[Updated 11:30 a.m. Nov. 14 to add comments of Lewis Donelson on Small Schools case]
C. Allen High, who served as a judge in Davidson County Chancery Court for 21 years, died Wednesday night at the age of 83.
The impression High left on attorneys who practiced before him was evident in the outpouring of reaction yesterday to news of his passing. Here are a few comments from members of the Nashville bar:
"Before Allen went on the bench, he was a very effective civil lawyer. Because of his extensive trial experience, it was a pleasure to try cases to a jury in his Chancery Court. Allen was always very polite to lawyers and allowed the lawsuit to be tried without undue interference from the bench. He was admired by all Nashville lawyers, I believe."
— Ed Yarbrough, U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee
"When the Nashville Banner conducted an evaluation of judges by Nashville attorneys, Chancellor Allen High was rated highest among all then-sitting judges. He had a wonderful judicial temperament, he knew the law, and he respected litigants and attorneys."
— Christina Norris, Norris & Norris PLC, who served as Clerk & Master for Chancery Court during High's time on the bench
"He was a people's judge, with a very good judicial temperament. His down-to-earth approach to trials was unique, especially his willingness to let anyone be heard in his court, despite objections from lawyers. He has been missed by the bench and bar since his retirement, and now will be missed by the community he so loved and served."
— George Barrett, Barrett, Johnston & Parsley
"Chancellor High was the first Davidson County judge I appeared before when I came to town in 1982. I was still new, not from Nashville, and of course a bit scared at times. Invariably, and that is not figurative, he was polite, thoughtful, and courteous to everyone that appeared before him, whether experienced or not. He never let on that my arguments at the outset were strained or nervously presented, was totally respectful of everyone's roles, and exercised his really really well. I never once saw or heard him raise his voice, show irritation or impatience, nor be other than an absolute pleasure to appear before. He made you feel important to be in his court."
— Bob Boston, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis
High was first elected to the court in 1974. He won re-election in 1982 and 1990. Probably the most significant legal case to come before him was Tennessee Small School Systems v. State of Tennessee. The Small Schools lawsuit, filed in 1988, claimed that Tennessee's funding system for public education violated students' constitutional rights because those in rural schools did not have equal access to the educational amenities and opportunities available to urban students.
High ruled in favor of the rural school systems in 1991. Although the Court of Appeals overturned his ruling, the Tennessee Supreme Court later reinstated it, prompting legislators to enact funding reforms sought by the smaller schools.
Memphis attorney Lewis R. Donelson, co-founder of the Baker Donelson law firm, represented the rural schools before Chancellor High. He notes that the Supreme Court paid High "a real compliment" by adopting much of his ruling verbatim in its own ruling.
"At the time he made this decision, it was a very controversial legal question," with a great division of opinion over whether the court or the legislature was the proper forum to deal with the issue of underfunded schools, Donelson recalled. "It was a courageous decision. The easy way would have been to say it was a legislative problem and duck the issue."
In a 1985 case, High's ruling in favor of the executors of Elvis Presley's estate helped establish that celebrities enjoy what has been called a "posthumous right of publicity," preventing others from trading on their names.
Serving as president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference in 1982, High founded the Tennessee Judicial Academy, which remains in operation today. He was a co-founder of the Harry Phillips American Inn of Court, a Middle Tennessee legal society. He also helped form the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association and served as its president in 1970.
High was a Nashville native, son of the late Harry L. and Elizabeth Allen High. The day after he graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1943, his draft notice arrived. He enlisted in the Army and joined the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper. High made several combat jumps during the war, including some in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Nashville attorney Robert Brandt, who served as a Chancellor alongside High, recalled that High was full of tales about his time in the service.
"Hardly a week went by that he did not tell some great story," Brandt remembered. "One I recall was his capture of a German field marshal when he was 18-19 years old. At least that what he and his buddies thought, the man had on such a fancy uniform. Turned out he was the village police chief."
After the war, High earned degrees from Peabody College and Vanderbilt University School of Law. He practiced with the firm of Denney, Leftwich & Osborn in Nashville. In 1958, he was elected as a delegate to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention. In 1967, he was elected to the State Legislature, serving a single two-year term.
High retired from the bench in 1995. He was known in his later years as an avid and accomplished player of both bridge and tennis.
Surviving him are his wife of 60 years, Mary Frances High; sons, Nashville attorney Charles Allen High Jr. (Deborah Dixon) , and Nashville attorney David E. High (Jane Shoun); and grandchildren, Mary W. High, Erin K. High, Amanda J. High, and Taylor G. High.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 8 p.m. today and 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Spring Hill Funeral Home, 5110 Gallatin Road. The funeral service will take place on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the chapel of the funeral home.
The Reverend Robin Courtney Jr. of St. James the Less Episcopal Church, where Chancellor and Mrs. High were charter members, will officiate. Gary Gober, High's former law partner, will offer the eulogy. Interment will follow in Spring Hill Cemetery.
The family has requested that any memorial contributions be given to St. James the Less Episcopal Church, 411 Due West Ave., Madison, TN 37115.