Finding a Voice for Lawyers of the ’60s

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The turbulence that rocked the country in the 1960s may have been taking place right outside of the Tennessee Bar Association’s offices on Nashville’s Capitol Boulevard, but seldom did the pages of the Tennessee Bar Journal reflect this turmoil. When the magazine published its first issues in 1965, its spotlight was on the law and the activities and accomplishments of the Tennessee legal community.

The focus on substantive articles remains today, but the Journal now also includes law-related news of state and national affairs, but leaves reporting of general interest news to the mass media.

This month we glimpse some of what lawyers were reading about in the 1960s. Some of the subjects are ones that are still discussed and written about today, like tax or corporate law developments, how to choose a jury and rules updates. There were also some one-hit wonders sprinkled throughout, such as when in August 1965 the Journal tried out a page of poetry. (We’ll spare you a review of that.)

So Many Pages to Fill

In the Journal’s early years, it appears that if a person gave a law-related speech in Tennessee, it was a shoo-in to be published in its entirety in the new publication (August 1965’s “Hawaii: Its People, Potential, Problems,” a speech by Patsy Takemoto Mink, comes to mind.) In fairness, it’s possible that in the beginning the start-up quarterly with big dreams did not have a backlog of substantive articles from which to draw. We thought we would have this problem, this lack of text, when in 1999 the Journal doubled its output from six issues a year to 12. But we found that if you offer to print it they will come, and articles and news began flowing in, which is likely what eventually happened back in the ‘60s for the Journal.

The More Things Change …

Here’s what we found in some of the the magazine’s issues, 1965 through 1969, which like today cover law-related advances nationally and specific to Tennessee.

  • “The Era of Gideon V. Wainwright,” by Hon. Frank W. Wilson (February 1965). (In February 2013, TBJ had an item about the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision.)
  • “Bulk Sales and the Uniform Commercial Code,” by W. Harold Bigham (May 1965).
  • “Defense of the Indigent and Other Unpopular Causes,” by Barnabus F. Sears (November 1965).
  • “A Fair Trial and a Free Press,” by Hon. Frank W. Wilson (November 1965): “Those who would curtail freedom of the press in the name of assuring a fair trial do a disservice to both. We may draw a lesson from this controversy for living in these controversial times. It is that freedom of the press, like all freedoms, is never won. Rather, like all freedoms, it is always only in the process of being won.”

In May 1968, Walter P. Armstrong Jr. wrote an article with the same title, outlining actions of an American Bar Association advisory committee on the “Reardon Report.” Armstrong wrote, “I, for one, look forward to a new day of cooperation between the press and bar. ... There need be no basic incompatibility in the application of the first and sixth amendments separately or in tandem. It remains for all concernend to make a sincere effort to prove that fact ... For that price, all of our rights and liberties can be made the more secure.”

  • “Verdicts or Out of Court Settlement of $50,000.00 or Over in Wrongful Deaths in Tennessee,” by J.D. Lee.
  • “Products Liability in Tennessee,” by Arthur D. Byrne (February 1966).
  • “The Family Clinic,” by Hon. Benson Trimble (May 1966). This outlines a new concept in Davidson County that included “doctors, lawyers, ministers and finance men to constitute panels of specialists in the fields of religion, medicine, including sex and psychology, and law and finance.” The purpose is to “render assistance to persons experiencing marital difficulties by discovering their real problems and recommending solutions, to the end that the family and home may be preserved and happy, normal marriage relations maintained.”

The services were free and began with panel hearings with the couple, followed by advice as to what they should do to save the marriage.

Considering the new concept of Medical-Legal Partnerships, which you can read more about in the January 2015 Journal, this shows that cooperative efforts between lawyers and physicians have deep roots. (“Finance men” and the promise to save the marriage, however, are no longer part of the conversation.)

  • Court Modernization: a speech by Texas Gov. Price Daniel describing Texas’s constitutional amendment, adopted in the November 1965 election, to uphold an “independent and able judiciary.” Judicial selection

A related article (February 1966) by Frank N. Bratton, chairman of the TBA Special Joint Committee on Court Modernization explained that the group’s effort was “to improve the administration of justice in Tennessee designed to meet the demands of the great increase in population, industrial growth, increased growth in case load and a myriad of other problems facing our century.” Working in conjunction with the Tennessee Law Revision Commission and the American Judicature Society, the committee studied “creating an administration system for the Judiciary and the adoption of a Constitutional Amendment changing the method of selection, appointment, tenure, retirement and removal of Judges in the Tennessee Court System, with the American Bar Merit System, the so called ‘Missouri Plan’ System, the Virginia System, or one of the others in use elsewhere, being advocated.”

