Thursday, March 8, 2012

Morris Dees, Pathfinding Defender of Liberties, Will Address UM Law Students

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Morris Dees
  • Morris Dees
Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which in the 41 years of its existence has litigated against virtually every sort of denial of human rights, will speak Friday at the Alternative Spring Break, sponsored jointly by the Public Action Law Society and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

The ASB banquet featuring Dees as speaker will take place from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the UM Law School on Front Street downtown.

The following news release provides more details:

U of M Law Students Will Forgo Spring Break to Serve the Community

For the third year in a row, the Public Action Law Society (PALS) and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will sponsor Alternative Spring Break (ASB), an opportunity for law students from around the country to perform community service in lieu of vacationing. This year the event will be held March 5-9 at the Law School in Downtown Memphis.

Sixty-two law students from eight law schools, including 29 students from the University of Memphis, will participate in four service tracks. They will also attend a series of tutorials and presentations on “hot topics” in the law. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the University of Mississippi each will send eight students. Other schools participating are the University of Toledo, Valparaiso, Southern, Nova Southeastern, and George Washington University.

This year’s ASB banquet will feature Morris Dees as guest speaker. Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 1971 after a successful career in business and the law. Named one of America’s 100 most influential lawyers by the National Law Journal in 2006, Dees is known for his groundbreaking civil rights lawsuits that helped desegregate government and public institutions and for his innovative litigation that has crippled white supremacist hate groups. The SPLC promotes the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity through the use of education, litigation, and other forms of advocacy. One of its most noted projects is its “Teaching Tolerance” campaign.

Students in the Immigration Track will partner with the Community Legal Center to represent immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, who are victims of certain serious crimes and who have cooperated with authorities in the prosecution of the perpetrator. The law students will complete U-visa applications for them. Coordinated by U of M law students, who will staff this track during the week of March 5, the project will be joined by UT law students during the week of March 12 and Ole Miss law students during the week of March 19.

Law students have volunteered in record numbers because of poignant stories such as that of T. R., the victim of aggravated statutory rape, who was just 13 years old when she was stalked, intimidated, and lured into having sex by a “friend,” who was 24. T.R.’s family had come to Tennessee from Mexico in search of work. Her mother tried to explain to immigration authorities the trauma and pain of a parent whose daughter had been sexually abused. “This not only affected her directly, but the family as a whole,” she said. “The pain, the desperation, the suffering. To know that in that moment you do not have any way of comfort. It feels like somebody stabs your heart with a knife, and nobody can stop that pain.”

The purpose of a U-Visa is twofold: it enhances law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute crimes, and it furthers humanitarian interests by protecting victims of serious crimes. A U-visa will help give the T.R.’s family the comfort they need.

Students will also partner with community organizations to draft and secure sponsors for public interest legislation. Together with Operation Broken Silence, a Memphis organization dedicated to ending human trafficking at state, national, and international levels, they will draft a human trafficking bill to be introduced in the Tennessee Legislature. Another group of students, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Law School’s Mental Health Law Society, will draft a bill regarding post-civil commitment procedures for the mentally ill. A fourth group of students, in cooperation with Bank-On Memphis, will work on legislation to promote financial literacy and end predatory lending practices.

For the second year in a row, PALS will offer a Pro Se Divorce Track and an Advance Directives Track. Students will help pro se divorce litigants, couples who have no property or children, to file divorce documents and secure hearings on their petitions. They will be supervised by the Community Legal Center. Students will also travel to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior centers to draft health care directives, powers of attorney, and wills for seniors. Memphis Area Legal Services and the Memphis Bar Association will oversee this track.

Atina Rizk, president of PALS, said that Alternative Spring Break is motivated by the desire of many law students to make a difference in the world. “Students come to law school with high ideals and a strong public service ethic. ASB gives them the opportunity to put their ideals into action.”

Almost all expenses of ASB are paid by PALS through fundraising. A silent auction and lunch will be held at the Law School beginning at noon on February 23 to help defray costs. The public is invited.

Naifeh Says He Will Retire After End of Current Session

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Jimmy Naifeh, Speaker of the state House for 18 years
  • Jimmy Naifeh, Speaker of the state House for 18 years
Jimmy Naifeh, the Covington Democrat who served in the state House of Representatives for 38 years, a record 18 of those years as Speaker, will serve no more after this year. Naifeh, who lost the Speakership in 2009, following the GOP's attaining a majority, took the floor to announce his forthcoming retirement at the end of the current session. The longtime Speaker — feared by his enemies, revered by his allies, respected by all — won applause from members of both parties after he delivered himself of the following remarks:\

Madam Speaker, Members, I want to thank you for giving me a few minutes today to come to the well and make some remarks. I’ve served in this chamber for 38 years. That’s a long time, over half my adult life actually. This body, this institution is a part of me, it’s a part of my family and I will always have a special place in my heart for the men and women I’ve served with here over the last three decades. But as with every endeavor in life, that which has a beginning must also have an end. For me and my service in the legislature that end comes now. I am announcing today, to you and to the people of district 81, that I will not be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives this fall. Governor McWherter, my mentor, always told me I would know when it was time to go home and I know that time has come for me to step aside for the next generation of leaders.

