Daytona native Stuart James came to Chattanooga where his family had built a legacy. His great grandfather, C.E James, had constructed the city’s first skyscraper, known as the James Building, and was known as the city's first millionaire.
When his grandmother suffered with respiratory problems, back when Chattanooga was considered polluted, Stuart’s grandparents had moved to Florida when his father George was a teenager.
George James taught his children fairness and how to step in for those who don’t have a voice. Stuart recalls as a child having a crew cut so short that his older brother Charlie made fun of him and called him Yul Brenner making Stuart cry. George made his long-haired son Charlie sit down and get all of his hair shaved off too. Charlie may not have appreciated losing his locks but he learned a lesson, and it even made him a bit cooler to the rest of his basketball team – who all liked his haircut.
When Stuart was in law school at Birmingham, he did not think he’d ever move to his family’s hometown. “Chattanooga was the last place I wanted to come; I just wasn’t interested in it. A firm came on campus and I said, ‘Well heck, it’s a job and I know Chattanooga’. I interviewed with them and three months later they offered me a job and here I am,” he says.
Being raised in a family of seven children, Stuart didn’t get too much one on one time with his father but he remembers when his dad brought him to the city and introduced him to Chattanooga where his family had so much history.
“We spent a week together. He kept on telling me how famous his family was and a kid never believes that,” he laughs.
Stuart was told about his family’s accomplishments as he was growing up with his great-uncle W.T. James building the Signal Mountain Hotel; the current Alexian Brothers Home, and his great-grandfather founding the town of Signal Mountain.
“My dad would tell me all these stories and I would see all of this stuff before I left home and thought ‘Oh, it’s not that great.’ Then before I went to college we came up here and spent that week. I never thought I would live here because when I came here it was 1976 and it was not the Chattanooga it is now,” Stuart remembers.
Now living on Missionary Ridge, Stuart has become fond of the city.
“I love living here and I like the people and I like the city – people are more diverse who live in the city than the county. I am hoping that Volkswagen and those kinds of companies continue to let us be more diverse because I think it’s good for the city,” Stuart says.
“This is like a cultural haven – we don’t realize what we’ve got with the diverse population we have. And the folks at VW are bringing in more people from different parts of the world,” Stuart expresses.
Stuart had received an offer from George Carpenter who was an insurance defense attorney.
“George called me and said, ‘I’m not going to practice law anymore. Do you want my practice?’ I turned him down and then I called him back a few days later and I said, ‘Ok George I’ll meet with you and the practice I’ve got now is because of George Carpenter and I have a really good practice,” Stuart insists.
Why aren't you in the James Building?
“The rent is too expensive!” Stuart bursts out laughing. “I had rented the James Building when Bob Corker still owned it. I had my firm there I moved out because I thought I was going to go in-house with a company and I was winding down my practice (and that’s when George called). After that, I was going to go back to the James Building, but Bob didn’t own it anymore and it was no longer in the trusts. If I owned the James Building, I would not be practicing law right now,” he says, letting out another hearty laugh.
“The James Building was sold a long time ago and my grandfather died poor. He lost everything that they had here. I don’t know what happened to it, my dad never told me.”
In being a defense attorney, it is no doubt that Stuart is often asked to defend the guilty. “To me it’s irrelevant. If you are guilty, you are still entitled to have someone represent you and, whether you are held responsible for it is another thing but you are entitled to have a lawyer. It is your legal right. It doesn’t mean that I am condoning what they do,” he says matter-of-factly.
Which attorney most inspired you?
“Jerry Tidwell who practices with me; he adapted to a different way of practicing law in less than a year and there is nobody more honest and dedicated to his profession than Jerry,” Stuart declares.
Who is it that you hate to go up against?
“Marvin Berke! Whenever I am up against Marvin Berke, I just cringe! I really love Marvin and his son Andy, but the judge is always going to side with Marvin I love to hate Marvin,” he says with animated laughter.
Wife Vicki is also an attorney and handles the financial and business end of the practice. Having been a psychiatric social worker, Vicki is involved with the Signal Center in which Stuart takes part as well.
“We both love children and they do such a great job taking special needs children and integrating them with children who don’t have special needs. It makes them feel like they are no different from anyone else. And when you see kids in that environment, it really is a special thing. They also have an adult center for adults with special needs – adults need someplace to go when their parents can’t take care of them during the day. When you see people happy, it is just something you want to do,” Stuart beams.
Stuart and Vicki have one daughter Hadley who is now attending college.
One of Stuart’s passions is politics. When he was in law school, election law fascinated him and, though he went into insurance defense; he takes a little time with a political social website page called Politinet at http://www.politinet.org/ and also has a Facebook page.
“I think everybody should love politics. When you have people with so many different backgrounds and divergent views and you are trying to send someone to represent all those views, you have to understand how and why they get elected,” Stuart says.
Hea adds, "To understand politics you get to understand the person you are electing and you can understand who people really are. I am friends with Harold Ford Jr. I supported him for the state Senate because I was party chair then and it was my job. He was running against Bob Corker who I also considered a friend; the conflict that it created in me was huge. I think the world of Bob but I did it because it was my job. I was elected to do a job and people need to understand that. When you understand what politics is all about and you do it for the right reasons it opens up a lot of things for you. My mind has been opened up a lot and now I am ‘less partisan’ that I used to be because I understand the value of trying to find people who do the right thing. People need to become more engaged and understand politics. If they don’t, we can’t fix the system,” Stuarts acknowledges.
Though he has not been able to give as much time as he would like to his website, people have insisted on Stuart leaving it up.
“People actually read that thing. I tried to take it down but I had people emailing me saying, ‘Look, it may be a small group but there are other people that I pass this on to.’ When you start talking about politics in a positive way, you realize that you can bring change,” Stuart says.
There are Republicans, Democrats and Independents who Stuart strikes up conversations with. He considers each of them friends and they all welcome each other’s insight.
“The most ardent Republican, named Roger will say, ‘Stuart, You are right on that’ – and the other day we were agreeing on a lot of stuff. If you do things like that in a positive way, then you can fix the problem. Until we discuss and realize we can start agreeing on things, we won’t see change,” Stuart says.
“It’s all about compromise. I have to compromise my feelings about certain issues; sometimes it’s the little steps that get us there. I never take offense with someone expressing their views, it is their right to do so. I take offense when someone tries to shut you down and not let you express your political views,” Stuart says.
What motivates him on the website is listening to the venting and ranting. “I think the website and sites like Facebook and LinkedIn is where the true power is. If you use it the right way, people can enlighten you and you can start talking. When you get a million ‘likes’ on a Facebook page talking about real issues in politics, then Washington is going to start paying attention,” he voices.
“People just want to talk – they want to be heard and nobody is listening to them. The more people want to be heard the more and more people are going to have to listen. It’s all about mutual respect. And that is what we are trying to build is to have a system based on mutual respect,” Stuart says.
When Gary Starnes was running for Sessions Court judge, he had called Stuart for advice and Stuart helped him.
“I voted for Gary because he is my friend of 20 years. I got on his web page the night that he won and all these Republicans were on there. When I started posting on his page, people were surprised because ‘Mr. Democrat’ was posting on Gary’s page and Gary is a Republican. But he was my friend and would do a good job. I had to vote for him and support him. Being someone’s friend is important. That’s why I had such a hard time with Corker and Ford, I am both their friend,” Stuart maintains.
How do we become united?
“By talking like we are right now. Sitting down together, discussing and not taking it so personal. If we can agree that both people can exist in one society without getting so locked up in it we can make good decisions - the decision lies with us. We need to start talking to one another instead of talking at each other.”