By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore attorney Charles Godwin decided in 1977 that local lawyers and court officials needed a reminder of the importance of their career choice, and local high school seniors needed a hands-on look at the role the law plays in American society. More than four decades later, those points are still being driven home each year.
May 3, during Escambia County’s 42nd successive Law Day observance, Godwin was recognized for his untiring efforts in making the day one that legal practitioners look forward to, and that high-schoolers long remember.
Assistant District Attorney Todd Stearns, who is also the local bar association’s presiding officer, directed his opening remarks toward a courtroom filled with graduation candidates from Escambia County High School, Escambia Academy, Atmore Christian School and Precept Christian School.
During his welcome to the seniors and explanation of this year’s Law Day theme, the check and balances brought about by the separation of powers among America’s three-tiered governmental structure, Stearns suddenly strayed from his prepared remarks.
“We have a distinguished speaker this morning,” he said before changing gears. “I want to go off-script for a little bit. Mr. Godwin, will you stand up, please?”
“We would not be here today with this very well-organized Law Day program of it were not for Mr. Godwin,” he told the audience. “Charles, because of your dedicated service to the Law Day program, the local bar association would like to present you with this plaque that reads: ‘With our greatest appreciation … in recognition for your ongoing commitment and dedicated service to the Escambia County Bar Association Law Day’.”
The presentation brought a lengthy standing ovation.
When it finally stopped, each of the county’s attorneys stood and introduced themselves, then Godwin introduced this year’s keynote speaker, Judge Charles Price, who served as acting District Attorney for the local judicial circuit in 1975.
“How many of you know anyone who has had a courthouse named after him or her during the lifetime of that person?” Godwin began. “I’m going to introduce you to one — Judge Charles Price. If I told you all of his achievements, we’d run completely out of time.”
Among those achievements is the renaming of the Montgomery County Courthouse as the Phelps-Price Justice Center.
Price recounted his relatively brief term as Acting District Attorney for Escambia County, praising the support he received from numerous locals. He noted that the initial impression he made on local officials and residents was not a lasting one.
“When I was first appointed, I was told that I would never get another vote in Escambia County,” he recalled. “When I was leaving, they had a petition and a caravan going to Montgomery, asking them to keep me down here, so I think my work speaks for itself.”
The remainder of his address was focused mainly on this year’s Law Day theme.
“In summation, the observance of Law Day is important as a celebration of the world’s greatest document, the United States Constitution, of which freedom and liberty are the cornerstones of its existence,” he said. “That framework for freedom has served us well.”
News Photos by Don Fletcher