roberts, Mascot, Tenn.; long-time assistant to Don Paine

Your column about Don Paine and John Smartt left me being very quiet and very, very thankful. Both of these men have had and will continue to have such influence on the law in Tennessee. I am grateful to each for their friendship which was always open and welcoming. They were examples in the way they approached life and lawyers and clients, and people who weren’t clients but needed someone to talk with. What an example they are for me, and for all of us. Thank you for what you wrote.

— T. Maxfield Bahner, Chattanooga

This is just a note to tell you both how much I enjoyed your tributes to Donnie Paine in the current TBJ and, Bill, your tribute as well to the gracious, motivational and warm John Smartt. Your articles brought tears to my eyes. Great lawyers, mentors and friends to so many of us, our debt to these two wonderful men can never be fully repaid. 

— Jack H. (Nick) McCall, Knoxville