History of MCBA
The Montgomery County Bar Association was formed in 1915; however, there is very little history of the practicing bar prior to 1930. Old composite photos of Montgomery lawyers and judges in the late 1880's and early 1900's refer to The Montgomery Bar. During the 1920's, research revealed the identity of three presidents of The Montgomery Bar: the late J. Render Thomas, in 1921; the late Federal Judge Richard T. Rives, in 1923; and noted lawyer Wiley C. Hill, Jr., in 1927. The Montgomery Bar Association was formed in 1915; however, the Association did not begin photographing and recording presidents until 1930.
During the 30's and 40's, there were only fifty to sixty members. George Jones was Secretary/Treasurer from 1935 - 1978. There was no Central Office, and Mr. Jones billed members, collected dues, and kept all of the Association's records.
A spurt of notable activity arose between 1957 and 1959. The first national recognition of the Montgomery Bar Association occurred when the American Bar Association awarded its prestigious Award of Merit for community service activities. The late James B. Carter and Drayton Hamilton were presidents during this time. The community service activities consisted of voluntary representation of the indigent, and a television talk show, called "It's The Law," encouraging adoption of Alabama Act No. 520 which provided for the Legislature to fix, alter, and regulate the cost of court fees from time to time, and Alabama Act No. 711 which provided for (1) the establishment, maintenance, equipping, operations, and financing of a public County Law Library, and; (2) the taxing and collection of law library fees as items of court costs in cases docketed in certain courts within the county. On December 1, 1959, the Montgomery County Law Library officially opened with 1,841 volumes.
In 1972, The Montgomery Bar Association reorganized and chartered as the Montgomery County Bar Association, Inc. when a previous president was nominated to be a Federal Judge and was told during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee screening hearing, held to confirm or disapprove his nomination, that he had been president of a Bar Association that discriminated against black people. The Bar Leadership scurried and put together a non-discriminatory charter and a set of bylaws allowing any lawyer in good standing to qualify for membership. The Federal Judge nominee was unaware of the racial exclusion which indeed stated that only "white men" could be members of The Montgomery Bar Association. (It had not been contemplated either that females might later engage in the practice of law.) In fact, it is doubted that any of the active attorney membership realized such an exclusion existed, for few, if any, ever saw a copy of the old organization folder of rules and procedures which had been tucked away for many years gathering cobwebs in the Chancery Clerk's old office.
For several years, with a few exceptions, the Association was not a continually active organization. Perhaps the most significant of the exceptions was provided by the very talented late Aldo James Sansone during the years 1975 and 1976. Mr. Sansone was president of the Young Lawyers Section (YLS) of the Alabama State Bar in 1974 and had undertaken numerous projects for young lawyers. Sansone paved the way for the establishment of MCBA's Young Lawyers Section as a recognized affiliate of the YLS of the American Bar Association, which officially occurred in 1976. Floyd Minor was its first president. On June 13, 1987, Al James Sansone and his wife, Patricia, were tragically killed in an automobile accident while returning to Montgomery from a meeting of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) on the Gulf. The ATLA established the "Al Sansone Service Award" to be awarded to a member providing outstanding service to its Association. The first recipient was Jimmy Pool of the MCBA.
In 1978, Larry Kloess persuaded the Board of Directors to approve the idea of publishing a bulletin-type journal to provide a communication link between its members and between other Bar Associations throughout the State. The idea was approved on the basis that Mr. Kloess would be the editor, get advertising to defray the costs, and appoint a committee which would assist him in the endeavor. The sum allocated for this project was modest. The result was the beginning of the MCBA Docket. The first issue, along with MCBA's new logo, was published in time for the annual meeting in January 1979.
The publication of the MCBA Docket necessitated obtaining a post office box and a bulk mail permit, and later a telephone listing in the yellow pages, a Central Office, and a part-time secretary. A comprehensive list of all members was compiled to receive mailings, and under new dynamic leadership, MCBA began to move in many directions.
In 1979, Walter Byars undertook far reaching programs for the membership involving judges, the court system, and the community. Mr. Byars inaugurated continuing legal education programs before they became mandatory by the Alabama State Bar Association. Through his leadership, programs were sponsored on trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, judicial reform, and ethics. He further represented the MCBA in promulgating the Law Awareness Program, a law educational program to school children of the Montgomery area, along with its founders Judge Joseph Phelps, Judge Randall Thomas, and Mrs. Nellie Weil of the local Board of Education. In this Program, local law enforcement officials, judges, lawyers, and others work with schools to promote student interest in the law.
Other achievements of Mr. Byars was the sponsorship of a jury workshop at Auburn University Montgomery, at which time the public attended and provided input as to how they would like the jury system to be. The Liberty Bell Scholarship Award program was implemented which involved the presentation of an award to a local student at the Annual Law Day banquet. A Montgomery bank offered to co-contribute the monetary award (now in the amount of $1,000) based upon essays and/or achievements along the theme of the Law Day U.S.A observance. This same year, MCBA received notable mention by the American Bar Association for its community-wide Law Day observance.
In 1979, MCBA elected officers and directors and began meeting monthly to conduct business and to approve new applications for membership. Because prospective new members no longer had to wait for the annual meeting to become members, sixty new members were brought in during the year. In 1984, Mr. Byars became president of the Alabama State Bar Association.
In 1980, MCBA received, for the second time, the highest national award possible for any Bar Association, the prestigious American Bar Association Award of Merit, this time for "Overall Excellence." The award was presented by the ABA at its annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. The MCBA Docket was selected one of the best single activities under membership activities while the programs and operations overall, beginning in 1979, provided the general basis and criteria for excellence.
In subsequent years, MCBA involved itself in providing a broad and comprehensive program involving legal services to the poor under its Pro Bono Program, in conjunction with the Montgomery Legal Services Corporation through a grant from the American Bar Association; notwithstanding local attorneys who had been voluntarily taking on indigent civil and criminal cases since the 1950's. Monthly luncheon meetings were established, with guest speakers, along the civic club format which were preceded by board meetings to conduct the business of MCBA. The annual meetings became special luncheon meetings with distinguished speakers and the changing of the guard.
In 1981, Larry Kloess set up the Award of Merit Program to be given annually to a member who had provided the most outstanding service to the MCBA during the year. Wanda Devereaux received the first Award of Merit that year. In 1988, Ms. Devereaux became the first woman MCBA president. Also in 1981, MCBA's first full-time secretary was hired.
In 1982, video equipment was purchased for the Law Library and courts to provide video depositions and such. The computerized WestLaw system was installed in the Law Library for use by MCBA members.
In 1986, Charles Crook headed up a committee to provide the current Grievance Procedures. This was an undertaking of great magnitude.
In 1989, the American Bar Association awarded MCBA a "Public Service Award" for notable achievement in sponsoring "Law Day U.S.A" programs and events recognizing excellence in both.Today, MCBA is one of the leading local bar associations nationwide. It's Central Office is located within the elegant Montgomery County Courthouse Law Library and staffs an Executive Director, and a part-time secretary. The MCBA Docket is published ten times a year to over 800 members.