U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier, from Chattanooga, Tenn., gave a lecture at the University of South Dakota April 14 on the importance of integrity.
“The talk demonstrates how lawyers committed to the profession, that is ones with integrity, can affect change not only in the law, but also in our society,” Collier said.
Collier highlighted important lawyers in history, talking in detail about Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins. They felt an obligation to the law. They defended Ed Johnson, a black man from Chattanooga charged with the 1906 rape of Nevada Taylor, a white woman. Both Parden and Hutchins had their houses burned down as a result of the trial.
Collier said lawyers must be committed to their profession, as they have a duty to serve the law.
“There are points in their lives where they will face challenges,” Collier said. “Where living up to the requirements of the profession may differ from their own individual personal goals, and as a lawyer you have an obligation to the profession first and foremost.”
Law student Alafia Wright understood that certain elements make a good practitioner of the law.
“There are certain elements that make a good attorney, lawyer or professional. Professionalism, civility, courage, commitment to your goals and your principles,” Wright said.
Law student Cullen McNeece said a lawyer must serve their client.
“Zealously advocate for your client, even if it’s an unpopular decision,” McNeece said. “That’s what our country’s built on. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had Brown v. Board of Education with Thurgood Marshall, because that was an unpopular decision.”
Wright drew inspiration from the lecture that one person can make change in the world.
“We need to make sure that there are more ideas for people to draw strength and inspiration from,” Wright said. “A lot of people feel discouraged and disempowered by the fact that they’re just one person, but look what just one person can do and have a long lasting impact on the system.”
Collier was inspired by the students in attendance, who have a thirst for knowledge, he said.
“I am someone who sees so much hope and promise in our younger generation, and it’s just a joy and knowledge for me to be around these young minds that have a thirst for knowledge,” Collier said. “I try to slurp up some of it myself.”
(Photo: U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier at the Thurgood Marshall Lecture April 14. Phil Millar / The Volante)