Meet Bart Durham
I grew up in Ripley, Tennessee, a farming community of three thousand people, the county seat of Lauderdale County, located fifty miles north of Memphis.
My mother and dad had been married seventeen years when I was born. They had grown up poor and sacrificed for me to have the things they never were able to enjoy in their youth. I had a happy childhood playing sports with my friends and doing the things boys do in small towns.
My father began the practice of law in 1918 when he came home from the Army at the end of World War I. He was the mayor of Ripley when I was born in 1935. He served two terms in the Tennessee state legislature, was the president of the Bank of Ripley and co-publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Lauderdale County Enterprise.
A lot of the people in my family were lawyers. My dad met my mother in a cousin’s law office in Ripley. My grandfather on my mother’s side, Blair Pierson, was a judge of the Chancery Court in Memphis in the 1800’s.
My third cousin, Colin McKinney, from Ripley, was on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He dissented for the court in the Scopes case, the Dayton monkey trial case. Judge McKinney took me to court with him in Nashville when I was a little boy. The Tennessee Supreme Court building was my first exposure to an elevator. It was self operated and he would hold me up to push the buttons.
ARMY, LAW SCHOOL AND PRACTICING LAW WITH MY DAD
I served in the Army two years and then graduated law school in May, 1963. I took the bar exam a month later in July, while recovering from kidney stone surgery. Dad said, “I know you’ve been sick but you’ve already paid to take it.”
I had nothing to lose. I gave it a try, not really expecting to pass. The results were announced in early September. The successful applicants were printed in the Sunday Memphis Commercial Appeal. I called the paper at seven o’clock on Saturday night. I gave one of the editors on duty my name and asked if he would look at the list. He came back on the line a few moments later and asked, “Is that ‘Bartlett Chesterfield Durham?’” I had passed!
I let out a shout. My dad was all smiles. We went to the First Methodist Church in Ripley. The church was dark but the doors were unlocked. We knelt at the altar and said a prayer. When we left the church I saw tears in my dad’s eyes. I can only appreciate how he felt many years later now that I am a father, too. I had the same feelings of happiness and pride many years later when my son Blair was sworn in as a lawyer.
My father died of a sudden heart attack the next year but I got to practice with him in Ripley while he was alive. My mother had passed away six years earlier. Judge C.S. Carney in Ripley, one of my father’s friends, called Senator Albert Gore, Sr., and got me an appointment with the Federal District Attorney’s office in Memphis. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
MEMPHIS 1966 – 1969
There were four Assistant United States Attorneys and we served under a great man, U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Robinson. Mr. Robinson was a fierce taskmaster whom we feared but respected. We loved our jobs and we knew Mr. Robinson would never ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. Any kind of work ethic I have today came from the example set by Mr. Robinson. He came early and stayed late, frequently from six AM to nine PM.
Those were tumultuous days from 1966 to 1969. We started our days with an early morning office meeting. The FBI, IRS, ATF, DEA, Postal Inspectors, and other federal agencies were our clients. We prosecuted and defended all cases for the United States in the 33 counties of West Tennessee.
I often left the office as late as nine or ten but I would remind myself how lucky I was to be there. I was a nobody, a night law school graduate, and in the most action-packed office in the city. The U.S. Department of Justice was where I cut my teeth.
I was on duty when James Earl Ray shot Dr. Martin Luther King just blocks away from my office in the federal courthouse. I went with FBI agents to the Lorraine Motel. I went to the boarding house and stood where James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot.
We prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan leadership from Jackson, Mississippi, who robbed a Memphis bank to get money for the Klan. I was also a courtroom second chair to my boss in the longest criminal trial ever held in Memphis, United States v. Sims, which after six weeks ended in a conviction for bribery of government employees. I have picked a jury and tried a case to verdict in Jackson, Tennessee, in the morning, and hurried the 80 miles back to Memphis to start another jury trial in the afternoon.
The staff was diverse. There was one African American (Odell Horton, later a U.S. District Judge, now deceased), one member from the Jewish community, Henry Klein, one Memphis lawyer, Bill McTighe (now deceased), and one lawyer from the rural counties — me. They were all smarter, more experienced, and certainly more sophisticated than the country bumpkin from Ripley.
I knew I was over my head, so to compensate, I got to work earlier than the other staff and stayed later. I wanted their respect even though they may have been quietly amused at my lack of legal ability and my social backwardness.
On a footnote, Blair recently had a case in federal court in Memphis and the adverse counsel, Henry Klein, asked him if he and I were related. When he told Henry he was my son, Henry opened his door to Blair and has been most hospitable and helped him on small matters in the case. A blast from the past 40 years ago.
We were appointed under Lyndon Johnson and when Richard Nixon became our president we lost our jobs. I was ready for something different as I had begun getting migraine headaches.
