Legal Aid of East Tennessee Inductees
• T. Maxfield Bahner
• Bruce C. Bailey
• Thomas A. Caldwell
• William C. Carriger
• Charles W. Dooley
• Marcia Meredith Eason
• Richard R. Ruth Jr.
• Harold A. Schwartz Jr.
Shortly after moving to Chattanooga from Texas 24 years ago, civil defense attorney Marcia Meredith Eason started giving away her legal expertise for free.
At least some of the time.
Her first free case was helping a disabled woman whose husband was divorcing her. The woman couldn't afford an attorney.
"I represented her through her divorce and that kind of got me hooked," Eason said.
On Thursday night, Legal Aid of East Tennessee inducted Eason and seven other prominent local attorneys into its inaugural Pro Bono Hall of Fame class.
Legal Aid Associate Director Russell Fowler said the group represents the "cream of the bar" in legal experience and has worked for free through the organization in civil cases for decades.
"We have to turn a lot [of clients] a lot away," he said. "We would have to turn a lot more away if not for them."
The cases are in civil court, where most indigent plaintiffs or defendants are not entitled to a government attorney, as they are in criminal cases. Cases represent a host of legal challenges, from domestic violence-related divorces to estate planning.
Fowler and others briefly introduced each of the inductees, citing their commitment to pro bono work and other honors.
"Justice cannot be for only those who can afford it," Fowler told the audience of about two dozen people in the Chestnut Street offices of Legal Aid.
Virginia Love came to the event to honor her longtime mentor and Hall of Fame inductee Thomas Caldwell. She said she's done pro bono work in estate planning for nearly all of the 34 years she's practiced law and sees it as a vital public service.
"We come out of law school with an ideal that there is equal access to justice. There just isn't," Love said. "It's very gratifying to feel like you're doing something meaningful."
Fowler said that by recognizing these local attorneys' contributions to the underprivileged, he can encourage other lawyers to help.
"It's a great example to young lawyers to see that lawyers of this caliber make a commitment to legal aid," Fowler said.