Mullis 75L, Buchsbaum 54L, Bedford 73L Honored by Emory Law
The 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award winners represent and excelled in three major roles in law — public defender, prosecution and the bench.
Carl Mullis 75L made his name prosecuting white-collar crime after seriously considering divinity school.
Now 81, Aaron Buchsbaum 54L’s abiding sense of justice led him to ﬁght discrimination in his native Savannah throughout his career.
After 23 years in practice, T. Jackson Bedford 73L ran successfully for Fulton County Superior Court judge. That was after his ﬁrst career in the U.S. Navy, ﬂying missions over Vietnam, where he ﬂew the last combat sortie by a Navy single-engine propeller airplane.
Beyond their Emory Law fraternity, another common thread is each has consuming interests beyond the courtroom.
Carl Mullis 75L
For Mullis, it is self-taught art. Visitors at his dinner table are inches from a life-size Howard Finster, something that doesn’t happen often outside a museum.
“Most of those people that we have collected created that art because they had to create that art,” Mullis says. “They were driven to do that. It wasn’t because they wanted to make money, it was because they wanted to get those visions out there.”
Mullis has a long relationship with the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens; he’s loaned art there and to the Carlos Museum, and he’s curated an exhibit at the High Museum. His interest in art began during his two years working at Yale’s Art and Architecture Gallery as an undergraduate.
He remembers a Yale alumnus who regularly gave symphony tickets to students at Yale. Mullis now does the same for Emory Law students.
Mullis believes in developing the whole person and sees art as an avenue for that. He reveals an inherent sympathy for the human condition through his sharp sense of humor and booming laugh.
While human struggle and desire often yield great art, those same conﬂicts can land folks on the wrong side of the law. As an antitrust lawyer, Mullis’ efforts led to a lot of bright people going to prison.
“Everyone who I sent to jail, I would have enjoyed being friends with,” he says philosophically.
After leaving the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Mullis was involved in cases including representing Cingular in its 2004 acquisition of at&t Wireless. When approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department’s antitrust division, the merger resulted in a $41 billion sale, the largest cash deal up to that time.
Mullis says his decision to continue at Emory Law rather than heading to divinity school was aided by then Dean Ben Johnson Jr. 36c 40l 05h. “He said, ‘There’s a great nexus between theology and the law,’” Mullis recalls.
Mullis says in his view, the purpose of law school should be “to nurture and create leaders who just happen to be great lawyers.”
T. Jackson Bedford 73L
Bedford had a charitable impulse about 20 years ago that now reaches about 2,500 children and mentally challenged adults each Christmas. Beginning in August, he starts to look a little bushy, as he grows out his silvery-white beard and equally silver hair for his role as Santa Claus.
In 1998, Bedford and his wife Patty lost a beloved grandson to cancer. Partly in response to their loss, the Bedfords established Brandon’s Foundation, Inc., which works with children struck by cancer and their families, and the Atlanta Santa Project which provides Santa visits to sick and underprivileged children and the mentally challenged.
In 2011, the Santa Project involved eight Santas and a score of volunteer elves from the Atlanta Bar Association. For the past four years, Bedford has also visited Atlanta’s Hartsﬁeld-Jackson International Airport USO on Christmas Day to greet traveling servicemen and women and their families.
This stands in contrast to Bedford’s day job, which involves presiding over serious criminal cases, as well as some civil trials that have put him under the microscope — including the 2006 Georgia Voter ID case. Bedford refers to it as a “Why me, Lord?” case.
On appeal, he was reversed on standing — an issue not raised by the attorneys involved, but by the Georgia Supreme Court justices themselves, Bedford said. The fact that he wasn’t faulted on a substantive issue wasn’t noted as prominently as the reversal.
Nuances often are what decide a case, and sometimes those subtleties don’t make it into news coverage, he added.
While in private practice, Bedford says nearly 60 percent of his work centered on domestic cases. So, he and four other judges worked to form Fulton County’s Family Division, in order to speed the process and encourage early settlement.
Parents are required to meet with court ofﬁcers early on in a process more like mediation, he said. They also must attend parenting classes designed to educate parents on the damage divorce can cause for the children involved.
“The break-up of a family is like splitting an atom,” he says. The goal for the new system was early intervention and education to defuse the brunt of negative energy directed at children who are emotionally affected by divorce.
Aaron Buchsbaum 54L
While Alzheimer’s has affected Buchsbaum’s memory, case law stands as a testament to his crusading work for civil rights during decades fraught with hate and intolerance. He is remembered for his successful challenge to Georgia’s then discriminatory method of selecting juries, effectively denying blacks a panel of their peers. His wife, Esther, pulls out clippings that show her husband’s zeal for hard battles.
In 1967, Buchsbaum was court-appointed counsel for a 19-year-old accused of rape, kidnapping and robbery. In the death penalty trial, Buchsbaum doggedly continued his objections to a nearly all-white jury pool. The case eventually changed the way Georgia’s petit and grand juries were selected.
Buchsbaum argued there was systematic discrimination when selecting jurors in trials of black defendants accused in cases involving whites. While blacks made up 35 to 40 percent of eligible jurors, he said, only about 7 percent made it to the jury list.
“My father comes from a long line of very stubborn people. When he knew he was in the right, he knew he was in the right," his daughter, Susan, said. "He did not tend to back down from a challenge. In fact, I think it got his adrenalin pumping."
Esther Buchsbaum says her husband's intellect and social ease used to make her think he might consider elected office. But in retrospect, she said his temperament probably would have made him a poor politician.
"I realized later he was not political material because he believed what he believed and he wouldn't compromise," she said. "He couldn't compromise his ideals."
Buchsbaum served as president of both Georgia Legal Services and Legal Aid of Savannah and was instrumental in desegregating the Savannah Bar Association. In 1980, he resigned over its habit of holding functions at private clubs with discriminatory membership policies. He later rejoined, after the practice stopped.
In 2011, the Chatham Country Economic Opportunity Authority named its new Head Start building the Aaron L. Buchsbaum Learning Center, to honor his 40 years of working with the EOA.
Buchsbaum also loved music and worked tirelessly to bring it to Savannah. He co-founded the Savannah Concert Association and the classical music and arts radio station WSVH, now part of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Despite his fading memory, music remains a vital part of his life.
"Now, his days are regulated by the radio music," Esther Buchsbaum said. "We go out for a morning walk, we must be back at 9 o'clock, because that's when the music starts."
Lisa Ashmore is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.