NASHVILLE — ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL — 1969-1975
I moved to Nashville to be a prosecuting attorney in the State Attorney General’s office. There it was much more relaxed. We had time to research our cases. There was no pressure to get things done this minute. The sick headaches went away.
It was fun being an Assistant State Attorney General. There were only eight of us on the staff in 1969. Nearly 200 lawyers now work there.
I argued three cases before the United States Supreme Court and over 100 cases before the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. I was in charge of federal civil rights cases throughout the state and appeared regularly in every U.S. District Court from Memphis to East Tennessee.
PRIVATE PRACTICE — 1975-1976
I began private practice in 1975 after six years in the attorney general’s office. I had no clients, just a little bit of money saved, the optimism of youth and high hopes. I partnered with a fine lawyer, Henry Haile, with whom I had worked in the attorney general’s office. A few months later another lawyer, Tom Moon, offered me free office space in exchange for going to court for him on a frequent basis.
PRIVATE PRACTICE 1976 – TO DATE
My practice evolved like it seems to do for lawyers who work hard, tend to business, and are lucky. A few years later I had my own office. Fast forward to present day and now there are six lawyers and a team of 34 people in the office. Many fine lawyers worked in my office over the years including a current Circuit Court of Appeals Judge in Franklin and a current Criminal Court judge in Nashville.
A great satisfaction has been to practice with my son, Blair, a tough, former Marine with a tender nature and a heart of gold.
Blair says busy as our senior attorney. He has taken my place as the day to day manager of the practice.
My older son, Colin, lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Colin holds a Master of Science from UAB, Birmingham and is a consultant for health care companies.
He married his high school sweetheart, Michele, who is a licensed attorney in Alabama. Colin and Michele live close to Michele’s family and spend time with her parents, siblings and nephews.
Clients tell me their most private affairs. I am treated as a part of their family for the time we are partnered in their case. There are few other professions where someone lets you into his inner life and shows you their soul.
We have a great team of attorneys. Rich meets with new clients. Aaron and Chaucey are great resources to the team. Blair stays busy managing our caseload. I consult on the cases, but limit my activities to marketing, case reviews and some management decisions.
In December, 2012, Cindy and I were married at Blair and Kelley’s home in Nashville. In June, 2013, we had a second ceremony on our deck in Malibu (pictures below). Cindy’s mother and two sisters were able to make the celebration.
After a six-year journey, Bart’s wife, Cindy, earned her U.S. citizenship and shared what the accomplishment meant to her. Congratulations, Cindy! We are all so very proud of you! Cindy’s mother and two sisters traveled from South Korea to make the celebration.
Cindy enjoys a strong passion for singing and has a beautiful voice. She is active with the Yonsei University Alumni Choir in Southern California and recently traveled with them to Hawaii to perform. Yonsei University is a research university in Seoul, South Korea. It was established in 1885 and is one of the oldest universities in the country.
The Choir (Cindy is pictured front row center) will hold it’s annual concert on Saturday, October 8, 2016. Last year they performed at Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. The performance was attended by President Park Geun-hye.
The Korea Daily Los Angles news ran an article about the Hawaii performance. You can read the entire article by clicking here . (You may need to translate the article in your web browser.) I am so very proud of Cindy and her many talents!
I suffered chest pains in August, 2006, while in Malibu. I had a triple bypass in September. I did well until early January of 2007. Since then I have been hospitalized four times and had stents put in on three occasions.
After my bypass I went into kidney failure two days later. The doctors told Colin and Blair I may not live.
Every day is a gift. Facing your mortality each time you go in the hospital makes you realize what’s important in life. It’s not money or fame or any accomplishments. I know what is important to me now is my relationship with God and the love of my family and hopes for their future.
I am concerned about our societal values and what this means to coming generations. I hope my grandchildren, Ethan and Addy, will grow up in a better world, and I can live long enough for us to know and love each other and I can help guide them in the right direction.
I have entertained the idea of ending my working days as a Davidson County Circuit judge or Criminal Court judge. I don’t think I could get elected. It would be fun to go back to a nine to five job again. I worked twelve hours a day in the old days.
The representative of our web site told me when he made a business call that he heard I was “selling my practice.” Not true. I’ll be here until I die. You go nuts with nothing to do. I’m still having a lot of fun being a lawyer.
More information about Bart
INTERVIEW WITH BART
by Jeanne Durso — updated 2011
What is your educational background?
I went to Florida State and got an undergraduate degree — B.S. in economics. I went to a couple of summer schools and finished in three years, in February. I liked Florida because of the weather, but I decided on the University of Tennessee because it was the only law school I could get into without having to wait until the fall term the following September. I never wanted to practice in Tennessee and planned on returning to Florida after finishing law school.
