Going Public

Dean Chris Guthrie argues that all lawyers—whether they practice in the public interest or in the private sector—serve the public.

"Lawyers in private practice play an essential role in promoting peace and prosperity by resolving difficult disputes and handling complex transactions," he says. "In so doing, these private-sector lawyers perform services that benefit not only their clients but the broader public as well." But he also stresses that "we owe a particular debt of gratitude to those lawyers who occupy formal public service roles—our judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and the attorneys who work for government or non-profit organizations."

This issue of the Vanderbilt Lawyer celebrates just a handful of the hundreds of Vanderbilt Law alumni who have made a career commitment to serving the public as judges and magistrates, prosecutors, elected officials, executives and attorneys with government and non-profit organizations, and attorneys for indigent clients.

Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. '60

Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Nashville, Tennessee
Gilbert S. Merritt Jr.

In December 2000, with the presidency hanging in limbo and the case of Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court, a New York Times story revealed that the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas was working for a conservative research group, gathering resumes to present to the Bush transition team. Contacted at his home in Nashville by reporter Christopher Marquis for a comment, Judge Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals saw such "a serious conflict of interest" in Virginia Lamp Thomas' work at the Heritage Foundation that he told Marquis he thought Justice Thomas should recuse himself to prevent any violation of federal law under Section 455 of Title 28 of the United States Code, "Disqualification of Justices, Judges or Magistrates." The section requires that court officers excuse themselves if a spouse has "an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding."

With the stakes so high, Judge Merritt believed that any hint of impropriety in the Court's controversial 5-4 decision to block a manual recount of votes in Florida should be avoided. However, Justice Thomas, who was in the majority, declined to recuse himself, and Mrs. Thomas assured the reporter, "We don't talk about Supreme Court business." Judge Merritt had been appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in 1966 thanks in part to Senator Albert Gore Sr., and his longstanding friendship with the Gore family was well-known. He had his own sense of propriety, and he declined to launch a formal complaint.

Judge Merritt's comments and actions in the aftermath of one of the most high-stakes court cases in recent history are now a minor footnote in the story of the closely contested election. However, they illuminate two traits that have made him one of the most respected and influential appellate judges in the country during the 32 years he has served on the Sixth Circuit Court. He expects judges and attorneys to adhere to the same high ethical standards he demands of himself. And his opinions are expressed in plain, forthright language that delivers his intellectually sophisticated analysis with the blunt force of a truncheon. "The majority opinion slants and misconceives relevant facts and law in this case on each of the three major issues in order to uphold the death penalty," he wrote in a scathing dissent of a recent Sixth Circuit decision to deny the death penalty appeal of Gaile K. Owens. "I will try to straighten out the case for the reader by introducing the actual facts and the correct legal principles to be applied. This is not a close case."

His arguments are respected by legal scholars because they display an encyclopedic knowledge of federal law as well as a clear sense of the importance of the appellate court's responsibility to interpret it on behalf of the people involved in each legal case. Having chided his colleagues for "the problem of guidelineism, or 'guidelinitis,' the inability of most federal courts to break their habit of mechanically relying just on the guidelines alone," in a 2008 dissent of U.S. v. Sexton, Judge Merritt amplified that assessment in another pointed criticism leveled in a different 2008 dissent in a "three strikes" sentencing case, U.S. v. Pruitt: "My colleagues' opinion... advances no sentencing purpose, calls on no principle or policy of sentencing, never mentions rehabilitation, deterrence, 'no greater punishment than necessary' (a version of the rule of lenity), or any other guidepost set out by Congress in 18 U.S.C. § 3553. For two minor and remote marijuana convictions, Pruitt may receive the 'career criminal' designation and a disproportionate sentence comparable to the sentence he would receive if his two prior convictions were instead for rape or robbery. The defendant here is not an abstraction or a legalistic category. He is a real-life person addicted to drugs, guilty of growing marijuana plants at his house—where he also had three firearms like the 'Arms' the Supreme Court recently held 'the people have the right to keep and bear' under the Second Amendment. For this terrible crime, and his other two prior minor offenses, we are sending the case back for another sentencing hearing for the district court to make an unknowable calculation based on facts outside the record of this or any record we can judicially notice. Even if such a calculation could be made, the Supreme Court has told us we may not go so far afield."

In 32 years on the bench, including 12 as Chief Judge, Judge Merritt has lost neither his sense of justice nor his sense of outrage when he believes justice hasn't been served by a Sixth Circuit decision. And if his opinions sound instructive, that may be because the judge started his career as a law professor at Vanderbilt immediately after graduating in 1960 and has been teaching on and off as a member of the law school's adjunct faculty ever since.

After a year on Vanderbilt's faculty, Judge Merritt earned an LL.M. at Harvard, where he focused on local government and indulged an interest in legal history. When he returned to Nashville, he spent three years as a lawyer for the newly merged Metropolitan Nashville government before being appointed U.S. Attorney in 1966. He entered private practice in 1969. "I was interested in the federal judiciary at the time, but I didn't focus on it, because I didn't think President Nixon would appoint me," he says. "And I wanted to become a federal judge because you're appointed for life on good behavior so you can make unpopular decisions. My great-grandfather had been a state judge, and he was defeated after he made an unpopular decision."

In 1977, one of Merritt's mentors, Judge William E. Miller, died. President Jimmy Carter appointed Merritt to take Miller's seat on the Sixth Circuit Court, and he has served there ever since. Although Judge Merritt assumed senior status in 2001, he continues to work 50 to 60 percent of the time. He estimates he's decided between 10,000 and 12,000 cases over the course of his career, and he has found the enormous variety of legal issues as well as the continual intellectual challenges extremely rewarding. "I don't think you can find any more interesting work to do than public service, especially in the judiciary," he says. "The system of judicial review our founding fathers set up is being imitated all over the world. They don't imitate our congress or executive branch because they usually create a parliamentary form of government, but they do imitate the pattern we've set up for the judiciary."

During his lengthy tenure, Judge Merritt has watched the judicial appointment process become increasingly politicized. "Beginning in the 1980s, litmus tests for the federal judiciary have been significant in influencing appointments," he says. "Politics has always been an element in judicial appointments, but I don't know if the process has ever been more partisan than it is now."

After Saddam Hussein's government was toppled in Iraq, Senior Judge Merritt was asked to assess the Iraqi judicial system and spent several months traveling in Iraq. "The Iraqi judiciary actually worked a lot better than I would ever have believed," he says. "The system had originally been set up by the British after World War I. Saddam left this system intact, but he set up a parallel system. If he was worried about the outcome in a case, he'd bypass the judiciary by moving it to his kangaroo system. He did try to influence the regular judiciary, and while they were not immune from influence, they resisted much more than I would have thought." As an example, he tells the story of "the most courageous judge I've ever met," Judge Dara Nor al-Din, now Iraq's minister of justice under Prime Minister Malaki. "He was a Kurd; his grandfather had been governor of two provinces in Kurdistan under the Ottoman Empire," Judge Merritt says, his admiration apparent. "Saddam would confiscate people's property and use it to build a big mosque or palace. A lawsuit was brought, and Judge Dara declared the confiscations to be invalid. Saddam's representatives pressured him to relent; he refused. This man thinks that justice is so sacred he was willing to run the risk of being killed. He has a wife and sons. He was tried in one of Saddam's courts on a trumped-up charge and imprisoned in Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to several years, but he was released right before the U.S. invasion. He served as my advisor in Iraq."

