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Millington woman’s historic appointment by Supreme Court

By Thomas Sellers Jr.Linda Harris reading

Linda Nettles Harris has made a name for herself in mediation conference rooms in Tennessee.

Linda Nettles Harris has made a name for herself in mediation conference rooms in Tennessee.

Linda Harris has been a trailblazer under the radar for years.

With a professional career spanding from the Memphis Police Department to some of the highest courts in Tennessee, Harris has earned degrees, awards, recognition and respect along the way.

Her latest honor was a historic appointment by the Tennessee Supreme Court to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission. When lawyer Harold D. Archibald passed away, Harris was selected by the Supreme Court to finish out his term until January 2015.

The Woodstock resident’s journey to becoming the first black woman appointed to the ADR Commission started in the streets of Memphis after she graduated from Hamilton High School.

In 1979, Harris became a police officer working in Crime Stoppers, auto theft and child sex abuse divisions. Those five year shaped Harris into the lawyer she would become and shaped the mindset she needed to succeed in the professional world.

“I remember being a police woman riding in the squad car and the policeman not even speaking to me,” she recalled. “I had to ride in the squad car for eight hours and nobody would even talk to me. So I’ve seen a lot of changes.

“But I’ve watched us change,” Harris continued. “I’ve watched the opportunities change. If you are an African-American woman, you have to work hard. You have to work harder. You have to be committed to that job. If you are committed and you do a good job, you will ultimately be accepted by your colleagues.”

The day Harris left the force to pursue her law degree from then Memphis State University, her peers on the force were sad to see her go throwing her a party.

From 1984-87 Harris, with the support of her husband Calvin, attended law school. When she graduated from the Cecil C. Humprey Law School, Harris got her introduction to the world of law as a clerk for Federal District Court Judge Jerome Turner.

That year and half led to Harris becoming the mother of Calvin Jr. and Mark. And she also earned the title of attorney at law focusing on civil legation and eventually mediation on constitutional issues.

“Anything you do, you bring your life’s experiences to the table,” Harris said. “The exposure that I have had to people in the course of my life has given me insight into how people feel and react in certain situations. What people are looking for to try to help them to come to resolutions. Just watching them, watching their reactions. I think all of that has helped and all that came through life experience.

“Being a police officer is one of the most unquie experiences anybody could ever have,” she added. “It’s an awesome experience. You get to see the best of people and the worst of people. In a way you have to mediate as a police officer. You would get a call to a location and you are there to resolve a problem. As a parent, you are a mediator. You are into resolution of conflict between your children. Learning how to do that in a tactful and successful matter.”

Linda and Calvin raised one son to become a Morehouse College graduate. Mark graduated from Millington Central High School in 2010 after a standout wrestling career. He is now attending UT-Martin.

Meanwhile mom could be found at her office Nettles Harris Law Firm & Dispute Resolution Services PLLC in Downtown Memphis at 22 N. Front Street.

Through years of training, study and experience in mediation Harris became the top choice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

“Individuals on that committee are selected by the Supreme Court of state of Tennessee, have to be a licensed lawyer in state and come through the Tennessee ADR Commission,” she noted.

On the ADR Commission the members deal with discipline that needs to be issued, and work with Supreme Court to make suggestion of changes known as Rule 31 which is a Tennessee rule that governs mediation and what the requirements are to be a meditior.

Harris describes a mediator as a lawyer that doesn’t have an interest in the outcome of the case. The purpose of mediation is to bring resolution to the legation.

When Harris isn’t busy in conference rooms working on cases, she is giving back to the community she has called home for 20 years.

“My driver’s license has Millington, Tenn., as my address,” she said. “So I wanted to become a part of the Millington community. I consider myself a part of the Millington community. There has not ever been a community that I have been a part of that I haven’t given back. I’ve volunteered for things since I was 18 years of age.

Part of Harris’ effort in the Millington community was helping start Friendship Safehaven in 2009. Along with the help of community leaders like Debra Sigee and her daugher Nikki, the organization provided a dramic outlet for area children.

“We used theater arts as the foundation,” Harris noted. “But the program is not designed to make actors and actresses. We have kids who are very dramatic, who want to be actors and actress. But that is not the ultimate goal. But they do have an enhanced appreciation for the theater through the program.”

The program will relaunch this September with a new name M.A.S.K. The brainchild of Nikki, M.A.S.K. stands for Mid-South Arts Safehaven for Kids.

While trying to make the lives of Millington-area children better, Harris has made history through her hard work at her job.

“I am extremely humbled and honored by my selection,” she said. “It says that I work hard. I have worked hard all my life. I have served on a lot of things. In the end, hard work pays off. That’s the message I hope young people will take. Work hard and you may not see immediate results from the fruits of your labor, but you will see results.”

Harris said being the first African-American woman to serve on the commission is significant because, from her days as police officer to a law student, she had unqiue obstacles to overcome.

“I learned early in life that people are by nature resistant to, and fear, change,” she said. “Accordingly, their initial reaction to me as an African-American and a women may have been negative.  At my core, I believe all people are entitled to be treated fairly and justly, even those who dislike you.

“My philosophy in life is to always do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way,” Harris concluded. “I have always worked hard and I have tried do do the best possible job in all of the endeavors I have faced in life.  Because of my core beliefs, I have found that once people learn you are not a threat to them, while they may not always agree with you, they ultimately learn to judge you based on the content of your character.”

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February 2013
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