By Greg Land
Daily Report, November 10, 2016 —
L. Chris Stewart, managing partner for litigation boutique Stewart, Seay & Felton, has been named the Daily Report’s “Attorney of the Year” for his nationally recognized work representing victims of police violence and their families.
Stewart was selected for his nationally recognized work representing victims of police violence and their families, and his nationwide public speaking on how to resolve community versus police issues.
Stewart serves as lead attorney for some of the highest-profile cases in the past few years, including Gregory Towns, the Atlanta man tased to death by East Point police officers, Walter Scott, the South Carolina man shot in the back and killed by a North Charleston police officer as he ran, Alton Sterling, the Baton Rouge man whose shooting death by police was captured on video and Chase Sherman, who died after being tased multiple times by Coweta County Deputies.
As he accepted the award at a banquet, Stewart said being nominated was a “shocker.” He added that—as a personal injury lawyer—he had not been eager to take his first such case, the Taser death of a handcuffed Gregory Towns by two East Point officers in 2014.
But when Towns’ mother approached him, he said, “I ended up taking a case for a lady who reminded me of my mother. I didn’t want to do it, but … they killed him because he wouldn’t walk fast enough.”
Stewart collected East Point’s $1 million insurance policy limit for his client.
Stewart said part of his motivation is to help rid police agencies from the few bad cops whose behavior is a “disservice” to the vast majority of many good officers.
“I know a bunch of phenomenal cops,” said Stewart. “You can’t paint all police officers with a broad brush.”
The Daily Report asked a panel of esteemed Atlanta lawyers to select five finalists and an eventual Attorney of the Year from a host of nominees. The panel consisted of: Phyllis Holmen, the longtime executive director of the Georgia Legal Services Program; Leah Ward Sears, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, of Smith Gambrell & Russell; Frank Strickland of Strickland Brockington Lewis, a former general counsel of the state Republican Party and chairman of the Legal Services Corp.; Michael Terry, a partner at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore and former Atlanta Bar Association president; Lizanne Thomas, who heads Jones Day’s corporate governance team and is partner-in-charge of the firm’s Southern U.S. region; and Larry Thompson of Finch McCranie, a former deputy U.S. attorney general and general counsel to PepsiCo.
The other finalists were:
• Gov. Nathan Deal, recognized for his ongoing efforts to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system;
• King & Spalding partner Harold Franklin, who as last year’s president of the Atlanta Bar Association spearheaded an initiative addressing police shootings and as a King & Spalding trial lawyer has managed to balance leadership roles in the legal community with a demanding job;
• Holland & Knight partner Charles Johnson and AT&T in-house counsel Suzanne Ockleberry, who have led the state’s largest African-American lawyers’ associations and whose years of working to increase diversity on the bench includes the 2013 formation of Advocacy for Action, which works to educate the public about the issue; and
• Georgia Public Defender Standards Council Director Brian Tyson who in less than two years on the job has managed to wrest $4 million in additional funding from the Legislature and to have the salaries of public defenders statewide raised to match those of their prosecutorial counterparts.
In accepting his award, Stewart said he was particularly gratified to be recognized by his legal peers.
“This is more important than all the other awards, because it’s from y’all, a community of lawyers,” said Stewart. “It means a lot more than you know.”