College of Law

Legal Clinic offers Real People: The Story of Ed Johnson CLE

Through the eyes and actions of the lawyers in the 1906 case of State of Tennessee vs. Ed Johnson, and the subsequent United States Supreme Court case, United States v. Shipp, attorneys in attendance will be able to consider what it is like to represent a client who society curses. The discussion will include the role of the news media in inflaming the public and the role of courts and counsel in handling a highly publicized and racially charged prosecution. The discussion will also address how lawyers should use the law and the courts for the protection of individual rights even when various aspects of and actors in the court system contribute to the problem.

Date, Time, and Location

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017
College of Law
1505 W. Cumberland Ave., Room 132
Knoxville, TN 37996

3:30-4 p.m. 
Registration and Welcome
4-5 p.m. 
Mark Curriden
Keynote Address
5-5:10 p.m. 
5:10-6:10 p.m. 
Panel Discussion featuring Professor Aarons, Attorney Elliott, Judge Thomas, and Michelle Schrader, facilitated by Professor Radice
Past, Present, and Future: Reactions and Perspectives



Mark Curriden

Curriden will discuss the historical events that led him to co-author the book “Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism.” The presentation based upon the 1906 trial of Ed Johnson, a young black man from Chattanooga, Tenn., exemplifies why lawyers as advocates for the poor and downtrodden are best positioned to take the steps necessary to uphold the rule of law. Ed Johnson was falsely accused of rape, railroaded through the criminal justice system, found guilty and sentenced to death – all in three weeks. Two African-American lawyers stepped forward to represent Johnson on appeal and also filed one of the first federal habeas petitions ever attempted in a state criminal case. The lawyers convinced the Supreme Court of the United States to stay Johnson’s execution.

Mark Curriden

But before they could have him released, a lynch mob, aided by the sheriff and his deputies, lynched Johnson. The Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the sheriff and leaders of the mob, charging them with contempt of the Supreme Court. It is the only time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial.

Curriden is a lawyer and journalist for The Texas Lawbook, The Dallas Morning News, and the ABA Journal. From 1988 to 1994, he was the legal affairs writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he covered the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He authored a three-part series of articles that exposed rampant use of drug dealers and criminals turned paid informants by local and federal law enforcement authorities, which led to Congressional oversight hearings. A related series of articles by Curriden contributed to a wrongly convicted death row inmate being freed.

The Dallas Morning News made him its national legal affairs writer in 1996. For more than six years, Curriden wrote extensively about the tobacco litigation, alleged price-fixing in the pharmaceutical industry, the Exxon Valdez litigation, and more than 25 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Mark also authored a highly-acclaimed 16-part series on the future of the American jury system. As part of his extensive coverage of the tobacco litigation, Mark unearthed confidential documents and evidence showing that the then Texas Attorney General, Dan Morales, had made a secret deal with a long-time lawyer and friend in which the friend would have profited hundreds of millions of dollars from the tobacco settlement. As a direct result of Curriden’s articles, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation, which led to the indictment and conviction of Morales.

From 2002 to 2010, Curriden was the senior communications counsel at Vinson & Elkins, a 750-lawyer global law firm. For the past 25 years, Curriden has been a senior contributing writer for the ABA Journal, which is the nation’s largest legal publication. Curriden is the author of the best-selling book “Contempt of Court: A Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism.” The book received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award and numerous other honors.


Joy Radice, associate professor, University of Tennessee College of Law

Radice received her A.B. from Princeton University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. She teaches criminal law and is a member of the UT Legal Clinic faculty. In addition to criminal law, her areas of expertise include criminal procedure and access to justice.



Dwight Aarons, associate professor, University of Tennessee College of Law
Aarons received his B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. His areas of expertise include procedural law and legislation as well as criminal law and capital punishment.

Sam D. Elliott, member of the Chattanooga law firm Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, PLLC

Elliott has received numerous awards based on his skills and professionalism as a trial lawyer, but is also a noted historian and author. He received his J.D. degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

Judge W. Neil Thomas III, circuit judge serving the Eleventh Judicial District in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Judge Thomas received his B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina and his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan.

Michelle Phillips Schrader, paralegal, Franklin, Cooper & Marcus law firm

Phillips Schrader received her B.S. in legal assistant studies from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. She has worked to bring community-wide attention to the injustices that surrounded this event.

CLE Credit

Two hours DUAL CLE credit available. There is no fee for this event, but attendees may consider making a donation to the UT Legal Clinic 70th Anniversary Endowment Fund

To register, e-mail the following information to Micki Fox,

  • Name
  • BPR number
  • Email address
  • Mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Fax number
  • Title of the CLE for which you are registering
  • States other than Tennessee in which you will seek CLE credit for this activity (and the BPR numbers for those states)