The Tennessee Public Defenders Conference convened for its annual training conference in Chattanooga this week. In addition to welcoming speakers ranging from author Sara Mayeux to Civil Rights Corps lead counsel Tara Mikkilineni, the conference hosted two honored guests: Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins and Ms. Joan Carter, widow of State Representative Mike Carter.
Representative Carter served in the State House of Representatives during the 108th to 112th General Assemblies, representing part of Hamilton County, including Ooltewah. In addition, Rep. Carter previously served as a Hamilton County General Sessions Judge from 1997 to 2005.
Representative Carter, or as many members of the Public Defenders Conference called him, “Judge Carter,” was instrumental in advocating for legislation to create the Public Defenders Appeal Division, as well as lobbying for grants to create a pilot program to equip staff with forensic social services. workers in the offices of the public defender. In October 2019, the Conference of Public Defenders awarded Representative Carter the “Friend of the Public Defender’s Award” for his strong advocacy for a stronger and fairer justice system.
In 2020, Representative Carter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he passed away on May 15, 2021. The Hamilton County Commission voted unanimously to appoint his wife, Joan Carter, to the Representative’s District 29 headquarters. Mike Carter. Representative Joan Carter served honorably from June 19 of this year, until a special election could be held on September 14. Meanwhile, the District Public Defenders Conference executive committee voted unanimously to rename the “Public Defender’s Friend Award” to the “Mike Carter Award” to honor its 2019 recipient and true friend.
The year 2020 obviously presented more bad news: The world was facing a challenge unlike any we have experienced in modern times. COVID-19 seemed to stop the world. However, public defenders have never hesitated. Lawyers and staff continued to zealously represent clients, including visiting them in prisons and prisons, despite the dangers and challenges COVID-19 presented, officials said.
Chief Justice Bivins acted swiftly and decisively to bring together (virtually) stakeholders in the criminal justice system to discuss the types of cases to be held virtually or in person, rule suspensions to improve innovation and how to access courts and registries when physical access was limited. Chief Justice Bivins has issued orders to ensure that courts remain accessible and open, and that the constitutional rights of defendants are protected, while keeping courthouses, including public defenders, as safe as possible. His swift leadership undoubtedly saved lives and kept the cogs of justice going at a time when all else seemed to stop, officials said.
On Wednesday in Chattanooga, the Conference of Public Defenders had the honor of seeing Ms. Joan Carter present the first “Mike Carter Award” to Chief Justice Bivins for her courageous leadership during the historic pandemic of 2020 and 2021. Justice Bivins graciously accepted the award, giving condolences to Ms Carter and thanking public defenders for continuing their work throughout the pandemic.