"The American judiciary has never had to undergo that kind of test," Judge Merritt says. "If we did, I wonder how we would do. We've already moved away from the kind of Supreme Court that revolutionized civil rights law. I rather doubt the Supreme Court sitting today would decide Brown v. Board of Education the same way."

Honored in 2003 with the American Inns of Court's Professionalism Award, Judge Merritt was praised for his numerous leadership and mentoring roles as well as "his incisive analysis of cases, his quick focus on the central issues, his direct and probing questions at oral argument and his insistence that both the reasoning and the outcome of judicial decisions make understandable sense." In 2009, his fellow judges, his clerks, and attorneys who argue cases before the Sixth Circuit are grateful that Judge Merritt continues to devote his intelligence, energies, judgment, wit and good humor to the development of the jurisprudence in American courts.

Ashley Wiltshire '72

Executive Director, Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands (retired)
Nashville, Tennessee
Ashley Wiltshire (foreground) with former Legal Aid colleagues

Ashley Wiltshire (foreground) with former Legal Aid colleagues

Ashley Wiltshire and the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands grew up together. During the spring of his first year of law school in 1970, Wiltshire's search for a public interest legal job had stalled; applications to a couple of non-profit organizations in Appalachia had yet to yield a response. On a whim, Wiltshire went downtown to apply for a job at the fledgling Legal Aid office, a small operation in the Stahlman Building that had been open for less than two years. Not only was Wiltshire hired, "It was a paying job!" he says.

Wiltshire found himself in good company. "In those days, Legal Aid served as the practice clinic for Vanderbilt," he recalls. "There were other paid part-timers and lots of volunteers. We were excited, idealistic, disorganized and entirely unfocused. Clients wandered in with no appointments. It was wide open." When Wiltshire's classmate, Walter Kurtz '72, became executive director in 1974, 18 months after graduating from law school, he "brought the organization some badly needed stability and leadership," Wiltshire says.

Wiltshire brought his own large measure of stability to Legal Aid during the 31 years he headed the organization after succeeding Kurtz as executive director in 1976. He and a small, committed cadre of lawyers, including Vanderbilt Law alumni Russ Overby '74, David Kozlowski '74, David Tarpley '71, Lenny Croce '73 and the late Drake Holliday '76, devoted their careers to a mission they all cherished: providing essential legal services to indigent clients who would otherwise have no access to the assistance of a lawyer. "The thing that prevented burnout was that that we had a critical mass of people who were committed to Legal Aid," Wiltshire says. "We got each other through the rough patches."

As executive director, Wiltshire managed Legal Aid's evolution from a small one-county operation to a network of eight law offices and 85 employees that serves 48 Tennessee counties. Legal Aid's 30 attorneys, whose efforts are supplemented by paralegals, specialize in addressing the myriad issues that affect the desperately poor: housing, access to public health and educational benefits, elder care and protection, disability, family law and domestic violence, personal bankruptcy, consumer protection and taxes.

Although Wiltshire retired in 2007, he left as one legacy his sense of mission for providing free legal assistance to people who can't afford it. In fact, Wiltshire was actually called away from the ministry to study law in 1969. Three years before that he had traveled with a group from Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he had been studying, to a rural Georgia county to spend a summer working on a civil rights project. While there, he was impressed by the work of a local attorney, C.B. King. "He and the three law students working with him were getting a lot more done than we were," Wiltshire observed. Wiltshire left Union, and after a stint of teaching in Thailand, chose Vanderbilt for law school. His wife, classics scholar Susan Ford Wiltshire, joined the faculty at Fisk University when the couple moved to Nashville in 1969; she later moved to Vanderbilt, where she taught until retiring in 2007. Their daughter, Carrie Wiltshire McCutcheon '05, is an associate at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz.

As Legal Aid's executive director, much of Wiltshire's time and effort focused on administration and fundraising. The challenge of supporting Legal Aid's expanding array of programs and extending its limited resources to meet an increasing array of client needs became particularly acute in the early 1980s when there was an effort by opponents to eliminate federal funding for legal services. Wiltshire noted, "We took a big hit in funding as a result, but it was also a wakeup call, and we realized we had to broaden our support base." Wiltshire worked with local governments and bar associations over several years to build a solid base of support for Legal Aid. The organization's funding now comes from more than 30 different sources, including the Tennessee Bar Foundation IOLTA Program, local United Ways, local governments, and foundation grants, as well as the federal Legal Services Corporation. In 1987, under the leadership of Charlie Warfield '49, the Legal Aid Society began a local fundraising campaign that has grown to become one of the most outstanding legal aid campaigns in the country. Warfield continues to serve on the Executive Committee of the Legal Aid board.

The scope of issues Legal Aid addresses increased dramatically during Wiltshire's tenure, a natural evolution he believes will continue. "No one talked about domestic violence or access to health care in the 1970s," he says. "Those issues now account for a lot of the caseload." The organization currently serves about 7,000 people a year, but more than 360,000 meet the eligibility requirements for services in the counties it serves. As a result of the economic recession, the requests for help have increased by 83 per cent this year. "The need is great, but for the sake of our social fabric, we must meet it," Wiltshire observed, "and while we ask the whole community to support the effort, in the end it depends on lawyers giving pro bono time or dedicating their careers to make it happen."

Leonard Lance '77

United States Congressman
Seventh District - New Jersey
Leonard Lance

As a freshman congressman from New Jersey, Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ) is one of the more seasoned newcomers to Congress. He's hardly a newcomer to politics. Before being elected to represent New Jersey's 7th District in November 2008, Congressman Lance had served in the New Jersey State Senate for seven years, four as majority leader, and for 11 years prior to that in the state's General Assembly, where he chaired the budget committee. During that time, he watched with growing anger as the state's governors and other officials dodged voter approval of the state's burgeoning debt load by shifting state borrowing to various state agencies.

A committed advocate of fiscal responsibility, Lance made headlines when, as a state senator, he wrote and convinced New Jersey voters to pass the "Lance Amendment" to the state constitution, which requires that all borrowing by New Jersey be approved in advance by voters. Lance approached the state's citizens with a simple, effective case for his amendment: While New Jersey ranked eleventh of the 50 states in terms of population, it ranked third in terms of debt. "New Jersey has more than $30 billion of bonded debt that voters did not approve, but must pay back," Lance told voters in a succinct video explaining his amendment's purpose. "If we had not issued tremendous amounts of debt over the last decade without voter approval, New Jersey's fiscal situation would be much better off." After taking office, Lance was appointed to the powerful House Finance Services Committee, where he now serves on subcommittees addressing Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit and Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology.

Lance's longstanding record as a smart and honest fiscal conservative who formed his own carefully considered opinions about issues garnered him the coveted endorsement of the New York Times in a closely contested election for a seat vacated by an outgoing incumbent. "Mr. Lance has a fine record in the State Senate, where as Republican leader he won praise from both parties for his fiscal conservatism and his thoughtful views on social issues," the Times endorsement read. "[His] leadership qualities and his voice of moderation are needed now in Congress and in the Republican Party."

