CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — A Christmas tree in the Hamilton County courthouse was decorated by local judges today.
It has cards representing cases of legal needs for low income residents.
The judges are asking local attorney’s to give the gift of their time this Christmas season, by choosing a pro bono case from the cards on the tree.
Judges decorated the Christmas tree with cards made by Girl Scout Troup 40235, to which the legal needs cases, were attached.
Judge J. B. Bennett, of the 11th Circuit Court in Hamilton County, said, “This client would like assistance in adding himself and his name to his child’s birth certificate. He has a paternity test showing he is the natural father to the child. So that’s just one of the many requests that we would ask the lawyers to take on.”
And Judge Jeff Atherton even penned a poem to help encourage lawyers to more eagerly accept the pro bono challenge.
“Grab one card if you’re lazy, and two if you’re not,
Take three and we’ll cheer all the courage you’ve got.
In this holiday season, help some people in need,
With good legal advice. It’s part of your creed!”, said Judge Atherton, 11th District Chancery Court, Hamilton County, Tennessee.
His poem ended by emphasizing the program is voluntary.
“Encouragement only, no threats do we make,
But happy we’ll be, when a card you do take,” said Judge Atherton.
Although the judges enjoyed the lighthearted moment, one acknowledged, it is a serious problem.
“This idea is fantastic. And I’ll tell you one of the real reasons why, is that the legal system itself suffers from an access to justice. And so, a lot of the people dealing with critical civil needs, might not be able to afford to hire a lawyer to have their day in court. And so we have Legal Aid of East Tennessee to help assist with that, but their resources are so overwhelmed, that it really needs the entire legal community to pitch in,” said Tom Greenholtz, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge.
Judge Atherton explains how he used his poem to motivate participation by the lawyers.
“From the bench I announced this, that this poem, and then suggested that those who wanted to have their matter heard first, could volunteer to come down and get a card, I thought that might be a degree of motivation and incentive and rather than sit with me in my courtroom for four or five hours many of them chose to come down, and take a card to help those in need,” said Judge Atherton.
If you’d like to help out with this effort but you’re not a lawyer, you can donate to Legal Aid of East Tennessee, click here for more information.