Justice Robert Benham Community Service Awards

Professionalism Page
Avarita L. Hanson

Justice Robert Benham Community Service Awards

On Feb. 15, nearly 200 family members, friends and colleagues gathered in the auditorium of the State Bar to pay tribute to 10 special members of the profession. Two judges and eight attorneys were honored with the State Bar’s top honor for community and public service at the 12th annual Justice Robert Benham Awards for Community Service. They were honored because they have served a variety of organizations and causes outside their judicial duties and professional obligations.

Each honoree was featured in a short video and presented with a specially-designed crystal sculpture award handed out by co-emcees, Patrise Perkins- Hooker, selection committee chair, and Avarita L. Hanson, executive director of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism.

This year’s event included unique remarks from the founder of this awards program, Justice Robert Benham, who related his childhood experience of doing the right thing even when the choice to do so was a difficult one. Youths in attendance were seen listening attentively as Benham related his returning a good sum of money he found and thereby learning the importance of doing right even when it might hurt you. Introducing Benham in his own way, WXIA-TV Finance, Consumer and Legal Editor, William “Bill” Liss, shared his insights into the character and life of Benham. Justice David Nahmias followed with words of inspiration and motivation in giving the “charge to serve” to those assembled that evening.

The Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor for community service given by the State Bar of Georgia, went to George T. Brown Jr. Of Jonesboro, who has practiced and served in the community for more than 45 years. A legend in the Clayton County legal and greater community, Brown helped launch the Clayton County Mock Trial Competition in 1984 at Jonesboro High School and served as its attorney- coach until 1993. This competition became the model for the state of Georgia, spawning other high school mock trial competitions. He has been a leader in his church, Jonesboro First United Methodist Church, for 45 years and has served in leadership positions with the Arts Clayton Board of Directors, YMCA Board, Civitan Club and Jodeco Homeowners Association. A past president of the Clayton County Bar Association, he served on the committee that oversaw the county’s Indigent Defense Program.

The other nine honorees are highlighted below.

Hon. M. Anthony Baker, Juvenile Court Judge of Cherokee County, exemplifies the servantjudge in his native North Georgia Canton community. Baker serves as assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 124 in Holly Springs, as a judge of Cherokee County’s Avery Elementary Fifth Grade Class Mock Trial Program and with the Towne Lake Optimist Club’s annual Youth Oratorical Contest. He is an active member of the New Covenant Bible Church and serves on the board of the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame.

Eric A. Ballinger, principal with Ballinger & Associates in Canton, has demonstrated commitment to service in his community since starting to practice law. Attorney and church leader, Ballinger has been a dedicated member of the Cherokee County Historical Society, Cherokee County DUI Court and Canton Optimist Club. An Episcopal Priest, he has served in various capacities at the Good Shepherd Church, St. John’s Anglican Church and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Vivica M. Brown, a Stone Mountain resident and now interim Atlanta deputy city attorney, has given superb service to a variety of organizations that give a unique voice to special needs children and their families. A self-described “parent partner,” and engaged in education advocacy, she serves the DeKalb Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dream Maker’s Youth Foundation, Access and Resource Center of DeKalb County, Parent Leadership Institute of the National Association for the Education of African American Youth with Learning Disabilities and as a guardian ad litem with the Truancy Intervention Project.

D. Bradley Folsom, now practicing in Valdosta, has provided exemplary service in two South Georgia communities, first in Albany, then in Valdosta. Described as a “doer,” in Albany, he was involved with the Easter Seals of Southern Georgia, Sertoma Club, Board of Ethics for the City of Albany and Leadership Albany Class of 2006. In Valdosta, Folsom has been engaged in and held leadership positions with the Greater Valdosta United Way, Azalea City Kiwanis Club, Stone Creek Property Owners Association, Park Avenue United Methodist Church, State YMCA of Georgia, Leadership Lowdnes and Artesian City Sertoma Club.

