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Times Have Changed Since Flippin Served in Legislature
With the election behind us, it is time to come together and work for the good of our state. As was reported the day after the election in TBAToday, our legislature will have fewer lawyers when the General Assembly convenes in January. The state senate will have eight lawyers, a decrease of five from the opening of the last session in 2010. The state house will also see eight lawyers take seats, which is a net gain of three lawyers over the last session. (Read more details about this.)
It was disappointing to see some lawyers who ran lose their races. We need to thank those lawyers for making that sacrifice. One of those who was unsuccessful commented to me that losing was probably the best thing that could have happened for his practice! Yet, he was still willing to run. The difficulty of juggling the practice of law and service in the legislature has been cited as the reason for the decline in the number of lawyers willing to serve. Others believe the advent of lawyer advertising has caused the public to lose respect for our profession and make lawyers less likely to be elected.
It is a popular myth that there are a lot of lawyers serving in our legislature. I recently made a presentation at the Tennessee School Boards Association to discuss the TBA’s public education initiatives. One of the TSBA’s members suggested that one way the TBA could help teachers would be to talk to the lawyer members in the legislature (implying that there were a lot of them) and try to get them to lessen the burdens the legislature is continually (in her view) imposing on teachers.
Jerry Flippin is a Milan lawyer and a “lion” of the Tennessee bar. He is also a former member of both houses of the Tennessee legislature and continues to serve as a member of the TBA House of Delegates. When he began his service in the state house in 1954, the governor and the speakers of both the house and senate were lawyers. Jerry attributes this recent decline to the current anti-lawyer attitude. Jerry noted that during his service in the legislature, there were many lawyers serving, but they never created or passed legislation slanted towards lawyers. Rather, he says, “The lawyers passed, defeated or studied legislation with one intention: to improve the administration of justice.”
I asked Jerry how he was able to serve in the legislature off and on for about 14 years after he was elected to the state house the same year he became licensed to practice law. He told me that new, young lawyers from rural areas would run and serve to become better known. He noted that they had time to do so because their practices were not yet busy and they had not started families. It was typical to serve one or two terms. Jerry cited several lawyers, including Fred Womack, Tom Bagley, Dick Barry, Hewitt Tomlin, D. D. Maddox, Watkins Ewell, Woody Sims, Ward DeWitt, Douglas Henry and Alf Adams, who served and contributed early in their careers by working hard and in doing so, got their names before the public. He said those men “served honorably and did good.” Jerry was one of them. Sen. Henry continues to serve honorably and do good.
The pay structure was somewhat different in Jerry’s days in the legislature. When he arrived in Nashville, he went to the treasurer’s office to be reimbursed at the rate of $.06 per mile for one round-trip to Nashville from home for the entire session, a throwback to horse and buggy days. Legislators were paid $15 a day, seven days a week, so they could stay in Nashville for the whole session. Jerry had a room at the Hermitage Hotel for $8 a day, but he was quick to point out that it had no window and was up against the elevator shaft! Even with such a minuscule reimbursement, Jerry says that lawyers could afford to serve in the legislature that only met every other year back then.
We need more lawyers in the legislature. Lawyers are uniquely trained to see both sides of an issue. We are also good at finding common ground. In the upcoming legislative session, the TBA will continue to be the voice of our profession. We will continue our tradition of attempting to assist our legislature in a non-partisan manner on a variety of issues. We have a special committee studying the Tennessee code provisions dealing with conservatorships in response to legislation that was introduced in the last session.
We will offer our ideas on workers’ compensation legislation. We will continue our efforts to preserve the Tennessee Plan after witnessing voters in several states reject changes to judicial merit selection and give support to judges running in retention elections.
You can help. Call your legislator or even better, go see him or her. Let the legislator know when an issue is important to you and how he or she can best craft laws that will advance the administration of justice. On many issues a small number of phone calls is considered significant and can affect how a legislator votes.
December is a good time to put our political differences behind us as we celebrate a variety of holidays this month. While this recipe will do nothing for the vegetarians, the red-meat eaters will be pleased. It makes a lovely main course for any festive gathering.
TBA President JACKIE DIXON is a partner with Weatherly McNally & Dixon PLC in Nashville.