His stance on environmental issues presented the Sierra Club with an unusual dilemma: Both Lance and his opponent held policy positions the organization supported. As a state senator, Lance had passed legislation requiring New Jersey to set aside funds for open space preservation. Congressman Lance was one of eight House Republicans to support the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which establishes a cap-and-trade plan to address greenhouse gases. Lance was also the prime sponsor of legislation funding the New Jersey Cultural Trust; he has served on the New Jersey Council on the Humanities and as a trustee for several state cultural institutions.

Until winning his congressional seat, Lance served in state offices while practicing law with his twin brother at a firm founded by their father. During the 1980s, he was an assistant counsel to Governor Thomas Kean. When he won his seat in New Jersey's General Assembly in 1991, Lance became the third generation of his family to hold state office; his great-uncle and father had both served in New Jersey's State Legislature.

Lance prepared for a career in public service by earning a master's degree in public policy at Princeton in addition to his law degree. "I've always been interested in public policy at the state level and also at the national and international levels," he says. "I decided to run for Congress in 2008 because this is a critical time in history. We're dealing with a global financial crisis, extremely important issues regarding healthcare and the environment, and international issues, such as troop levels in Afghanistan. The district I represent is a suburban New York district; the people are among the most highly educated in the nation. We're the 'medicine chest' of the world, and many residents here work in the financial sector." They included Lance's wife, Heidi Rohrbach '77, whom he met when they were classmates at Vanderbilt. Rohrbach spent her career as a corporate attorney in the financial services industry; she served as assistant general counsel with JPMorganChase. "I remember Vanderbilt with great fondness," Lance says, citing Dean John Wade's torts class and Professor Jim Ely's "marvelous new book about the Fuller Court." While learning the intricacies of contracts law from Professor Paul Hartman, Lance recalls, "I was aware that I was in the presence of greatness."

As a member of the House, Lance sees his primary mission as promoting fiscal responsibility. "I'm concerned that our deficit spending will have a long-term harmful effect," he says. "Other countries are purchasing our debt. I'm under no illusion that we can balance the federal budget this year, but I would like to have a glide path back to a balanced federal budget."

Greg Abbott '84

Texas State Attorney General
Austin, Texas
Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott spent a great deal of time in the media spotlight after a caller who identified herself as a 16-year-old girl contacted a women's shelter in Schleicher County, Texas. The caller reported that she and other young girls living on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound in the rural county operated by a religious sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were being forced into polygamous marriages with older men. Investigators from the Texas Rangers and the state's Child Protective Services department obtained permission to visit the ranch, where they observed evidence of physical and sexual abuse of young girls. After county officials asked the state Attorney General's office to get involved, Abbott's staff began criminal investigations against several men living at the ranch. Twelve were ultimately indicted on charges that included child sexual abuse, bigamy and other crimes.

Although investigators were unable to find the girl whose call alerted authorities, and questions arose about who had called authorities, Abbott stood firm in supporting Texas law enforcement officials and pursuing criminal indictments against members of the sect. "Legally, the case didn't hinge upon who made the call," Abbott said. "Investigators received permission to visit the compound, and during that visit when they determined there was possible wrongdoing, the criminal case became a separate matter." On November 5, 2009, Abbott's prosecution team won their first case. A jury convicted Raymond Jessop of sexual assault for impregnating a 15-year-old "spiritual wife." DNA evidence played a key role in the conviction.

Abbott has served as the state's attorney general for seven years, and he has earned a reputation for active pursuit of all types of criminal activity while also heading what amounts to the largest civil law firm in Texas. Soon after taking office in 2002, Abbott established a Cyber Crimes Unit to identify and arrest pedophiles who prey on children via the Internet. He also set up a state-wide Fugitive Unit that tracks paroled child sex offenders. "We now get a daily report that identifies anyone previously convicted of a sex crime as soon as they violate parole," Abbott says. "These offenders are already a proven danger, and they're a high risk."

Abbott has also expanded the state's Medicaid Fraud Unit, which addresses elder abuse and financial fraud, and extended his department's focus on consumer protection. In 2005, under Abbott's direction, Texas became the first state to sue Sony BMG on behalf of consumers for integrating illegal spyware into music CDs it sold. In another high-profile 2005 case, Abbott argued successfully before the Supreme Court that a monument with the Ten Commandments engraved on it was not unconstitutional and should be allowed to remain on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

Abbott has spent much of his career in public service, despite an unanticipated setback he experienced the summer after he completed law school in 1984. A native Texan, Abbott accepted a job with a law firm in Houston, where he and his wife Cecelia moved after he graduated from law school. Only two months later, Abbott was jogging in his neighborhood when he became the victim of a freak accident. He was hit by a falling tree, sustaining a spinal injury that left him partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound at age 26.

Undeterred by this setback, Abbott quickly earned a reputation as a smart and capable litigator. After he was elected state trial judge in Houston's 129th District Court in 1993, his high ratings attracted the attention of then-Governor George W. Bush, who appointed Abbott to fill a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court. Abbott twice ran successfully for his Supreme Court seat before resigning to seek the Attorney General's position in 2001. He has served as Texas' Attorney General since 2002, overseeing an organization that includes more than 800 attorneys and 4,000 employees throughout the state. In addition to preventing crime and criminal prosecutions, he oversees the state's consumer protection division and a child support enforcement unit. "Although we handle criminal prosecutions for the state, most of the work we do is on the civil side," he says.

Despite the fact that he must run for reelection every four years, Abbott relishes the hard work of helping his state adapt as new technologies create new avenues for crime. Technology has also opened new avenues for prosecutors. For example, by using DNA test results, Abbott's staff recently solved a case known as the KFC Murders that had been cold for 20 years. "It was a brutal murder that had never been solved," he says. "Even after 20 years, the victims' families are grateful to have an answer."

Abbott lives in Austin with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. He looks back fondly on his time at Vanderbilt. "At that time, I was completely focused on going into private practice," he says. "I would have been surprised to look ahead 25 years and find myself doing this job. But I have relished the prosecutorial and administrative challenges."

Major Coretta Gray '01

Government Appellate Counsel
Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.
Major Coretta Gray

Major Coretta Gray has been on the fast track all of her life. One of only a few students who started Vanderbilt Law School before their twentieth birthday, Gray had earned her undergraduate degree summa cum laude at Tuskegee University in just two years while serving in the Air Force ROTC. As a law student, she placed first in the 1999-2000 Moot Court competition, earning the Cortner Award, and then received the Dodson Moot Court Staff Award for Outstanding Service during her third year at Vanderbilt.

"I love my job," Major Gray, who grew up in a military family, told an audience of students after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held a session at Vanderbilt in which she presented oral argument on behalf of the government in United States v. Durbin on November 3. She cites two aspects of military legal practice she finds compelling: "You have an opportunity to do substantive legal work from the beginning," she says, "and you get a broad range of experience in a relatively short time."

During her eight years of service, Gray has served as a Military Justice Attorney, a Claims Officer and as Chief of Legal Assistance for the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, and as Area Defense Counsel, an independent office also based at Sheppard. "When you serve as Area Defense Counsel, you don't report to the base commander, which ensures that the command structure doesn't prevent clients from receiving a vigorous defense," she explains. She recalls one case where she was able to help a airman who might otherwise have received a bad conduct discharge remain in the Air Force. "My client had been present at a fight off base that left a civilian badly injured, and he had lied about it to protect another airman," she says. "But he was a good kid, and he truly wanted to stay in the Air Force. He had made a mistake, but I didn't want to see it cost him a career. I was able to help him apply for the Return to Duty program, a very rigorous reboot camp, and he was accepted. I was really happy when he succeeded and returned to active duty."

