2017 Lawyers’ Hall of Fame
- Bibb Allen (1921-2007)
“Do justice, love, kindness and walk humbly with your God.” This verse, from Micah 6:8, was the answer Bibb Allen offered to young lawyers when he was asked to give them advice. Bibb Allen led by example.
Bibb Allen did justice. Allen is perhaps best known as one of the finest trial lawyers in Alabama. Having tried approximately 750 jury trials, mostly for civil defendant insurers and their insureds, Allen attained legendary status. He was involved in more than 100 reported cases dating from 1952 to 2006.
Bibb Allen did love. He loved the profession of law and lawyers, and gave to them both, serving as President of the Alabama State Bar, President of the Birmingham Bar Association, and President of the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association. He selflessly gifted fellow practitioners his wisdom, authoring the “Alabama Insurance Liability Handbook”, now known as “Allen’s Alabama Insurance Liability Handbook.” The handbook is considered the authoritative treatise on liability insurance issues in Alabama. The treatise continues his legacy to this date through his former law partners. Allen even found time to teach evening courses in Torts and Civil Procedure at the Birmingham School of Law for 30 years.
Bibb Allen was kind. After a particularly hard-fought case that resulted in a favorable judgment, Bibb instructed his law partner to take the client to celebrate. When asked why he wasn’t joining the client and trial team, Bibb said he wanted to talk to the opposing lead attorney. Bibb explained to his partner, “This was a really big case for her, and she wanted to win it so bad. Now that she has lost it, she is really hurting. She is worried about what her client and her partners will think of this outcome after telling them for the last three years how she was going to get a big verdict. I just want to see if I can cheer her up some before I join you.” Bibb told her that she tried a great case, that this was only the first round, and that she might win the case on appeal because he usually found some way to put some error in the record, and that she should not be disappointed because she gave it all she had to try to win the case. She didn’t win on appeal and may never have forgotten that loss, but likely never forgot his kindness. Win or lose, Bibb knew just what to say. There are many “Bibb Allen stories”, but this one captures the essence of the man.
Bibb Allen walked humbly with his God. Allen was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the American Board of Trial Advocates. He received the Birmingham Bar Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association’s trial academy is named in his honor. Despite these accolades, Allen carried himself humbly as a servant of our country, our state, our community and his God. While many know the stories of this legendary trial lawyer, few are aware of his service to our country as a fighter pilot in WWII. In fact, years before he tried his first case, Bibb Allen left college to join the Army Air Corps. While in the Army Air Corps he flew over 100 missions throughout Europe and the Aleutian Islands. Allen provided air support for the U.S. forces successful D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. He was shot down twice. For his service, Allen received seven Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre. After the war, Allen was often heard to say, “every day is a gift.” But it was Allen who was the gift. Allen thanked his Lord by teaching Sunday School at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham for 40 years.
For his lifetime of service to our bar, community, state and country, the Alabama State Bar is honored to present Bibb Allen for induction into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.
- Mahala Ashley Dickerson (1912-2007)
Mahala Ashley Dickerson was born in Montgomery County, Alabama on October 12, 1912. She was the second of three daughters born to John Augustine Ashley and Hattie Moss Ashley. John Ashley was a school teacher and the owner of a general store. She was raised on a former plantation that was purchased by her paternal grandfather. She attended Ms. White’s School in Montgomery where she met Rosa L. Parks. The two became lifelong friends. Ms. Dickerson graduated from the Alabama State Laboratory High School. She graduated from Fisk University in 1935 with a degree in sociology.
Ms. Dickerson married Henry Dickerson in 1938 and became the mother to triplets, Alfred, John, and Chris. Chris was to become the first African American Mr. Olympia and Mr. America. After a divorce, and when the triplets were six years old, Ms. Dickerson enrolled at Howard University Law School. She graduated cum laude from Howard University Law School in 1948. That same year she returned to Alabama and became the first African American female to pass the Alabama State Bar. She opened law offices in Montgomery and in Tuskegee. Ms. Dickerson championed the causes of the poor and disadvantaged.
