Justice Clark to receive the TBA’s 2018 Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award

May 18, 2018

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark has been named the 2018 recipient of the Tennessee Bar Association’s prestigious Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award. The Justice Drowota Award is the TBA’s highest award for service to the judiciary and has been given annually for more than a decade. Justice Clark will accept the award on June 15 in Memphis at the Tennessee Bar Association’s annual convention.

Justice Clark is being recognized for decades of service to the state of Tennessee, first as a circuit court judge and, beginning in 2005, as a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. During her time on the Supreme Court, Justice Clark has been a tireless advocate for programs and initiatives designed to help Tennesseans in need. For years she has been closely involved with the Access to Justice Commission, which the Supreme Court formed to expand legal resources to economically disadvantaged civil litigants in the state. She helped implement the commission’s first strategic plan in 2010 and currently serves as the ATJ’s liaison on the Supreme Court.

Justice Clark was also instrumental in the creation of the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance in 2012. This innovative program facilitates partnerships between faith leaders and volunteer attorneys in an effort to bring legal assistance to vulnerable populations. All of this work and more has solidified Justice Clark’s outstanding reputation in Tennessee’s legal community.

“The Tennessee Bar Association could not have picked a better person or a finer judge to honor with the 2018 Justice Drowota Award,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said. “Tennessee is fortunate to have Justice Clark on the bench, and I am blessed to have her as a colleague. She truly embodies all the values of judicial excellence upon which this award was founded.”

A native of Franklin, Clark earned her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Harvard University. She completed her law degree at Vanderbilt University in 1979.

Justice Clark was appointed circuit court judge in the 21st Judicial District in 1989. In 1999, she left the bench to become director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

She resumed her judicial career in 2005, when Governor Phil Bredesen appointed her to the Tennessee Supreme Court. She won election to a full term in 2006 and then again in 2014. Justice Clark held the position of chief justice from 2010 to 2012, becoming just the second woman in court history to do so.

Justice Clark has been recognized repeatedly in recent years for her outstanding service to the state of Tennessee. Earlier this year, she was given Vanderbilt University Law School’s Distinguished Service Award, and in 2017, Justice Clark was honored with the Justice Martha Craig Daughtrey Award from the Lawyers' Association for Women. In 2015, she was presented with the Pioneer Award from Vision 2020, a national coalition of organizations and individuals united in their commitment to achieve women’s economic and social equality. 

The Justice Drowota Award is given to a judge or judicial branch official of a federal, state or local court in Tennessee who has demonstrated extraordinary devotion and dedication to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice as exemplified by the career of former Supreme Court Justice Frank F. Drowota III, the award’s first recipient, who passed away in April. Thanks to a donation from Justice Drowota and a matching gift from the Frist Foundation, the award allows the recipient to direct a gift of $1,000 to the charity of his or her choice.

Justice Clark will be the fifth Tennessee Supreme Court justice to receive the award. The award was previously presented to Justice Drowota in 2006, Justice William Muecke Barker in 2008, Justice Janice Holder in 2013, and Justice Gary Wade in 2014.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be recognized by the Tennessee Bar Association with this award,” Justice Clark said. “I look at the list of past winners and am extremely proud to enter their company. Throughout my career, I have really tried just to do my best every single day, always keeping in mind the higher principles that our system of justice serves. That attitude has led me pretty far, and hopefully it has helped a good number of people along the way.”

Justice Sharon G. Lee has served on the Supreme Court with Justice Clark for more than a decade.  

“Justice Clark has never been content to do only what is asked of her, but has continually sought ways to improve the administration of justice in Tennessee however she could, whether that meant blazing a trail for women in the legal community or becoming involved with programs and initiatives designed to reach those who some considered unreachable,” Justice Lee said. “Her impact is immeasurable.”

The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee, with more than 13,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development, and public service. The TBA’s dedication to serving the state’s legal community is evidenced by its membership roll, which represents the entire spectrum of legal practice: plaintiff and defense lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers, and legal services attorneys.