Gray is currently serving as Appellate Government Counsel for the Air Force's Government Trial and Appellate Counsel Division based at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where her caseload focuses on courts-martial. "I'm doing only appellate work—briefs and oral arguments—but we also advise trial counsel and commanders in the field," she says. "One great thing about being a military lawyer is that you don't have to specialize right away like you do in private practice. If you don't like to do torts or claims or discharges, no matter—in a few months, you'll be rotated. As a law student, I knew I wanted to be in the courtroom. Now, eight years later, I'm arguing appeals."

Justin P. Wilson '70

Comptroller of the Tennessee State Treasury
Nashville, Tennessee
Justin P. Wilson

On January 15, 2009, Justin P. Wilson made history by becoming Tennessee's first Republican Comptroller of the Treasury. However, Wilson has had no time to reflect on the historic import of his election by a legislature in which Republicans are the majority for the first time since Reconstruction. During his first month on the job, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided states with federal funds to help address the fallout from the country's deepening economic crisis. In less than a month, Wilson had to get up to speed on the scope of the Comptroller's Office's responsibilities and operations while preparing his staff to take on the additional workload of administering Tennessee's Recovery Act funds, which came with a complex set of accounting, reporting and transparency requirements.

Wilson's rapid trajectory into public service wasn't unprecedented. He had taken a seven-year leave from his partnership at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis starting in 1996, after 20 years in corporate practice, to serve as former Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist's chief policy advisor. Wilson has also served on the Environmental Protection Agency's Financial Advisory Board and is noted for his expertise in environmental and financial law and policy. However, he readily acknowledges that his job as Comptroller is more difficult, challenging and fast-paced than his former policy positions. "I approve or disapprove approximately $50 million of contracts every day," he said. "As a lawyer, I had the luxury of spending a much longer time analyzing issues. As Comptroller, every day presents a challenge or crisis, and I have to make big decisions on the spot. Quite frankly, every morning when I get to the office, I do not know what's going to happen that day."

The Comptroller's Office approves all major contracts, issues bonds, and manages state and municipal debt. The state auditors who monitor city and county budgets and contracts to ensure compliance with state and federal requirements and to detect fraud and abuse also fall under the Comptroller. When a former city clerk was indicted in November after state auditors discovered that she had embezzled more than $96,000 over a two-and-a-half year period, Wilson was glad to see the story make headlines. "It's disappointing that fraud, waste and abuse sometimes occur in government, but our auditors are trained to spot it when it happens," he said. "I hope cases such as this one will serve as a deterrent to anyone who might consider improperly using public money for private gain."

Wilson's background in corporate law and finance enabled him to work quickly and effectively with city and county governments throughout Tennessee to deal with seemingly insurmountable debt challenges in the wake of the fall 2008 economic collapse. "We've been very aggressive in helping local communities address their debt issues," he said. "Many had substantial difficulties with derivatives."

After a number of cities and counties ran into financial trouble after using swaps and other derivative transactions to lower interest rates on their bond debt, Wilson became concerned that they had entered into these transactions without fully understanding the risks involved. He moved quickly to develop a set of proposed changes to the guidelines governing such transactions. "Not only were cities and counties entering into interest rate swaps and other exotic financial transactions that local officials didn't understand, but the same person often represented both sides in these transactions," he said. Wilson's guidelines, which have been approved by the state's Funding Board, are aimed at eliminating such blatant conflicts of interest. They also require comprehensive disclosure of fees paid by local governments and greater transparency in the way information about such transactions is reported. "Our goal is not to prohibit cities and counties from entering into swaps, forward purchase agreements or similar transactions," he said. "We want to make sure officials in these cities and counties really understand what they're doing—and that the taxpayers who live in these cities and counties know what risks are being undertaken and what fees are being paid on their behalf."

Wilson, who teaches on Vanderbilt's adjunct law faculty, earned his law degree in 1970 after earning his undergraduate degree at Stanford. He accepted the demanding job of state comptroller at an age when many people are contemplating retirement. "I took this job because of the challenge and because I knew I could make a difference here," he said. "The Comptroller's Office is here to ensure that state and local governments use public funds in the right way and to help them gain access to the resources they need to run their communities. It's exciting to come to work and know that almost every day, I'll have an opportunity to help solve a problem."

Cornelia A. Clark '79

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice
Nashville, Tennessee
Cornelia A. Clark

By the time Justice Cornelia A. (Connie) Clark was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2005, women were no longer a rarity on state or federal appellate courts. However, that change has taken place over the 30 years since Justice Clark earned her law degree in 1979.

Justice Clark discussed the history of women in the judiciary on October 19, when she delivered the 2009 Florrie Wilkes Sanders Lecture at Vanderbilt Law School.

Her own career offers a case study of a system that has only recently opened to women. Justice Clark, who had attracted favorable attention for serving as Franklin City Attorney and Williamson County School Board Attorney, was appointed District Judge for the 21st Judicial District by Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter in 1989. She assumed the bench as a respected community leader after more than ten years in private practice as a partner with Farris Warfield & Kanaday (now Stites & Harbison). She was re-elected to the circuit judgeship twice before accepting a position as chief administrative officer of the state court system in 1999. When she was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court by Governor Phil Bredesen in 2005, she found that serving as administrative director of the courts had been "the ideal preparation. I knew every single person in the system and had already developed good legislative relationships," she says, noting proudly that women on the Tennessee Supreme Court now outnumber men three to two.

Justice Clark earned her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt and a master's in teaching from Harvard University; she also spent four years in Atlanta teaching history and government before returning to Vanderbilt for law school. Her positive encounters with lawyers as a volunteer working with elections sparked her decision to earn a law degree. As a practicing attorney and judge, she has continued to teach, first as a member of Vanderbilt's adjunct law faculty and now on the faculty of the American Institute for Justice.

Her career includes some significant firsts. Justice Clark was the first woman to chair the Tennessee Bar Foundation, and she now chairs the Tennessee Judicial Council. However, she counts herself among many women law graduates in the 1970s who were inspired by the trailblazing accomplishments of Senior Judge Martha Craig "Cissy" Daughtrey '68 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In this excerpt from Justice Clark's Sanders lecture, she describes an experience early in her service on Tennessee's 21st Judicial Circuit that impressed her with the responsibility she carried as one of Tennessee's first female circuit court judges:

Women in the judiciary make a difference in how other people perceive the fairness and efficacy of our judicial system just by being there.

The first time I became aware of the impact of that difference was soon after I was appointed trial judge in 1989. I was holding court in a rural county south of Nashville, where there had never previously been a female judge and where only one female attorney regularly practiced. During the week in question, I presided over jury selection and ultimately over a jury trial involving very contentious neighbors.

One woman who had been called for jury duty was extremely unwilling to serve. During her voir dire questioning, she became difficult to deal with and gave clearly improper responses to questions. She was obviously doing everything in her power to be kicked off the jury panel. Ultimately she was not seated on the jury panel. But to satisfy her service, I required her to sit in the audience all day as I tried the case, watching the proceedings in which she did not wish to take part. That decision did not make her happy; she remained difficult to deal with all day. When she left the courthouse late that afternoon, I was certain I had made an enemy for life.

