TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on Dec 31, 2018

Journal Issue Date: Jan 2019

Journal Name: Vol 55 No 1

An Interview with Landis Turner

As Tennessee Bar Association president in 1988-89, Landis Turner of Hohenwald oversaw a legislative effort that resulted in public defenders' offices opening in every major city in the state. Now, at 78, he talks about that, but covers some surprising topics, too, admitting that “one of the advantages of aging and retirement is one’s ability and time to remember such things and write them down.”

LANDIS TURNER: You may remember or have heard of Judge Charlie Galbraith. A lot of us remember some of the outrageous things he did, some of which were far beneath judicial dignity. We senior lawyers will never forget Charlie’s letter to Hustler magazine about the pleasure of oral sex. His language was graphic and written on stationary of the Court of Criminal Appeals of which Charlie was a member. The letterhead bore the names of his fellow judges. When the issue came out many of us were in Memphis for the TBA convention. The Peabody’s magazine rack sold out of Hustler in less than an hour.

When Charlie was in the state house he sponsored several influential bills which became law. Here are a couple:
    • The first public defender office was created for Nashville. Charlie helped create the office and then became the first PD in Tennessee and served as such until he became a judge.
    • Until the ’60s liquor by the drink was illegal anywhere in Tennessee. Charlie passed a bill letting counties vote on the issue by local option. Memphis and Nashville voted on the issue the same day. Many of us had thought that Memphis was a better city and more fun to live in. But no longer was that true after Nashville legalized liquor by the drink and Memphis rejected it.

Charlie was at the Gaslight in Printers’ Alley and was served the first legal drink when his new law came into effect. I was on the next stool, so I had the second. He had a bourbon on the rocks and I
had a martini.

TBJ: What about that public defender bill you mentioned??What happened after that?

LT: By the late ’80s Tennessee had PD offices in the four major cities, and there was talk about creating model programs in other areas, like Clarksville and Jackson, where the need was serious. It seemed to me that the need was serious all over the state, especially in rural areas.

As the number of crimes increased judges had to appoint more and more lawyers for indigent defendants. Many lawyers, especially sole practitioners, were really suffering. They were having to handle so many non-paying clients that they had no time for those able to pay. ... As the leader of the TBA I along with many of our members decided something had to be done about the appointment crisis. We drafted a bill to make the office of public defender statewide. I told John Lyell, our excellent lobbyist, to give this bill his top priority. Our most valuable helper in the legislature was Rep. Bill Purcell. Bill is a former federal PD and later became mayor of Metro Nashville for eight years.

None of us believed we would be able to make the PD offices statewide, but we had a good chance to get a few model programs. The governor’s budget bill provided for $20 million not required for the state’s needs, so we might get part of that. $6 million would be the least [amount needed] to go statewide — and that would give PDs a lot less pay than DAs make and they don’t have to handle appeals, as PDs must. But nobody ever promised us that we could expect everything to be fair.

The bill passed. Now PDs all over the state can thank these efforts for their jobs. It’s far from adequate, but better than it used to be.






In the January/February 1989 issue of the Journal, Turner’s president’s column was about war stories. For a good chuckle, read his story here: