Rotary Club of Chattanooga Spotlights Miller & Martin’s 150 Years in Business

May 05, 2017

The May 4, 2017 Rotary Club of Chattanooga program featured Miller & Martin Chairman Jim Haley, along with author, McCallie School General Counsel and Miller & Martin alumnus, Thomas Hayes, as the keynote speakers highlighting the law firm’s 150th anniversary.

Haley spoke about the beginnings of Chattanooga’s oldest and largest law firm, as well as the pivotal events in Chattanooga’s history that shaped the firm and enabled the firm’s attorneys to become trusted advisors to business leaders during the early growth and ongoing transformation of the community. Haley, who has witnessed much of the most recent one-third of the firm’s history, highlighted some of those significant events, including the involvement of its attorneys as executors for the Cartter Lupton estate, major banking shifts, the consolidation of much of the nation’s Coca-Cola bottling operations, and its leaders’ roles in establishing several Chattanooga cornerstones that still exist today. Beyond influences on UTC, University of the South, and the establishment of prominent Chattanooga parks, Haley observed that one of the greatest legacies of one of the firm’s founders, Burkett Miller, is the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, which focuses on presidential scholarship, public policy and political leadership.

Tapped with authoring a book about Miller & Martin’s history, Hayes commented on the firm’s culture and his experience both as an attorney with the firm and now as a client. “I have a profound respect for Miller & Martin – the caliber of the women and men who work there, their love for one another, for their clients and for this community.”

Hayes also encouraged the Rotary audience to consider important milestones. “Miller & Martin – just as many of the businesses, enterprises and institutions we all represent – has played and continues to play an important role in the life of this city, and I would encourage each of you, during important milestones, to pause and to reflect on that role and on the people who gave their life’s work to our community.”

Hayes also spoke about significant legal cases handled by the firm, including the landmark case of U.S. v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola– which was the first true test of a new law, the Pure Food and Drug Actcreated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Haley concluded by offering his perspective on the changes he has witnessed in the legal profession and his prediction for the future of the legal system in the United States and the evolving role of attorneys and its impact on the traditional American law firm structure.

                                                                Speech Excerpts Highlight Contributions from the Firm’s Founding Fathers

                                                                               ~ White Burkett Miller’s Commitment to Excellence ~

Having begun practicing law in Athens with his uncle, W.B. Miller moved to Chattanooga in 1904. The years following the Civil War had not been easy ones for Chattanooga. War torn, the city endured frequent fires, three major floods and several outbreaks of Yellow Fever. But there were favorable conditions as well, and I will name two: (1) our geography demanded collaborative problem solving – especially through public/private partnerships – and produced resilient entrepreneurs, and (2) perhaps for that reason, our citizenry that was welcoming of newcomers.

A sign that Chattanooga’s fortunes were changing at the turn of the century came in one of W.B. Miller's early representations, the Grant Memorial case. At the time, there were two major universities in the area, Grant Memorial in Athens and U.S. Grant in Chattanooga. Both schools had been established by the Methodist church. In short, the Grant Memorial case was about which of the two schools would have ascendency in the area. U.S. Grant University prevailed signaling in some ways the regional ascendency of Chattanooga over its neighbors. U.S. Grant, of course, would later become the University of Chattanooga, now UTC. The case is significant in Miller & Martin’s history because in that case W.B. Miller faced off against another Chattanooga attorney, Francis Martin. The case solidified a mutual respect between the adversaries and the next year, 1906, they each decided to send their sons, Burkett & Vaughn Miller and Linton Martin respectively, to a new local school, the McCallie School. The boys became friends and later joined in a partnership that would retain their names.