Ms. Dickerson moved to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1951 to practice law with her second husband, Frank Beckwith. She became the second African American woman admitted to the Indiana State Bar. In 1958 after a divorce from Mr. Beckwith, Ms. Dickerson moved to Anchorage Alaska where she homesteaded 160 acres of land. Once again Ms. Dickerson continued her record of “firsts”. In 1959 she became the first African American female, to pass the Alaska State Bar. Ms. Dickerson was committed to civil and human right causes that affected women and people of color. She was known to take on many pro bono cases. In 1975 she won a major equal pay case for female professors at the University of Alaska who were receiving less pay than their male counterparts.
Ms. Dickerson received many awards and recognition during her lifetime for the gender and racial inequalities that she endured and successfully challenged. In 1982 she was honored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1983 she became the first African American to serve as the President of the National Association of Women Lawyers. The following year she received an honorary doctor of law from the University of Alaska Anchorage for advocating minority rights. In 1995 she received the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association for her outstanding service to the profession. Many years earlier, the American Bar had refused her to allow her to become a member. Other recipients include Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In 2006 she was awarded the Alabama State Bar’s Maud McLure Kelly Award which recognizes outstanding female attorneys in Alabama. In 2015 she was inducted into the Alabama Lawyers Association’s Hall of Fame which recognizes the courage and professional achievements of black attorneys. Ms. Dickerson is also the founder of Al-Acres, Inc which is a charitable, educational and religious corporation. She donated part of her homestead for recreational, charitable and religious purposes. She also established a memorial cemetery and Quaker Meeting House.
Ms. Dickerson practiced law until her death in 2007. She was 94 years old. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Ms. Dickerson is quoted as saying, “I’m just not afraid to fight somebody big… Whenever there’s somebody mistreated, if they want me, I’ll help them.
- John Cooper Godbold (1920-2009)
John Cooper Godbold was born on a small farm in Coy, Wilcox County, Alabama on March 24, 1920. He attended public schools in Selma in Dallas County and in 1940 earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn University where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Plainsman, Auburn University’s student newspaper. From 1941 to 1946, he served as an artillery officer in Europe during World War II seeing action from D-Day until the end of the Allied campaign in Europe. When he returned to the U.S., Godbold attended Harvard Law School on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1948. He moved his family to Montgomery, was admitted to the Alabama Bar, and began to practice law.
In 1949, Godbold joined the law practice of Richard T. Rives together forming the law firm of Rives & Godbold. When Truman Hobbs joined their practice in 1950, they formed the firm of Rives Godbold & Hobbs. Eventually all three of the partners of the firm were appointed to the federal bench, however the firm’s practice continues today under the name Copeland, Franco, Screws, and Gill.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Godbold to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals where he presided over several landmark civil rights cases. In 1981, Godbold became the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit which was in the process of being divided into two circuits, the Fifth and the new Eleventh Circuit. As chief judge, Judge Godbold oversaw the division of the two Circuits and afterward became the chief judge of the new Eleventh Circuit, thus becoming the only person ever to serve as chief judge of two federal judicial circuits.
In 1987, William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court appointed John Godbold to serve as Director of the Federal Judicial Center. After his tenure at the Federal Judicial Center, Goldbold returned to the Eleventh Circuit on senior status. In 1990, he was named the Leslie S. Wright Distinguished Professor at Cumberland Law School, where he taught federal jurisprudence and professional responsibility, among other courses. In 1996, he was honored with the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award, the highest honor awarded to a federal judge. In 2002, Godbold was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. On June 6, 2011, the federal courthouse annex to the Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building, the home of the Eleventh Circuit, was dedicated as the John C. Godbold Federal Building.
Judge John C. Godbold was esteemed by his colleagues on the Bench, attorneys with whom he practiced, and those attorneys who practiced before his Court. Noted for his collegiality, his knowledge of the Law, and his respectful demeanor, he had a profound, positive impact on those around him. According to Judge Joel Dubina, a colleague and friend, “Judge Godbold loved his God, his family, his Nation, and the Rule of Law.”
Upon his death in 2009, one of his law clerks, Delores Boyd, who later served as a Magistrate Judge spoke and gave the following description of Judge Godbold:
“A good and honorable man who lived a wonderful life and served the cause of justice with excellence has passed our way, and we are the better for knowing him: our souls· are stronger, our spirits are more joyful, our hearts are more open, our lives are more balanced, and we are more firmly committed to excellence in all our endeavors.”