In that same issue, TBA President James Manire reported the committee’s work, writing, “It is concerned with examing the qualityof the court system rather than that of the courts as such ... The high caliber of our courts is well-known to lawyers who practice before them.”

In November 1966, the full text of the policy adopted by the TBA Board of Governors was published, in re Court Modernization. It expresses support for the “capable and dedicated men” (no women, of course) and outlining, among other things as recommendations for the 1967 legislature, selection, appointment and tenure for the stateweide court structure. In the same issue, President-Elect B.B. Gullett gave an overview in “Legislative Program of the Tennessee Bar Association.”

In August 1969, Bratton reports that the TBA Board of Governors voted to abolish the Special Joint Committee on Court Mondernization, and create a Standing Committee on the Administration of Justice, a Standing Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, and Special Committee on Redistricting of the Judicial Circuits. Bratton writes that “irrespective of the mixed emotions of this author and the members [of the committee] over its passing into oblivion, it is our hope and belief that the work ... will live on in the memory of those of us who tried to serve it so diligently. The seeds of court reform, long ago planted in the fertile soil of the Tennessee Bench and Bar, were nurtured and cultivated by the Commitee with tender and loving care.”

  • “Grievance Procedures in Tennessee: A New Look,” by Myron A. Halle Jr., chair of the TBA’s Professional Ethics and Grievances Committee. The article outlines the new procedures and remedies “embodied in the Supreme Court’s order of July 19, 1965 in In Re: The  Petition of the Tennessee Bar Association, ex parte, and in its Amendment to Rule 42. ... The teeth in the new procedures are in the form of the creation of Supreme Court appointed Commissioners vested with subpoena and other powers of Special Masters of that Court.”
  • In B.B. Gullett’s February 1968 “President’s Page” he explains that the proposed new Rules of Civil Procedure were presented at each of the three Mid-Winter meetings (Jackson, McMinnville and Gatlinburg) “by Mr. William J. Harbison of the Nashville Bar, who recently served so ably as Special judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee during the illness of the late Judge Weldon B. White.” (Harbison wass the father of TBA Vice President Bill Harbison.) At one of the meetings, Rep. John Bragg of Murfreesboro, in noting that he strongly favored a Constitutional Convention for court modernization, said that the legislature “during the past one hundred years has not been able to solve the judicial problems or to create a uniform state system of courts and prcedure.”
  • Edward L. Jennings wrote “An Introduction to the Center,” an article about the University of Tennessee’s brand new Center for Training and Career Development, charged with providing professional assistance to state, county and municipal governments in training and career development of their officials and employees.
  • The new Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, to go into effect July 1, 1968, were printed in the May 1968 issue. The quick turnaround was credited to Judge Harry Phillips for making the rules available to the Journal so quickly.
  • The May 1968 issue was 82 pages long (!), including the Constitution and Bylaws of the TBA, as well as detailed comparison of the old and new Tennessee Corporation Laws.
  • In February 1969, Walter P. Armstrong Jr. outlined the “Proposed New Code of Professional Responsibility,” writng that since the original Canons of Professional Ethics were adopted on Aug. 17, 1908, 15 additional canons had been adopted and 320 formal opinions and over 1,100 informal opinions have been issued. “Nevertheless,” he wrote, “during this entire period of sixty years, there has been no overall revision of the entire body of the Canons themselves, although obviously the practice of law as well as the society in which we live have changed materially during that period.”
  • “UNIFIED BAR: Integration of Disintigration,” a reprinted speech by Florida Justice Campbell Thornal (May 1969) to the National Conference of Bar Presidents.
  • “The ‘No Fault’ Concept of Automobile Liability,” by Judge William S. Russell (May 1969) vilifies the American Insurance Association’s view (and NBC News’s Chet Huntley for calling the AIA’s plan “wonderful” and that it could solve the “crisis in the automobile industry”).

An Unwelcome New Idea

• In the article, “A PUBLIC WARNING! CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER: Approval of Group Legal Services,” published in August 1968, Frank N. Bratton decries efforts by the ABA Special Committee on the Availability of Legal Services. The committee, “grabbed by a certain element of the American Bar Association like a rainbow trout striking a White Miller, hopes that a still larger segment of the ABA will be lured into taking this new bait.” According to the ABA committee, the services would “substantially enhance the availability to the public of competing legal serices,” but Bratton writes that such a thing would go against the Canons of Ethics, for a lawyer to work for a third-party. “THEY DO NOT NEED THE SERVICES OF A LAWYER WITH DIVIDED INTERESTS — OF A LAWYER ‘SERVING TWO MASTERS.’” (HE USED ALL CAPS TO GET HIS POINTS ACROSS.)


Suzanne Craig Robertson has been editor of the Tennessee Bar Journal for 27 of its 50 years.

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