The next day the remaining members of the jury panel, who had not yet been picked to serve on a jury, returned to the courthouse for selection in the next case. Just after court opened at 9 a.m., I saw this woman slip into the back of the room. With her was a young girl, whom I took to be her daughter.

Knowing what a bad experience the woman had had the previous day, and how many appointments she had claimed to have had to prevent her from serving during the week, I was very curious about what brought her back to the courthouse. When we took the morning break, I could not help myself; I called her to the bench and, outside the hearing of anyone else in the room, acknowledged our differences of the day before and asked her why she had returned.

Her answer shook me to the core. She said, simply, "Although I didn't like what you made me do yesterday, while I was watching you, I realized you did a pretty good job of handling those [male] lawyers who kept fussing with each other all day long. I decided I wanted my daughter to see that women can be in charge of things like that, too. I want her to know she can be anything she wants to be, and seeing you will help her understand that."

There it was in the simplest fashion imaginable—the recognition that people identify more specifically with those who are like them and have more confidence in a system, whatever it is, if it includes people like them in leadership roles.

People often ask women members of our Court how things are different now than they were when there were no women, or fewer women. Each of us must answer from a different point of view. Tennessee's current Chief Justice, Janice Holder, served the first nine years of her tenure on a court that had no other women. My own experience on the Court is different; I was never the "only" woman serving.

It seems to me that, in dealing with the five male colleagues and two female colleagues with whom I have interacted over the last four years, I sometimes can observe differences in how questions are posed to attorneys during oral argument, the "tone" in which dissents are written, the way in which discussions proceed on sensitive and potentially divisive administrative matters with which we deal, the ways in which we discuss administrative assignments, and our decisions about discipline to be imposed upon lawyers for ethical violations.

There are simply differences in how each of us approaches the matters with which we deal. I am not sure that gender is the defining characteristic in each decision. But I am certain that the diversity we bring to each decision ensures a full and free discussion and enhances the probability that the decisions we make provide not only actual due process and fairness, but the appearance of those attributes as well.

It is my perception that the Tennessee Supreme Court of 2009 tries hard to be collaborative rather than competitive, and wants unanimously to create more effective access to justice for all persons, not merely those with the economic, intellectual and temperamental resources to persevere their way through an increasingly complex, costly and time-consuming system. In 2008, all five members of our Court agreed that, for the foreseeable future, enhancing access to justice in its many forms would be our primary goal. We have created a commission and begun many initiatives designed to carry out our goal.

Our commission chair recently returned from an American Bar Association meeting and expressed amazement at Tennessee's current position on this issue compared to other states. According to her, Tennessee may be the only state addressing this issue where its entire Court has spoken with one voice about the importance of improving the quality of justice for all people who seek it. She wondered aloud if it were the gender makeup of our Court that enhanced our commitment to ensure justice for all persons, including those who are poor, uneducated, illegal, charged with heinous crimes, facing the loss of children, home or property.

I cannot say if she is correct. All five members of our Court are, in my judgment, equally committed to these principles. But I know that the discussions we had prior to making our decision to prioritize this issue would not have been as full or as productive if the experiences of my female colleagues, and perhaps myself, had not been included.

Jason Hutchison '07

Vice Consul, U.S. Embassy
Manila, Philippines
Jason Hutchison

As a vice consul in the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, Jason Ray Hutchison adjudicates visitor and immigrant visas. "I essentially function as an administrative law judge, examining applications to determine whether applicants are qualified for their visa class and whether they have any legal ineligibilities that would preclude their entry to the United States," he explains. "I also have opportunities to help on projects and events outside the Consular Section."

Earlier this year, Hutchison accompanied the U.S. Ambassador on a trip to the city of Zamboanga in the Philippines' restive south. More recently, he assisted with the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Before Hutchison's assignment to the Embassy in Manila, he held several other positions with the State Department, including a Presidential Management Fellowship. While a law student at Vanderbilt, Hutchison helped Kosovo prepare for its transition to an independent state, assisted the government of Laos in implementing its responsibilities under the U.S.-Lao Bilateral Trade Agreement, and served as liaison to several U.S. embassies in West Africa.

As a career Political Officer, his future assignments will revolve around diplomacy, building relationships with host governments, reporting on local developments, and representing U.S. interests abroad. "I started law school with the goal of joining the U.S. Foreign Service," he says. "The invaluable experiences and opportunities I had in Professor Michael Newton's International Law Practice Lab helped me achieve that goal."

Curt Welling '75

CEO, AmeriCares
Stamford, Connecticut
Curt Welling

As the chief executive of AmeriCares, a non-governmental international aid organization, Curt Welling oversees the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of medical supplies and services each year. Most of AmeriCares aid goes to poverty-stricken and war-torn pockets of the Third World, but AmeriCares now supports medical clinics in the U.S. that serve indigent patients because "the economic downturn has made the need for these clinics even greater."

In 2001, Welling retired from a successful career that included stints as investment banker with Credit Suisse First Boston and Bear Stearns and as CEO of SG Cowan Securities and Princeton eCom Corporation. He initially joked about improving his golf swing. The attack of September 11, 2001, "brought things into focus," reminding Welling of his interest in working with a non-profit. He joined AmeriCares as CEO in 2002.

AmeriCares depends on private contributions, which Welling helps raise, and he is particularly proud of the fact that just under two percent of the organization's funding supports overhead. "The rest goes straight into the field," he says. "Essentially everyone who works here could be making more money somewhere else. The reason I'm here is that I thought I could help this organization institutionally, so the organization could help more people. One of the ways I get satisfaction is to look back and realize we now have the capability to do something we couldn't do two years ago."

Stewart Walz '76

Assistant U.S. Attorney
Salt Lake City, Utah
Stewart Walz

Stewart Walz has spent most of his career prosecuting white-collar crime. Walz is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Utah, which has earned a dubious distinction as a hotbed of securities fraud.

Walz became interested in tax law and litigation during law school at Vanderbilt when he served a summer internship in the Internal Revenue Service's Office of the Chief Counsel. Hoping to gain litigation experience, he applied for a permanent job as an IRS attorney and requested an assignment in a smaller regional office in the West because he knew that "in a smaller office, I'd get to litigate cases." The IRS offered him a position at its office in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Walz spent the next four years handling a mix of administrative and criminal work.

In 1984, a local firm hired Walz to launch a tax practice. But days before he was to leave the IRS, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, with whom Walz had worked on a civil tax case, called him about an opening for an Assistant U.S. Attorney. The position was his dream job, and Walz abandoned his plan to go into private practice.

In the 29 years since, Walz has become a nationally known expert in securities fraud. In addition to prosecuting criminal cases, he teaches courses in the National Advocacy Center, a training academy for federal prosecutors, and has also developed video classes. Walz began to develop his expertise soon after joining the Attorney General's Utah office, when he was assigned to a team of prosecutors handling the complex Independent Clearing House Ponzi scheme, which ultimately resulted in five separate trials and 12 convictions. "Because so many Utahns share a common religion, people here are particularly vulnerable to 'affinity frauds,' which are often Ponzi schemes," Walz says. "People are often too trusting when they're approached about an investment scheme by someone they know through their church."