Just a few years later, in 1909, the Deputy U.S. Attorney General out of Knoxville, James B. Cox, appointed W.B. Miller as an assistant U.S. Attorney to help him try a landmark case in Chattanooga: U.S. v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola. This case was the first true test of a new law, the Pure Food and Drug Act, which had created the Food and Drug Administration. The first commissioner of the FDA was Harvey Washington Riley, a chemist, who waged a war against caffeine and sought to prosecute his crusade by targeting an emerging, popular drink, Coca-Cola. In October 1908, the government seized 40 barrels and 20 kegs of Coca-Cola shipped from Atlanta to Chattanooga in interstate commerce. The government alleged – among other things – that caffeine in Coca-Cola was an “added poisonous…ingredient.” The trial was unlike any seen before in Chattanooga, if not in the South. Doctors, experts in chemistry, pharmacology, directors of government labs, all with degrees from the nation’s most prestigious universities, descended on Chattanooga to testify for or against Coca-Cola…The case is important in the history of Chattanooga and Miller & Martin with their respective relationships with Coca-Cola, but it is especially interesting for the impact the case had on W.B. Miller personally. Some background: While the case was being tried and appealed, W.B. Miller was going through a horrific personal experience. His father, a Confederate veteran, owned land in McMinn County, some of which he rented to tenant, George Rose, who then conspired against him by convincing Miller’s son, W.B. Miller’s brother – Bascom Miller, to ambush the old man. Bascom Miller had a mental handicap, which made him susceptible to manipulation. Bascom actually held his father down while the tenant Rose beat the elder Miller’s head in with an axe.

…This event, juxtaposed with what Miller was seeing in the Forty Barrels trial, was transformational for W.B. Miller. In his father’s death, he saw the remnants of frontier justice; in the Forty Barrels trial, he met and worked with urbane, well-educated men from all over the country who were advocating in a civil way for the proper role of law and regulation in a just society. This convinced Miller that he wanted for himself and for his children and for his community to escape and to progress from a sort of backward meanness that still existed in the area. For example, he would spend much of his remaining professional life as a prosecutor ridding the area of whiskey rings. At a minimum, the Forty Barrels case taught W.B. Miller the sort of federal regulations that were coming and the sort of lawyer that would be needed to guide business clients through such regulation. He would make sure his sons received educations fit to play a part in this new, progressive world.

                                                                                                       ~ Burkett Miller’s Legacy ~

While practicing law with his father White Miller, and brother, Vaughn, and Linton Martin, Burkett became very involved in the Chattanooga business community and quickly demonstrated an unusually keen ability in financial matters. Jim Waterhouse used to swear that Burkett could throw a dart at the Wall Street Journal listing of New York Stock Exchange companies, and the stock valuation of the impaled company inexplicably would increase. Burkett built the downtown Sears Building, now Market Court, and successfully went toe-to-toe with Sears when it tried to locate an Allstate Insurance kiosk in the building without paying additional rent. Burkett purchased stylish yachts and bone-fished in the Florida Keys with friends like R. J. Reynolds, and no one would have blamed him if he had just chosen to enjoy himself, but he did not.

He established a foundation, Tonya Memorial Foundation, using the same mysterious name that he had given to all three of his yachts. During its existence, the Foundation awarded over $40 million to various philanthropic causes such as the Willie Miller Eye Center at Erlanger in honor of his wife who was legally blind, The Tivoli, Coolidge Park, Renaissance Park, the Hitching Visitor Center adjacent to the Aquarium, and the Riverwalk, and he endowed chairs, lectures and internships at Sewanee and the University of Chattanooga for which he also donated the Chancellor’s residence on Lookout Mountain.

Influenced by his great friend, Scotty Probasco, he came to believe that a strong core city was the hub of any great community, and in honor of his father, White Miller, he funded Miller Park and later, Miller Plaza, which in the words of Mayor Robert Kirk Walker, were “like a rock thrown in the middle of a pond that rippled throughout the community.

