Jerry Summers: Jack Norman Sr. - Lawyer and Historian (1904-1995)

Thursday, October 14, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Only the older lawyers and citizens can probably recognize the above name of Nashville attorney Jack Norman, Sr.

            He was appointed by Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement along with neophyte attorney John J. Hooker, Jr. to prosecute the impeachment of Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Raulston Schoolfield in the political trial held in the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville between May 6-July 13, 1958.

            John Edward “Jack” Norman, Sr.

was born in South Nashville in 1904 and attended the public schools (Central High) and Vanderbilt Law School

            Beginning in 1926 he began a career as one of the state and nation’s premier criminal defense lawyers but also served as a special prosecutor in the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office.

            He also successfully obtained substantial jury verdicts in civil cases and served as legal counsel to the Nashville Banner newspaper and wrote many articles for that publication as well as its competitor, the Nashville Tennessean.

            His list of clients and successful results establish Jack Norman as one of the legal giants in Tennessee legal history.  Ironically, his refusal to represent Teamster president James Hoffa in Nashville Federal Court would lead to a bribery charge against another prominent Nashville attorney that would contribute to his suicide and end a successful law career.

            The contest between Norman and Schoolfield in the 1958 impeachment case has been described as reminiscent of a “battle between two gladiators in the Roman arena.”

            Ironically Norman would end up in a fee dispute with the state of Tennessee for his seven  months of preparation and trial in the case.  This not only hurt and angered Norman but led to the false rumor that he might run against Frank Clement for governor in 1962.

            In a resolution passed by the Tennessee legislature honoring Jack upon his death in 1995 he was quoted as saying “When I am your lawyer, I stand in your shoes.  I’ll knock down anyone who tries to run over you.” and “There’s just one side to a lawsuit – my side.”

            In his later years he and his beloved wife, Carrie, moved into an apartment overlooking historic Printers Alley.  This residence also contributed significantly to Jack’s colorful historical recollection and love of Nashville prior and after the legalization of liquor by the drink.

            An avid world traveler and a true lover of the history of Nashville, in 1984 he wrote a remarkable paperback novel.  “The Nashville I Knew” is filled with literally thousands of names of persons, places, and events about his beloved hometown that he described in a 242-page treatise that will answer most questions that any interested reader may have about the “Athens of the South.”

            Used copies of this remarkable history lesson are still available from the usual website sources.

            Jack Norman has previously been recognized as one of the five greatest orators in the legal history of the State of Tennessee.

            In a bygone era where he was an old-fashioned theatrical courtroom performer using fiery, yet eloquent words and amazing powers of persuasion, he stood at the top of the Davidson County bar roster.

            Jurors were awed and mesmerized by him and often watched his antics rather than listen to his opponent’s closing argument.

            In the era of smoking being allowed in the courtrooms his use of his trademark, the ever-present cigar, was often a distraction away from the prosecution or civil defense lawyer.

            Rumors that he would light up a “stogie” and as it slowly burned the spent ashes would fail to fall to the floor.  Usually this would take place while Jack’s opponent was arguing their side of the case, therefore effectively swaying the jury from attentively listening to their closing argument.  The fact that there may have been an open paper clip inserted in the middle of the cigar to prevent the ashes from falling has not ever been proved (or disproved).

            His legal reputation was matched by his involvement in charitable and philanthropic activities with Masonic and Shrine circles.

            In 1986 the Nashville Bar Association established the Jack Norman, Sr. Award to be given to a defense lawyer, prosecutor or judge in the Metropolitan Nashville area “whose primary practice or service pertains to criminal law, demonstrates respect for the rights of all individuals in the criminal justice system, exhibits the trial advocacy skills or judicial skills necessary to the pursuit of justice, demonstrates an abiding respect for the law and legal profession, maintains highest standards of professional integrity and ethical conduct, and contributes to the improvement of the legal profession and criminal justice system - including but not limited to the protection of uncompensated or under-compensated representation of the accused.”

            Jack Norman died in 1995 after a long and interesting career as an attorney, historian, world traveler, and devoted husband and father of five successful children.

           

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Carrie and Jack Norman
Carrie and Jack Norman

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