Prof. Sarah L. Gerwig-Moore, is an assistant professor at Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. She is engaged in numerous civic activities to benefit the people of Macon and countless others. She serves as a member of the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission, College Hill Corridor Commission and is grants chair and a board member of the Central Georgia Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Anne W. Lewis, partner in the Atlanta law firm Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP, is an energetic community leader whose passion is for service that makes a difference and inspires her colleagues. She served as president of the St. Thomas More Catholic School Board of Education and its Parent-Teacher Organization, is a room mother, auction committee chair and concession stand volunteer. She chaired the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Civil Justice, and served on the boards of the Georgia Justice Center, Atlanta Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Service, Georgia Association for Women Lawyers and the State Bar’s Indigent Defense Committee. She is now general counsel for the Georgia Republican Party and organized Pocketbook Politics.

Hon. Samuel D. Ozburn, who serves on the Superior Court of the Alcovy Judicial District in Covington, admirably gives his time in service to the public and community both on and off the bench. A founding member of the Newton County Chapter of the Salvation Army in which he has been active for 29 years, Ozburn was instrumental in establishing its Covington building. He also helped create the Newton County Mock Trial Program, chairs the Elders of the Eastridge Community Church, has been active with the Kiwanis Club of Covington for more than 30 years and served as president of the Mental Health Association of Newton County and the Alcovy Bar Association.

Howard E. Spiva, Savannah attorney with the Spiva Law Group, has been engaged in numerous activities to protect and uplift the youth in his community. He founded the Justice for Children Foundation to promote community awareness of child safety issues through classes, events and collaborations with entities such as the Savannah Police Department. He also works with the Memorial Hospital Rehab Institute, Lawyers for Public Justice, Habitat for Humanity, Fraternal Order of Police, New Birth Christian Church, Savannah Elks Lodge, Aircraft Pilot Association, Masons Acadia Lodge #452 and Shriners Mobile Unit.

Clarence Williams III, a Warner Robins attorney with the Williams Law Group, has his finger on the pulse of the community and uplifts and motivates many young people. Through his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, he volunteers in a wide range of activities for youths. He is a league coach with the Warner Robins Recreation Department, serves on the board for the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Houston County, volunteers with the READ Foundation and is an active member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

“These individuals and countless other Georgia lawyers who volunteer their time and expertise in their communities bring great honor to our profession,” said S. Lester Tate III, president of the State Bar of Georgia. These deserving Bar members have served a wide range of community organizations, government-sponsored activities and humanitarian efforts. Their fields of service include: youth athletics and mentoring programs, literacy programs, social and support services, church and religious activities, politics, promotion and support for legal aid programs, community development, health, education, sports, recreation and the arts. These awards recognize the commitment of Georgia lawyers to volunteerism, encourage all lawyers to become involved in community service, improve the quality of lawyers’ lives through the satisfaction they derive from helping others and raise the public image of lawyers.

The special evening continued with a reception for family and friends and featured jazz musician sounds of Eric Thomas. Guests lingered and networked, while watching replays of the video tributes to the honorees prepared by Vince “The Voice” Bailey of Vince Bailey Productions. Special thanks to the volunteers for the evening: Alexandra M. Cornwell, Angela M. Hinton, Mary K. McAfee, Lindsay T. McClelland, Paula M. Mickens, Aimee L. Pickett, Karen J. Shelley, Meredith L. Wilson and Myia S. Wood. Much gratitude to the staff of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, Terie Latala and Nneka Harris-Daniel.

The Justice Robert Benham Community Service Awards are co-sponsored by the State Bar of Georgia and the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism. Members of the selection committee include: Patrise Perkins- Hooker, chair, Lisa E. Chang, Mawuli M. Malcolm Davis, Elizabeth L. Fite, Laverne Lewis Gaskins, Michael D. Hobbs Jr., W. Seaborn Jones, William J. “Bill” Liss, J. Henry Walker IV, Janet G. Watts and Brenda C. Youmas. Lawyers, organizations and members of the public are invited to submit nominations. Nominations open in the spring of each year. For more information, contact Nneka Harris Daniel, administrative assistant, Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism at professionalism@cjcpga.org.