I arrived in Knoxville on a snowy day in March. I was the youngest person in the whole law school. During my first semester at law school, I really struggled academically and even failed a contracts and real property course. I did make an “A” in Family Law, which was the toughest course there, mainly because I was so afraid of the professor.
For the next two years I tried to raise my grade point average high enough to transfer to the University of Florida law school. I didn’t like Knoxville and hated the University of Tennessee. It was one of those law schools that put pressure on the students by constantly telling them they are about to flunk out. The theory is if you can’t handle the law school pressure you won’t be a good lawyer.
I was sick of law school, so I joined the Army and served for two years in Germany. I was about to go back to law school in Knoxville, when a friend persuaded me to go to Southern Law University, which was a night law school in Memphis. It was a much better choice for me because I lived and worked only 50 miles from campus. I drove to school two nights a week and graduated in less than a year. I had to miss the graduation ceremonies because I was in the hospital dealing with a kidney stone.
Because I had been sick, I couldn’t study for the Tennessee Bar Exam. My dad suggested taking it anyway since I had already paid the fee and if I didn’t pass I could take it again. I took the exam with very little preparation and for some lucky reason I passed it the first time. What a miracle! The fail rate was 40 percent and I was probably the least-prepared student.
Why did you choose this job for your career?
A lot of the people in my family were lawyers: my father, grandfather and some cousins. I never really considered any other option than to go to law school. It was pretty much understood in my family that I would be a lawyer and come back to my hometown and practice with my dad.
It didn’t work out that way. Shortly after becoming a lawyer, my dad died of a heart attack. I wanted to experience more than what I could have as small town lawyer, so I got a job as an assistant federal district attorney in Memphis through my father’s political connections. From there, I moved to Nashville to be a state assistant attorney general. I left and established my own one-person law firm, when I realized I wanted to be out on my own. The practice grew and now I have 16 employees including four lawyers.
What does your job consist of?
I represent injured people in personal injury cases. I generally supervise attorneys and paralegals and I sometimes go in to court. The office has approximately 750 cases involving injured people, and we only take cases with serious injury or death.
Are you happy in your achievements in your job?
Yes. It’s fun. I have to pinch myself to think I can be so lucky.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
The best part of my job is dealing with the clients. They put their trust in me and I try to be worthy of that.
I enjoy my relationships with the staff. Pam, Tracie, Rich, Lori, and Aaron have been with me for over 10 years.
There are about 20 lawyers in the community who had their first job in my office and I have good relationships with them. A criminal court judge in Nashville and a circuit court judge in Franklin worked in my office on their way up the ladder.
The worst part of my job is dealing with difficult clients who think they are entitled to an unrealistic amount of money. Sometimes the person who caused the accident has no money and very little insurance. In these cases where there is no money, some clients want to take out their frustrations on their lawyer, the system or anyone handy.
I also agonize over discharging employees who are not doing their job; but, sometimes it has to be done.
Has anyone influenced you throughout your career?
My father was the strongest influence on me. We were never that close while he was alive — in the sense that we talked things over — but I followed in his footsteps. He was a good man. I would like to be as good a father to my kids as my dad was to me.
What is your regular daily routine?
My staff and attorneys are experienced enough that I have freedom with my schedule. I usually spend the early morning working on the computer in the house and go to the gym and meet my trainer for an hour at 10:00 a.m.
I meet some of the lawyers at Nashville or another local restaurant for lunch. I go to the office after lunch until the late afternoon or early evening.
We have a software program we call RMS, which stands for Record Management System. I meet with the lawyers and the paralegals on each case. We put up the case facts on a projector screen in our large conference room and several lawyers and several other staff review them and make decisions on where we are and what to do next.
I bought a small townhouse on the beach in Malibu, California, in 2003, and spend part of the summer and winter there. With the Internet and telephone I can do almost everything from a case standpoint that I can do in Nashville.
Malibu is great. The weather is perfect in the summer and winter and I have friends there, but Nashville will always be home.
Have you achieved all of your career goals?
My goals have changed over the years. Originally I just wanted to have a traditional practice and do interesting work. My practice just evolved into a busy law firm that is very interesting and enjoyable.
My goal now is to keep on doing what I am doing, while getting better and better at it. I never want to fully retire. I would like to die working, because I enjoy everything about it. I would go nuts if I didn’t have the adrenaline of being needed and the good feelings from being useful.
I like to practice law with Blair. Particularly I like to try jury cases together. He’s great about working with me. Some kids have a hard time working with their dads but we function well together.
MY SON COLIN
Colin Durham, My Older Son
Colin with wife Michele, Attorney. They live in Birmingham.