I was elected to the legislature in 1974. Most people don’t know that I had run for this seat once before, in 1972. I actually lost that election by 13 votes. It sounds strange now, but I was actually the anti-establishment candidate back in those days. When the results came in, they were close enough that I could have requested a recount, but I didn’t. I didn’t do that because I knew that wasn’t what was best for the people of Tennessee. And it also taught me a valuable lesson; you can’t take any vote or any person for granted. When I finally got here two years later, I kept that lesson in mind. I think that’s why I have been blessed again and again to be returned to this house by the people of district 81. Regardless of our disagreements over matters of policy, I always believed that people mattered, that their opinions mattered and that they deserved a representative who would listen to their concerns.

When I got here, I knew that I wanted to move up into leadership or I was going to go home. That kind of restlessness I think comes from my days as an infantry officer. In the army, they teach you that everyone who has the ability lead has the responsibility to do so. In my second term, I was elected Floor Leader for the Democrats. Then I became Majority Leader and later had the privilege to serve as Speaker of this House for 18 years. I passed a lot of bills during my time here. Back in those days, the Majority Leader handled all the Governor’s bills. You didn’t hand them off and let anyone else run them, you did that yourself. It was, to say the least, a nightmare for both me as Leader and for my staff, but we passed some good bills.

Talking about staff, I want to say a word about how much the staff and members have meant to me over the years. The members were always my first priority as Speaker. Whether they were Democrat or Republican, I always saw myself as the Speaker of this body, not a particular party. Now I don’t think it was any secret where my party loyalties laid and I certainly played hardball a time or two, but I always maintained relationships with members on both sides of the aisle. This is a unique fraternity. Our families know each other, my two daughters who are here today, practically grew up here with people like Lois DeBerry and others as members of their extended family. We celebrate together, we mourn together and we work together to get the job done for Tennessee. Governor McWherter, who I think you all know was my mentor in politics and in life, used to tell Lamar Alexander that he wanted him to succeed because when he succeeded, Tennessee succeeded. I took that approach with my members. I wanted everyone in this body to be successful because they had earned the right to be here. When they succeeded, the men and women who sent them here were the ultimate winners.

And our staff, we are so fortunate to have a highly trained, professional staff here at the Tennessee General Assembly. As Speaker, I could hardly wait to get to my office and Reta and Burney could hardly wait for me to get there, as they would never know what I would be doing off schedule. I had a truly great staff with Reta, Burney, Doris, Bertha and of course my good friend Victor. When people talk and make jokes about state employees, I tell them that I would put our staff up against any Fortune 500 company. That is one of the things I am most proud of from my time as Speaker. We were able to build—from the attorney’s in legal, to fiscal review, to human resources, to legislative assistants—a capable and high-performing staff. Many of the people we hired over the years are still here, not because they do a good job for one political agenda or another, but because they work hard and do a good job for the people of Tennessee. I appreciate all the help they have given me over my years here in the legislature.

It’s hard to put 38 years of service into a few remarks, but I will leave you with this thought. It’s actually my favorite quote: Power and influence are only effective when used properly. Each and every one of you has been given an extraordinary amount of power by virtue of the office you hold. What you do with that power, whether it be for the good or for the bad, is entirely up to you. I hope you will remember that people matter, all people not just people from your caucus or your party, all people. Every person in this place got elected. They represent people and ideas that have validity, that deserve to be heard and accommodated. Remember that as you go forward. It has been my privilege to serve in this body, I will miss it enormously, but it is time to pass the torch and explore other options. I thank you for your time, Madam Speaker.

Among the responses to Rep. Naifeh’s announcement were the following two, each in their way typical:

Said state Senate Democratic caucus chair Lowe Finney of Jackson:

"Speaker Naifeh has served all Tennesseans for nearly 40 years with a fair hand, a strong will and an eye toward justice. An unparalleled advocate for children's rights, education and safety, Speaker Naifeh took to heart our charge to care for the most vulnerable among us.
"His presence and authority in the legislature will be missed, but we have no doubt that he will continue to embody these values as he sets an example for a new generation of Tennessee leaders."

And later in the day came this reaction from state Republican chairman Chris Devaney of Nashville:


"A chapter is ending in Tennessee political history with the announced retirement of former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. We wish him well in his future plans. As we look ahead, we will be working hard to elect a strong Republican to lead district 81 moving forward.”


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