Lawyers Encouraged to Accept Pro Bono Legal Work for Christmas Season


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.

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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.


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Ashley is a lifetime Chattanooga area resident, and a 1987 graduate from UTC, with a BA in communications. While there, he was commissioned through the ROTC program, served simultaneously in the 1/181st field artillery Tn. Army National Guard, finished Airborne school, was a member of the Scabbard and Blade military honor society and ROTC Rangers, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, played snare drum with the UTC Marching band, and played in a southern rock band called Southern Atmosphere, while working a full time job as a trainer at the Sports Barn. He also won the Southeastern United States teenage bodybuilding competition during this time. Ashley has been with News 12 Now for 21 years. Prior to working here he was a videographer, director, producer and editor at Falcon Cable TV in Dalton, Ga. for 6 years where he produced thousands of commercials and dozens of hour long features. He also worked as a freelancer and employee at another network affiliate in Chattanooga. He has operated a part time video production business from home for 25 years. He says his passion is telling stories that feature people who give of themselves to help others, and stories that inspire people to make positive changes in themselves and their communities. Ashley is ecstatically married to Debbie Henderson, and has two step sons, a daughter in law, a sister, and lots of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews. His parents are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Ashley and Debbie are active members of Brainerd Baptist Church. His interests include weight training and cycling with his wife, photography, poetry, playing drums, and checking off items from his extensive honey-do list. If you would like to reach Ashley, email him at