The Bench and Bar of the State of Alabama is proud to induct Judge John C. Godbold into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.
- Alto Velo Lee, III (1915-1987)
Alto Velo Lee was by any measure one of Alabama’s truly outstanding lawyers and without a doubt one of its preeminent Citizen-Lawyers.
Born in Houston County November 10, 1915, he was raised in Columbia, Alabama. He joined his father, William Lovard Lee, Sr. in the practice of law at the age of 21, following his graduation from the University of Alabama and its School of Law. At the time of his death, May 8, 1987, in Dothan, he had practiced law for over 50 years, and since 1941, with the firm of Lee and McInish.
Given his outstanding reputation as a litigator, his contributions to his community, his profession and his state are equally remarkable as he served all with equal skill and devotion. He represented the ultimate template for the citizen-lawyer.
Locally, he was president of his county bar association. He served as chairman of the Dothan City School Board and the Recreation Board. He was president of the Dothan Peanut Festival and the Dothan Rotary Club. He was president of both the Junior Chamber and Chamber of Commerce in Dothan. An active church member, he served on the Board of Stewards and a Trustee of the First United Methodist Church of Dothan and served as the President of the United Methodist Foundation, Inc. of the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
Professionally he served as President of the Alabama State Bar, (1974-75). He was a founding member and President of the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association. He was inducted to the very select American College of Trial Lawyers. He was a member of the International Society of Barristers. He was widely respected as a formidable litigator.
His contributions to the State of Alabama are equally noteworthy. He served in the Alabama Legislature (1944-47). He served as chairman of the State Docks Board and the Alabama Ethics Commission. The University of Alabama benefited from his presidency of its National Alumni Association and his tenure as a member of the President’s Cabinet. He was honored as the University of Alabama Distinguished Alumnus in 1972. He was also a trustee of Huntingdon College in Montgomery.
He and his devoted wife, the former Rosa Brooks, were the parents of three children. Their only son, Bill, joined his father’s firm and now Bill’s son, Will, practices as the 4th generation Lee lawyer in Dothan, Alabama.
Alto Lee’s contributions could be honored in numerous Halls of Fame; however, the Alabama State Bar is honored today to induct him into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.
- Charles Tait (1768-1835)
Charles Tait was born in Louisa County, Virginia on February 1, 1768. He was the oldest of 10 children. His family moved to northeastern Georgia in 1783. As a young man in Georgia, Tait was thrown from a horse and suffered a serious leg injury which resulted in its amputation. He wore a wooden peg leg for the rest of his life.
Tait attended Cokesbury College in Abingdon, Maryland and became a faculty member there. He remained at Cokesbury until 1794 while also reading law. Upon returning to Georgia he was admitted to the Georgia Bar in February of 1795.
In addition to his interest in education, Tait also sought political office. In 1799 he was elected a state senator. He practiced law with William H. Crawford, a future cabinet member and Presidential candidate, until he was elected in 1803 to the Georgia Supreme Court. In 1809, Tait became a United States Senator and remained in the Senate until 1819. Serving with him as a Senator from Georgia was William Wyatt Bibb, who would later become Alabama’s first Governor.
While in the Senate, Tait led the effort to create the Alabama Territory from the eastern half of the Mississippi Territory. He authored in Congress the Alabama Enabling Act which would admit Alabama as a state. After Alabama attained statehood in 1819, he moved to the state he had helped to create on lands purchased by his son, James Tait, in Monroe and Wilcox counties.
On May 13, 1820, Tait was confirmed as Alabama’s first Federal District Court Judge. His most significant case overturned an Alabama territorial court decision concerning the smuggling of slaves into the United States. His decree was upheld by the US Supreme Court.
In 1826, Tait resigned his federal judgeship to devote attention to his businesses and to pursue scientific interests. In 1827 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He began to study the extensive fossil deposits on his property that became known as the “Claiborne beds.” He earned election as a corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia in 1832.
Tait spent the last years of his life on his son’s estate, Dry Fork, near Camden in Wilcox County. After a lifetime of public service in government and the law and devotion to education and the pursuit of science, Charles Tait died on October 7, 1835, at the age of 67. He is recognized as the architect of Alabama’s entry into the Union and is now a member of the Alabama State Bar Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.