Cases prosecuted by Walz often dominate headlines in Utah papers because of the creative fraud schemes and the heavy losses fraud victims incur. In early 2009, he successfully prosecuted the husband-and-wife CEO and CFO of ClearOne Communications, a publicly traded company, for "channel stuffing," or reporting sales that haven't occurred for the purpose of falsely inflating the company's revenue reports. He was also in the news for securing the conviction of the publisher of "The Next Superstock," who accepted penny stocks from companies as undisclosed compensation for touting their prospects in his newsletter and on his television show. Another case he successfully prosecuted involved seven people, including lawyers and CPAs, who promoted a bogus offshore trust scheme.

Although securities fraud is his expertise, Walz has also prosecuted kidnapping and murder cases, including an unusual murder case involving two Navajo policemen. "Most murder cases are prosecuted by states," he says. "This case came to our office because it occurred on Navajo reservation lands, which fall under federal jurisdiction."

Walz began teaching at the Department of Justice more than 25 years ago. A Senior Litigation Counsel known for his expertise in the Federal Rules of Evidence, he is also one of a select cadre of senior litigators who serve as instructors for federal prosecutors. He took a two-year break from his work as a prosecutor to teach evidence, grand jury practice, trial practice and other subjects at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina, from 2004-06. "I taught my first course for the department in trial advocacy in 1982, and I started lecturing on evidence in 1989," he says. "The opportunity to teach has been one of the great aspects of this job."

Walz also uses his teaching skills on the ski slopes. A native of South Dakota, Walz learned to ski after moving to Salt Lake City in 1980. By the late 1980s, he was spending winter holidays and weekends as a ski instructor at Alta, a ski area near Salt Lake City.

In 2008, Walz was honored by the National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys with the Exceptional Service Award. He touts government service as an excellent way to gain immediate experience. "If you want to be a trial lawyer, join the U.S. Attorney's Office," he says. "You get immediate responsibility as a government attorney, and you try your own cases. It's really nice to be tasked with doing justice as opposed to simply arguing about who gets other people's money."

Barton Jones '71

General Counsel, Church Pension Group
New York City, New York
Barton Jones

More than a few of his colleagues were shocked when Barton Jones left his partnership at a high-powered corporate firm to work for a seemingly staid tax-exempt organization, the Church Pension Fund, at the height of his career. The Fund manages pension and insurance programs for Episcopal clergy, lay employees and churches; Jones was one of the world's foremost specialists in international transactions involving the purchase and financing of ships. The new job seemed an odd choice for a Manhattan lawyer who had honed his expertise in an unusual niche—transportation industry transactions—over 20 years as a partner with two major law firms. Jones' work, which involved structuring financing for the purchase of cruise and merchant ships, railcars and aircraft, took him around the globe on behalf of clients who included Citibank, Air France and Petroleos de Venezuela.

But Jones had found himself increasingly frustrated with difficulties of encouraging lawyers to work well together and mentor subordinates, a feeling exacerbated by a stint as a manager. "After my first taste of firm management, I moved to another firm, hoping the culture there would be more team-oriented," he recalls. The second firm administered a Myers Briggs personality test to its partners at a firm retreat, and Jones had an epiphany when he saw the result. "It turns out, in gross simplified terms, that 80 percent of lawyers are basically one type and 20 percent are another," Jones recalls. "I was among the 20 percent." Law firm culture, he realized, was unlikely to change.

He began to consider more personally rewarding options. The work he had enjoyed most was the volunteer board chair of Grace Church School, the private school his sons attended in Manhattan. "I joke that I got my M.B.A. at Grace Church School," he says. "I learned some valuable lessons about teamwork and management on that board. Money is not a primary motivator, especially in the non-profit world; focus on the mission and clients are key to energizing employees and volunteers. Meaningful work keeps employees in organizations where they'll earn less than they could elsewhere."

When the Church Pension Fund began a search for a new general counsel, a friend suggested that Jones consider the job. Jones was intrigued by the tax-exempt organization's mission, but dubious about his religious qualifications. "While I'm a 'cradle Episcopalian,'" he admits, "I stopped going to church as soon as I got to college." That concern faded when he discovered the Fund's staff mirrored New York's global range of backgrounds and beliefs. The Fund had been founded in 1914, after Episcopal Bishop William Lawrence led a campaign for a pension plan as he noted that many of the church's clergy had to rely on charity when they retired. Under his leadership, the Episcopal Church incorporated a fund to provide their clergy with secure retirement pensions. To help fund the clergy pensions, he had the Fund found the Church Hymnal Corporation on 1918 to publish the Episcopal Church's hymnal.

Known today as the Church Pension Group (CPG), the organization encompasses the pension fund, the publishing company, and affiliates that offer churches and clergy property and casualty insurance, risk management programs, life insurance and retirement savings programs, and employee benefits. Jones works closely with Davis Perkins, who holds a Ph.D. in religion from Vanderbilt and heads CPG's publishing company. "We deal with a very broad range of legal issues," Jones says.

Although Jones accepted a major cut in pay when he began, "I did not have to take a vow of poverty and have been reasonably compensated for my work" he says. Since joining CPG, he has expanded a legal department that started with "just me and my right-hand legal secretary" to four lawyers and six support staff. "We've been able to bring legal work in house to provide better service and save money," Jones says. "We also reached the point where we were doing more in-house because CPG's operations were so specialized and unique that an outside firm wouldn't have the business background about CPG to serve those needs as effectively."

Jones is mentoring one of his attorneys to become his successor when he retires. He was pleasantly surprised that he "could attract some very qualified professionals" to work at CPG even when they could earn more with a law firm. "I found our mission and culture to be an advantage in attracting others who were highly qualified to engage in this unique team-based legal practice," he says.

The aspect of his work Jones finds most rewarding is his role as a trusted legal counselor. "Here, I am far more what I expected to be when I graduated from law school—not a transaction specialist but a wise counselor," he says. "I have found solutions to everything from complex tax questions to thorny litigation and sexual misconduct cases. Our publishing company comes with a full set of intellectual property issues. This practice is very rewarding because of the variety, and because I have an opportunity to influence business decisions while they are being made. That fits with the legal education I got at Vanderbilt, where the goal was to produce lawyers who could think about issues and not only find answers, but figure out the right questions to ask."

While Jones had ancestral roots in the South, he had never been to Tennessee when he was recruited, as a senior at Williams College in 1968, to Vanderbilt Law School by then Admissions Dean John Beasley. He and his new wife were settling into a married student apartment and she was preparing to start work at the Methodist Publishing House when he received a notice of acceptance from Columbia Law School, near both their families. "We packed the car to go back," he recalls. "Then we got up the next morning and looked at each other, and said, 'We'll be happier staying here.'" Jones looks back on that as one of his best decisions. "Vanderbilt turned out to be just exactly the law school I wanted," he says. "I've always gotten along well in a smaller collegial environment, and the quality of the professors was every bit as good as at Williams. Vanderbilt has always had an excellent reputation among law firms in New York where I thought I might practice. And when I went to work for the Church Pension Fund, it was helpful that I had gone to Vanderbilt because I was exposed to a broad range of legal issues and people outside of New York and the Northeast.