Colin’s mug shot at the U.S. Marshall’s office visiting Cincinnati when I was an Assistant Federal District Attorney.
At the Hard Rock Cafe, Las Vegas.
Playing roller hockey.
With Marcus Allen the day we got pre-game sideline passes when the Titans played the Steelers.
Michele with Titan’s former kicker Al del Greco – her distant cousin by marriage.
Danny Bustamente (Ferrari 360), Victor Englert (Ferrari 328), Bart, Colin, and Rich Cassidy (collectively Ferrari 348 and Acura NSX) at Talladega Grand Prix Track Event.
Auburn Marching Band.
MY WRESTLING CAREER
One day in the gym in the mid 90’s, legendary wrester Candi Divine asked me if I would be interested in training to be a “ringside manager.” I began taking lessons from her and others as well as attending matches. Soon, I made my first appearance managing Regina Hale at the regular Friday night wrestling at the Excalibur Gym in Madison, Tennessee.
The pictures taken below were in the weeks following. Below, I am helping Regina by choking her opponent. The next one down, Candi Divine has attacked me and even pulled my pants down. The crowd got a laugh, but I hated it. How embarrassing!
I have managed in gyms, high school auditoriums and even night clubs in several states. These matches are sometimes televised through the MCW syndication and shown in 100 markets including some overseas.
A “manager” in wrestling is someone who is ringside, like the trainer in boxing. Unlike the boxing analogy, the “manager” gets in the ring and helps the wrestler. The referee sometimes looks the other way while the manager hits his wrestler’s opponent with a steel chain or throws talcum powder in their eyes or does some other kind of mischief. I carried a briefcase with big letters “Black Bart” and hit a lot of people with that.
I suffered a concussion in 2002 after being hit by a steel chair at a show at the Exit Inn. I never completely lost consciousness but felt the effects for several weeks.
I’d love to get back into the ring, but my heart troubles have ended my wresting career.
Bert Prentiss, Tony Falk and Mike Porter “were” the three biggest promotors and they offered to book me. I’ve aged and my beautiful black hair is now only black because of the dye, but still have fire in the belly. I don’t move around as fast as I used to, but I’d love to get some big guy in a stranglehold and make him beg for mercy.
Below at the bottom is a picture of Candi, Little Jeanie and me the night Jeanie signed her management contract. She is an outstanding wrestler. Little Jeanie has completed a four-week tour in Australia and New Zealand with the “Superstars of Wrestling.” Dennis Rodman wrestled with the group on the tour.
Fighting dirty and choking Candi – she’s learning not to mess with me – Regina Hale helps out
Candi takes revenge and pulls my pants down
Faron Foxx takes a swing at Candi, but knocks me unconscious by mistake. That’s the last time I’ll work with him!
Candi Divine’s wrestling school, here with student Eloise Young
Little Jeanie before a match
The night Jeanie signed her contract
LEARNING TO FLY
Bart with flight instructor Patrick Dugan – first solo in many years – March 4, 2006
I learned to fly in college at Florida State and got my private pilot license in 1954. It was $3 an hour for the plane, which included the fuel. I would take passengers to help pay for the gas. I finished at Florida State in 1957. The weather and law school in Knoxville ended my flying career for many years.
I got back into flying in the early 2000s. I logged over 400 hours and flew whenever I could. I worked on my instrument license and had an interest in planes both in Nashville and Santa Monica, California. The planes were leased to flight schools in those cities and were flown enough so the revenue pretty much paid for my own flying. Until I had my heart bypass, flying was my total passion.
The video below is shot from a Cessna landing on One Six Right at Van Nuys Airport, the largest general aviation airport in the United States.
MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH FERRARIS
A car was just a way to get from one place to another until August of 1996. I purchased my first Ferrari: a 1995 355 Coupe, followed by a 1991 348 and a 1982 Mondial Coupe. The 355 Coupe was traded for a 1995 355 Spider. The Spider and the Mondial have been traded in with Ferrari of Houston for a new 360 Spider, red with tan interior. The 348 was sold for me on consignment by Ferrari of Houston.
I became addicted to the race track. The best part about owning the cars was the friends I made in the car world who had a similar “need for speed.”
I joined the Ferrari Club of America, and in 1997, helped found the Tennessee chapter and served as its president. I served as regional director of the Southeast Region of the Ferrari Club of America for two years until 2003. Our region is comprised of six states — Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and the two Carolinas. The club hosts race-weekends each year at Virginia International Raceway, Talledega Grand Prix Track, and Roebling Road (near Savannah). We have numerous other events throughout the region.
I’ve dropped out of club activities and Ferrari racing. My sons Colin and Blair were active in driving on the track but since they stopped going to meets, I have too. I still have the 360 spider. The spider is in California.
My 360 Spider