State Bar Recognizes David A. Webster
To no one’s surprise, the State Bar of Georgia has named David Alfred Webster the 2012 winner of the Dan Bradley Award. In a letter of support for David’s nomination, Legal Aid’s director of litigation, Charlie Bliss, made David sound like a lawyerly polymath with almost encyclopedic knowledge. Charlie was spot on. Expert in appellate advocacy, David has worked closely with Atlanta Legal Aid lawyers on appeals. He has been especially helpful with unemployment appeals, a double challenge as these appeals are not a matter of right, but heard at the discretion of the Court of Appeals.
While appeals work has a special attraction for David, his skills range much more widely. In his letter of support, executive director Steve Gottlieb recited an array of practice areas where David’s work has made a difference, often where he has offered invaluable support to another Legal Aid staffer. Almost as if reading a roster, Steve credits Dave for guiding former Legal Aid lawyers Debbie Ebel and Gary Leshaw in their challenges to the indeterminate custody of the Mariel Cubans, for supporting Bill Brennan in his home defense efforts, for playing a key role in Sue Jamieson’s Olmstead victory, for writing the brief in a worker’s compensation case that Steve himself had. He cites a tribute from another former Legal Aid lawyer, Myron Kramer: “[David’s] insights were consistently remarkable and his presence helped us all serve our clients to the best of our abilities.”
Colleagues look to David to analyze complex, even esoteric, legal issues in high-profile cases and to untangle knotty issues in routine cases, like procedural issues that can sidetrack an argument. Charlie quotes staff attorney Kimberly Charles, “He is so good he anticipates arguments that the opposing party should make, but does not.”
David is a gifted writer; Steve called his writing “elegant”. He can communicate the how-to of that sometimes solitary skill to others. He offers Legal Aid staff lawyers individual writing critiques. He is particularly effective in doing so because he builds on the positive aspects of composition while gently helping the writer overcome the negatives.
A native of Burlington, Vermont, David is the eldest of six children, a family configuration that doubtless helped him to develop negotiating skills. Earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont, he chose the Midwest and the University of Chicago for law school. He then headed south to Montgomery, Alabama to clerk for Judge John Cooper Godbold. (Montgomery, at the time part of the Fifth Circuit, became part of the Eleventh Circuit when it was created in 1981.) Following his clerkship, he joined Atlanta Legal Aid.
Planning to remain only one year at Legal Aid, he stayed for six. Former executive director Michael Padnos hired him but left before David reported for duty; David claims no causal relationship in that timing. Michael Terry was his first exec, Robbie Dokson the second. David rose to deputy director under Robbie, ceding the post to Steve. At that point, in something of a Clark Kent gesture, David doffed his barrister guise and spent the next eighteen months traveling. He visited Latin America, Africa, the Seychelles and South Asia, literally on the road except for the few occasions when overland passage was impossible and air travel the only solution. Why not Europe? He had already tasted Europe with the American Field Service while in high school. After his first year of law school, he also visited Norway, chaperoning a group with the Experiment in International Living, a Vermont-based organization. So far as is known, David has not been to Antarctica. Yet.
On his return, he became a consultant at the regional office of the Legal Services Corporation in Atlanta and then joined the LSC staff in time to witness a second wave of legal services agencies expansion, which was particularly notable in the southeast. Soon, he was drawn back to Atlanta Legal Aid as director of litigation. Continuing to build his renaissance man reputation, David taught at Emory Law School (including a seminar in poverty law), joined a private practice, ventured forth on his own to do appellate work and all the while was “in and out” at Atlanta Legal Aid, usually exercising his appellate expertise there. He remains an important name at Legal Aid, advisor and encourager to all.
Carol Brantley is the special person in David’s life. They had met shortly before his world trip, and re-met and married after he came home. Carol, too, has a panoramic view of the world, also shaped by international experience. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa. Following her service, she traveled in New Zealand and Australia. If the two ever listed every country either had visited, the list would scroll to impressive length.
Recreation? Yes! Music resounds through David’s days. A clarinetist in high school (who knew?), his voice is now his chosen instrument. He has sung with the best: Robert Shaw. His low bass can still be heard with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, which has continued to adhere--with glorious success--to Shaw’s methods. He runs ten to fifteen miles a week, sometimes with his short-haired border collie and namesake, Alfred. In addition to legal tomes, he reads real books and belongs to the Lawyers Club Book Club, a group surely less redundant than its name. Their most recent selection was Anne Emanuel’s biography of Judge Tuttle.
Dan Bradley, it is said, believed that lawyers had an obligation to place their skills as advocates at the service of the least powerful. Steve notes in his letter that David treats people with dignity, all people. The statements are corollaries. David does indeed use his considerable skills to serve those whose power is circumscribed, perhaps to the point of extinction, because he believes in the intrinsic dignity of each. He is an eminently deserving recipient of the Dan Bradley award.