"Not everyone is called to dedicate one's life to the priesthood," Jones continues. "Those who are called to that ministry need people with other skills to support them. I enjoy being one of those people."

Dawn Edwards '07

Staff Attorney, Atlanta Legal Aid
Cobb County, Georgia
Dawn Edwards

Dawn Edwards found out she had a job at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society on May 11, 2007, her Commencement day. "Most of my classmates had known who they were going to work for since early fall," she says. "One stressful aspect of public interest law is that organizations like Legal Aid don't hire a class each year or guarantee you a job nine months before you start. They hire a new attorney only when someone leaves or when they get funding for the position." Still Edwards, who has been interested in child advocacy law since she was a junior high student watching friends struggle because they lacked strong family support, had achieved her goal of returning home to Atlanta to practice public interest law.

As a staff attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid, Edwards represents indigent clients in a variety of civil issues, including employment, public benefits, housing, consumer protection, divorce, and bankruptcy. She interned with the organization during the summers between her 1L and 2L years, and joined its Cobb County general law office after graduation.

Since joining Legal Aid, Edwards has observed that the types of assistance clients need serves as an economic indicator. "The number of people seeking help with employment issues was increasing before the downturn last fall," she says, "and we started seeing more housing and bankruptcy clients before the problems with mortgage lending became public knowledge."

Cobb County's Legal Aid attorneys found themselves facing an unexpected challenge in fall 2009 after severe flooding left some county residents unexpectedly homeless and destitute, while others were struggling with insurance claims. Edwards views safe housing as one of the most important issues she addresses for clients. "People who are homeless find it almost impossible to resolve any of the other issues they face," she says. She has become particularly adept at helping clients retain their Section 8 housing benefit. "Section 8 housing is huge," Edwards says. "In my experience, if a client loses that Section 8 voucher, she isn't going to get it back. That's pushed me to work especially hard on those cases." Edwards has become the unofficial "housing expert" at her office; she has carefully cultivated relationships with staff at various housing agencies so she can troubleshoot for clients threatened with the loss of their benefit, as well as help those who qualify for the benefit navigate the system.

Edwards' observations of the ways in which public housing, unemployment and other systems fail her client base have whetted her appetite for public policy work. She is working on an M.B.A. both for the intellectual challenge and also for achieving her ultimate goal of managing a non-profit agency or advocacy group. "My office handles a high volume of divorce cases," she explains. "They're important, but they're not particularly challenging. I know we do make a difference, and that helps keep me motivated. Sometimes people I've only spent a short time with, advising them how to do something on their own or suggesting arguments they can make, will come back and say, 'You have no idea how much you helped me. You told me I could do it, and I did!'"

André Williams '92

City Councilman
Miami Gardens, Florida
André Williams

When André Williams was elected City Councilman in Miami Gardens, a middle-class community of 110,000 north of Miama, Florida, in 2006, the city was experiencing a boom in real estate sales and rising property values.

Less than a year later, the bottom dropped out of the real estate market throughout Florida in the wake of the global economic downturn. Williams suddenly found himself representing an enclave of panicked constituents in a city where the mortgage foreclosure rate reached 13 percent, the second highest in a state wracked by home foreclosures, and where the unemployment rate reached 16 percent.

"South Florida had a significant number of people who were cost-burdened with respect to housing even before the crisis," Williams says. "If a household is devoting more than 30 percent of its monthly income to housing, that's a household in crisis. In my district, an inordinate number of people are spending 30 to 50 percent of their monthly income for housing. These people are especially susceptible to economic downturns, and the loss of a family member's income can be catastrophic."

Realizing a massive wave of foreclosures would ultimately prove as disastrous for lenders as for the borrowers who stood in danger of losing their homes, Williams set out to develop what he termed a "foreclosure rescue plan" by working with lenders and borrowers. He organized foreclosure prevention clinics where lenders worked directly with borrowers to modify their loans in order to avoid foreclosure. "The crisis in Florida was based on a number of factors," he says. "Banks were not properly educating borrowers about the realities of some exotic loan packages. People got stars in their eyes and got in over their heads. They weren't able to make their house payments, and the foreclosures, coupled with increasing unemployment, sent the South Florida economy into an absolute tailspin."

By bringing lenders and borrowers together at the forums and clinics, Williams says, "We were creating an opportunity for residents to have direct contact with banks and address their troubled loans in hopes of pre-empting the foreclosure process. And the banks have every economic incentive to try to work with these borrowers. Banks sent representatives from their loan modification departments, and borrowers brought their documents. In many cases, bank representatives were able to provide more favorable terms."

Williams was uniquely suited to bring homeowners and lenders together to resolve the local foreclosure crisis. After earning his undergraduate degree at Harvard and his Vanderbilt Law degree, he practiced corporate law at Holland & Knight in Miami and then opened his own real estate law practice and real estate management and investment firm. He also owns a Liberty Tax franchise in Miami Gardens. "I have deep roots here," he says. "My parents are here; I grew up here. I always planned to return to my community to live and work."

As months passed, however, Williams was frustrated to discover that many mortgages that collapsed in Miami Gardens were prime mortgages held by people with good credit, and that some lenders were unwilling to work with borrowers and city officials to forestall foreclosures. He is now intent on requiring lenders who accepted federal bailout money to "step up to the plate" to help struggling homeowners work out more equitable repayment plans.

He recently attracted national attention by proposing a city ordinance that would penalize banks that fail to offer loan modifications to borrowers before they start foreclosure proceedings. "Initially, I had incredible support from all of the major banks and full participation," he says. "I found it very interesting that banks that were documented as the worst offenders in not modifying loans became less involved in our foreclosure clinics in the last few months. You can't imagine my disappointment when I saw the Treasury report showing the lack of success of national home loan initiatives. Banks would only modify 15 percent of the eligible loans nationwide. That number is unacceptable to me. We bailed them out to the tune of $700 billion! I expect a lot more from them, and we need to hold them accountable."

Williams recently announced his candidacy for Congress, representing Florida's District 17, where he hopes to do just that.

Sheila Jones Calloway '94

Magistrate, Juvenile Court
Nashville, Tennessee
Sheila Jones Calloway

As a magistrate in Nashville's Metro Juvenile Court, Sheila Jones Calloway both presides over and helps prevent heartbreak. Her docket includes child custody and support cases and domestic violence protection orders. In the past, she's handled juvenile delinquent and neglect cases.

Magistrate Calloway began her legal career as an Assistant Public Defender in 1994, right after earning her law degree, and she knows how big a difference the right kind of intervention at the right time can make. She found her experience in the Public Defender's office particularly helpful when, soon after joining the Juvenile Court as what was then called a referee, she handled the cases of two 16-year-old boys who faced the possibility of being tried as adults for taking part in an armed robbery. "These kids were good students at an academic magnet high school, and they were on their way to basketball practice," she recalls. "One of the boys had a cousin with a lengthy criminal record who asked if they'd give him and a couple of friends a ride somewhere on the way to practice. What the boys didn't know was that they were driving to a pawn shop that the cousin and his friends planned to rob. They were asked to wait outside."