However, the crowning jewel of his legacy, in my opinion, was the Miller Center, established at Burkett’s law school alma mater, fulfilled Burkett’s vision of a place without partisanship where leaders, scholars and the public would come together for a discussion grounded in history to find consensus solutions. Today, the Miller Center’s endowment stands at around $80 million, and the Center specializes in presidential scholarship, public policy and political leadership. It also serves as the official repository for all Oval Office voice recordings, including crowd pleasers as Lyndon Johnson ordering from Haggar Clothing Company and Joe Haggar himself, trousers that in the President’s own words, needed customized tailoring in the crotch.

                                                                                           ~ Vaughn Miller’s Worldly Perspective ~

At Yale, Vaughn became good friends with the composer, Cole Porter, and he even tried his hand at song writing. One of Miller’s songs, “Musical Jones,” gained some national notoriety. Cole Porter and Vaughn Miller remained life-long friends, and Cole Porter even visited him once in Chattanooga. After Yale, Vaughn Miller entered Harvard Law School, where he graduated first in his class. He was for that reason selected by none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to serve as Holmes’s thirteenth law clerk, during the 1917-18 United States Supreme Court term.

Holmes did not view the clerkship as a one sided transaction in which his caseload was lightened by a bright young lawyer. Holmes saw the clerkship as an opportunity for formation - a means of passing down his judicial philosophy to a new generation. There was no Supreme Court building at the time, so the clerks, including Vaughn Miller, worked in Holmes’s own residence in Washington D.C. In addition to the court work, Holmes assigned the clerks readings. By some estimates, Holmes would assign to and discuss with his clerks over thirty books during the one-year clerkship. The books ranged from Shakespeare’s King Lear to Lester Frank Ward’s Dynamic Sociology. The clerks would eat dinner with him and his wife and go on long strolls through Washington while Holmes would teach them his vision of the law.

What was that vision? Holmes used the judicial clerkship to combat what he saw as a threat to the legal system and the legal profession: “crass materialism” and “the degradation of the scholar-thinker.” As Holmes wrote:

To an imagination of any scope the most far-reaching form of power is not money, it is the command of ideas…We cannot all be Descartes or Kant, but we all want happiness. And happiness, I am sure from having known many successful men, cannot be won simply by being counsel for great corporations and having income of fifty thousand dollars. An intellect great enough to win the prize needs other food besides.

Holmes posited a vision of the law in society that was larger, more complex, but at the same time more imaginative and practical. So through his clerks, his vision of jurisprudence took on flesh, and one of them, Vaughn Miller, brought that vision to Chattanooga. He embodied that vision at Miller & Martin and instilled it into the firm’s culture. Through him, a culture of rigorous, practical thinking and creative problem solving emerged at Miller & Martin. It remains to this day, and I think it remains incredibly relevant to the changes in the legal field that are emerging.

                                                                                            ~ Jim Hitching’s Relentless Diligence ~

Jim Hitching worked at Miller & Martin from 1944 until his death in 2000. In 1967, he penned a short history of Miller and Martin for the firm’s centennial…Many of you have known or remember Jim Hitching. He was a little eccentric; for example, he used to drive to work in a Datson 280z wearing a football helmet, but he was a remarkable attorney.

In fact, when the Coca-Cola Company, i.e. “Big Coke,” developed its first diet drink, TAB, Coca-Cola took the position that TAB was distinct from Coca-Cola and, therefore, the Coca-Cola bottlers had no right to bottle it under their existing contract. Hitching, advocating for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (Thomas), found an affidavit of Casa Candler, the man who purchased the Coke formula from John Pemberton and founded the Coca-Cola Company. Hitching discovered it among old federal court records in Philadelphia. In the affidavit, Candler acknowledged that Coca-Cola had at times been sweetened with saccharin, the sweetener used in TAB. This acknowledgement won the matter for the bottler, and the affidavit came to be known as the “million dollar” affidavit because it secured a perpetual royalty for the Thomas Company. It was, in fact, worth many millions of dollars. Paul Austin, a lawyer and one-time chief executive officer of the Coca-Cola Company, referred to Hitching at the Coca-Cola Company luncheon as the only lawyer who had ever made him “eat crow.”