Trailblazing Judge, Civil Rights Lawyer Dies

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs died suddenly Friday (Feb. 15) after hearing motions in court that morning. He was 75. Higgs has been called a “trailblazing, brave civil rights leader” and an accomplished judges. His experience includes representing workers involved in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike; serving as Shelby County’s first and only black sheriff; and managing a lawsuit that overturned runoff rules that ultimately led to election of the city's first black mayor. He served as criminal court judge from 1970 to 1975 and again from 1998 to the present. Higgs also spent many years in private practice, working with Walter Bailey and D'Army Bailey at the Bailey Higgs Bailey firm. A graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law, Higgs also was an ordained minister, most recently serving at St. James CME and Second Congregational United Church of Christ. Funeral arrangements are pending. The Commercial Appeal and Memphis Daily News have more on his life.

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Only Female on Death Row Files Federal Appeal

The only woman on death row in Tennessee is asking a federal judge to prevent her execution, Knoxnews reports. Convicted killer Christa Gail Pike has exhausted state court appeals and now has turned to the U.S. District Court. Among her claims, Pike contends that her trial attorney was incompetent, and that she was "a mentally ill, cognitively impaired, immature adolescent" suffering from brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the incident. Her federal petition contains claims previously raised but also includes a new charge: that state courts violated her constitutional rights during the trial and penalty phases of her case.

Opinion: Legal Profession Needs Apprenticeship System

An apprenticeship system – much like that offered to medical students – would serve the legal profession well, Rutgers School of Law Dean John J. Farmer Jr. writes in a New York Times op-ed piece. Under such a plan, the former New Jersey attorney general said that rather than firms hiring just a few top graduates from a few select schools and paying them exorbitant salaries, more graduates, making a lower hourly rate, would be able to get on-the-job training. Such a system also would lower the cost of hiring a lawyer, he says, making representation easier to obtain and re-energizing the legal market.

MBA Recruits Lawyers, High School Students for Intern Program

The Memphis Bar Association (MBA) is accepting applications now through March 25 for its 2013 Summer Law Intern Program, which introduces minority high school students to the practice of law by placing them in attorneys’ offices. Download an application from the MBA website or contact Mary Lynes at (901) 271-0660 or for more information. Lawyers interested in sponsoring an intern -- either by having them work in their offices or by paying a $500 stipend so the students can work at a government or non-profit agency – should contact MBA Executive Director Anne Fritz at (901) 527-3575 or

Knoxville Bar Foundation Accepting Grant Proposals

The Knoxville Bar Foundation (KBF) is accepting grant proposals to fund programs that improve the administration of justice, enhance the public's understanding of and confidence in the legal system, and serve the legal profession. The deadline for submitting applications is March 1. Download an application or contact KBF Chair J. Michael Haynes at (865) 292-2307 or for more information.

Memphis DA Honored By Mayor

At the city of Memphis’ 11th annual "Tea and Talk at the Top" on Sunday afternoon, Mayor A C Wharton and his wife Ruby honored six women who have made significant contributions to the community. Each of the women received the Ruby R. Wharton Outstanding Women Award for their respective field. Among the group was Amy Weirich, who was presented with the Distinguished Government Service Award. According to The Commercial Appeal, Weirich was honored for her service as the city’s first female district attorney.

Justices Visit with Sewanee Students

Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Cornelia A. Clark, Janice M. Holder and Sharon G. Lee visited Sewanee last week to meet with female students interested in law and public policy. Faculty and staff joined the students for a discussion about how gender impacts women’s choices about a career path, and how the justices, in particular, made the decision to pursue a legal profession. The AOC has the news and a photo.

Services Tuesday for Former Nashville Lawyer

Former Nashville lawyer Bill Steltemeier died Friday (Feb. 15) at his home in Hanceville, Ala., after a long illness. He was 83. Steltemeier graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School and was co-founder of the firm Steltemeier & Westbrook, which specialized in bankruptcy and commercial law and still serves clients today. For more than 30 years, Steltemeier also worked to rehabilitate prisoners, co-founding a prison Junior Chamber of Commerce program, serving on the boards of several charities, and serving on a state board reviewing prison reform. After being ordained as a deacon, Steltemeier also served as the Catholic chaplain at the Tennessee State Prison for Men. He most recently was serving as chairman of the board of Eternal Word Television Network. A funeral mass will be held tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville. Burial will take place at 2:30 p.m. at Calvary Cemetery in Nashville, the Tennessean reports.

Memphis Law Hosts Diversity Pre-Law Day

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will host a Pre-Law Day for diverse undergraduate students Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Participants will hear tips on how to prepare for law school, submit a competitive application and apply for financial aid and scholarships. A keynote address by actor, author and Harvard Law School graduate Hill Harper will close out the day. Harper, who is best known for his acting role on the television series CSI and for his authorship of four New York Times bestsellers, is founder of Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering, encouraging and inspiring youth to succeed through mentorship, scholarship and grant programs.


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About this publication: Today's News is a compilation of digests of news reports of interest to Tennessee lawyers compiled by TBA staff, links to digested press releases, and occasional stories about the TBA and other activities written by the TBA staff or members. Statements or opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tennessee Bar Association, its officers, board or staff.

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