The robbery attempt failed, and the pawn shop owner shot and killed one of the would-be robbers. "In that split second, the two boys in the car, who had never been in trouble before, were looking at being tried as adults for being accessories to armed robbery," Calloway says. "They were facing the possibility of being locked up for a long time. But they were both good students on track to go to college and good kids." Calloway was able to ensure the boys were tried as juveniles rather than adults and through a "creative sentencing" plan she designed, the boys were placed in the custody of the Department of Children Services and sentenced to probation, electronic monitoring, and community service. The cousin and his friends were tried as adults. "Both of these boys went on to college and are doing well," Calloway says.

Calloway has devoted her career to public service. Hired immediately after graduating from law school by Karl Dean, then Nashville's Public Defender, she spent 10 years defending adults and juveniles in criminal cases before becoming a magistrate. Calloway earned her undergraduate as well as her law degree at Vanderbilt. She developed an interest in criminal law while taking Don Hall's criminal law class and Sue Kay's criminal law clinic.

Calloway likes the fact that her work at Nashville's Juvenile Court allows her to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families, although she misses the more flexible schedule she had as a public defender. "I'm on the bench every day I work," she says. "I have to schedule vacations months in advance." But each evening when Calloway greets her son, Paul Butler Calloway III, "I don't struggle with bringing stress home with me as much as I did when I was working as a public defender. There, I felt tremendous pressure as an advocate to make sure I was presenting all of the evidence that could help my clients and following the evidentiary rules." She became a magistrate soon after Paul's birth; her husband, Paul Jr., works for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

Calloway acknowledges that her years of work as an Assistant Public Defender gave her a clear view of some inequities in the legal system. "When you're defending people who cannot afford to hire an attorney, it's easy to see that there's a system-wide disparity in the way people who are impoverished are treated," she says. "If you're caught with crack cocaine, you'll be sentenced to three to 15 years for possessing what amounts to less than a restaurant sugar package of your drug of choice, while sentences for other forms of cocaine, which happen to be those used by wealthier individuals, are more lenient. And once you have a felony conviction, it's harder to get a job and rent an apartment. A problem that started as a treatment need ends up as a cycle that's almost impossible to break out of."

Over the past year on the bench at Juvenile Court, Calloway has seen the immediate impact of the country's economic downturn on child support. "We have had an epidemic of people trying to modify their support payments or who just don't have the ability to pay," she says. "A lot of people end up on the wrong side of the legal system mainly because they're poor."

Victor S. Johnson III '74

District Attorney
Nashville, Tennessee
Victor S. Johnson III

Victor S. (Torry) Johnson III had a tough act to follow. His father, Victor S. Johnson Jr., had moved Aladdin Industries, a company founded by Victor S. Johnson Sr., to Nashville in the mid-1940s. By the time Torry Johnson started law school at Vanderbilt in 1971, his father was a respected Nashville businessman and a sought-after local employer. He was also a highly visible community leader known for the crucial role he had played in the consolidation of the Nashville and Davidson County governments during the early 1960s, as a former president of the Chamber of Commerce, and for his philanthropy.

Victor Johnson Jr. cast a long shadow. As a young man, Torry Johnson was drawn to the idea of public service, having grown up witnessing his father's positive impact in Nashville. However, as a first-year law student, Johnson recalls, "I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do."

Today, Torry Johnson casts his own long shadow. Except for a three-year hiatus in private practice—during which he found that he missed the courtroom and his role as a prosecutor—Johnson has spent his entire career in the District Attorney's office. For the past 22 years, he has served as Nashville's District Attorney. Under his direction, the D.A.'s office has developed special groups of prosecutors trained to deal exclusively with such crimes as child physical and sexual abuse, drunken driving, domestic violence and vehicular homicide. Johnson has also built a program started by his predecessor, first boss, and mentor, District Attorney Thomas H. Shriver, a Victim/Witness Program, into an effective staff mostly comprised of social workers dedicated to working with crime victims and witnesses to support cases. "Before Tom Shriver started that program, attorneys had to try to do that job along with trying the case," he says. "The system wasn't very friendly to victims, and most didn't understand anything about how it worked—for example, how someone accused of homicide could be released on bail until the trial date. The Victim/Witness staff makes the process less bewildering for victims and more comfortable for witnesses, and they really help our attorneys by freeing them to focus on casework."

Johnson became interested in working as a prosecutor after landing an unpaid internship in the D.A.'s office under Shriver after his first year of law school. "Every day was different," he says. "I was hooked. I knew that this was what I wanted to do." To prepare, Johnson took every criminal law class Vanderbilt offered. "Karl Warden was my criminal law professor, and I was one of Don Hall's early students," he says. "Both of them made the field really interesting."

After earning his law degree, Johnson served a year-long clerkship in a federal appeals court and then joined Shriver's staff as an Assistant District Attorney. "When I joined the department in the 1970s, there were just a few of us," he says. "Today, we have 60 attorneys and a total of about 125 employees. In fact, one of the few things that hasn't changed since then is our mission. As a prosecutor, you don't have an individual client. Your client is the state, and your mission is to try to do justice in every case. In some cases, your goal is to protect society from a dangerous criminal, and in others, you're trying to give someone another chance to turn their life around. Every case presents a challenge and that has always appealed to me."

Johnson's personal philanthropy has focused on a cause near and dear to his heart as District Attorney: providing resources for children who are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. He was instrumental in establishing the Nashville Children's Alliance in the early 1990s. The Alliance, a nonprofit organization that serves children who have suffered sexual or severe physical abuse, resolved an issue Johnson and his staff often confronted in dealing with crimes against children. Because different departments addressed child custody, health care and counseling, and children's involvement in the criminal proceedings, some efforts were duplicated, and some essential services were falling between the cracks. "We needed to offer a coordinated approach," he says. "These cases are hard enough on children without them having to deal with a lack of coordination among the various departments and services that are there to help them. The Alliance established a partnership among the Department of Children's Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the D.A.'s office, so all of the professionals responsible for detecting, investigating, prosecuting and treating child abuse could work together."

Johnson admits there's one aspect of his job he doesn't love: He must run for re-election every eight years. "It's the ultimate performance review," he says. "The thing I find uncomfortable about it is that you have to run affiliated with a political party, but the job is non-partisan," he says. "Our office deals with crime and punishment. We don't make the law; we carry it out."

However, Johnson's competence appears to have garnered a level of bipartisan support true politicians would envy. During his 22 years as D.A., he has run against only one opponent. That's fine with him. "I love being a prosecutor," he says. "I can't imagine a better career."

Charlie Trumbull '06

Legal Adviser, U.S. Embassy
Baghdad, Iraq
Charlie Trumbull

In January 2010, Charlie Trumbull will become the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, after serving for six months as Deputy Legal Adviser. "The Office of the Embassy Legal Adviser is the in-country representative of the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser, which is responsible for advising on all legal issues arising in the course of the department's work," he explains. "We essentially act as the in-house counsel for the Ambassador and the principal officers at the Embassy on domestic, international, and Iraqi law. We work on a wide range of legal issues, which is one of the more rewarding aspects of this job. On any given day, for example, we might advise on issues involving refugee law, diplomatic law, international humanitarian law or appropriations law."

After graduating in 2006, Trumbull clerked for the Honorable M. Blane Michael on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit during the 2006-07 term, and then spent three months as an intern with Judge Philippe Kirsch at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He then joined the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser, and was based in Washington, D.C., before his assignment to Baghdad. He will return to Washington in June 2010, when his one-year assignment ends.

Top of Page