Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins Presented With Mike Carter Award

Friday, October 22, 2021
Joan Carter and Chief Justice Jeff Bivans
Joan Carter and Chief Justice Jeff Bivans

The Tennessee Public Defenders Conference met for their annual training Conference in Chattanooga this week. In addition to hosting speakers ranging from author Sara Mayeux to Civil Rights Corps Senior Attorney, Tara Mikkilineni, the conference welcomed two honored guests: Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins, and Mrs. Joan Carter, the widow of State Rep. Mike Carter.

Rep. Carter served in the state House of Representatives during the 108th through 112th General Assemblies, representing a portion of Hamilton County, including Ooltewah. In addition, Rep. Carter previously served as a Hamilton County general sessions judge from 1997 to 2005. 

Rep. Carter, or as many members of the Public Defenders Conference called him, “Judge Carter”, was instrumental in championing legislation to create the Public Defenders Appellate Division, as well as pushing for grant funding to create a pilot program to staff forensic social workers in public defender offices. In October of 2019, the Public Defenders Conference awarded Rep. Carter with the “Friend of the Public Defender Award” for his powerful advocacy on behalf of a more robust and equitable justice system. 

In 2020, Rep. 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 Rep. Mike Carter’s House District 29 seat. Rep. Joan Carter served honorably from June 19 of this year, until a special election could be held on Sept. 14. During that time, the District Public Defenders Conference Executive Committee voted unanimously to rename the “Friend of the Public Defender Award” the “Mike Carter Award” to honor its 2019 recipient and true friend. 

The year 2020 obviously presented other bad news: the world faced a challenge like we’d never experienced in modern times. COVID-19 seemed to bring the world to a halt. However, public defenders never wavered. The attorneys and staff continued to zealously represent clients, including by visiting them in jails and prisons, despite the dangers and challenges that COVID-19 presented, said officials. 

Chief Justice Bivins acted swiftly and decisively to bring stakeholders in the criminal justice system together (virtually) to discuss which types of cases should be held virtually versus in-person, rule suspensions to improve innovation, and how to access to courts and clerk offices when physical access was limited. Chief Justice Bivins issued orders to ensure courts remained accessible and open, and that the constitutional rights of defendants were protected, while also keeping the courthouses, including public defenders, as safe as possible. His expeditious leadership undoubtedly saved lives and kept the wheels of justice rolling during a time when all else seemed to pause, said officials.

In Chattanooga on Wednesday, the Public Defenders Conference was honored to have Mrs. Joan Carter present the inaugural “Mike Carter Award” to Chief Justice Bivins for his courageous  leadership during the historic pandemic of 2020 and 2021. Justice Bivins graciously accepted the award, giving his condolences to Mrs. Carter, and thanking public defenders for continuing their work throughout the pandemic. 


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