Stephen Bright Named Attorney of the Year
Bright was commended for his four decades of serving indigent clients facing the death penalty and his advocacy of the right to counsel for poor people accused of crimes. He retired from the Southern Center for Human Rights this year, serving as its president and senior counsel since 2006, and its director from 1982 to 2005.
Prior to joining the center Bright was a public defender in Washington, D.C., and a legal services attorney in the coal fields of Appalachia. He has won four U.S. Supreme Court cases, most recently McWilliams v. Dunn in the 2017 term, all of which reversed death penalties. His prior cases before the Supreme Court are Foster v. Chatman, Snyder v. Louisiana and Amadeo v. Zant. All three were reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection.
“For the last 40 years, I’ve had the privilege of representing people facing the death penalty and others who were among the poorest and powerless in our society,” Bright said. “I am grateful that this work has been seen as of such importance that it is recognized with this award.”
The Attorney of the Year is chosen by a six-lawyer panel; this year’s judges were criminal defense lawyer B.J. Bernstein, Robert Highsmith of Holland & Knight, DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez, Suzy Ockleberry of AT&T, Chris Stewart of Stewart, Seay & Felton, and Chilton Varner of King & Spalding.
“Steve is most deserving of this award,” said Wendy F. Hensel, interim dean and professor of law. “His dedication to fighting for indigent clients is an inspiration, and we are excited that our students and college will benefit from his wealth of experience and the example he sets as an advocate.”
Bright is teaching a course on the prosecution and defense of capital and other criminal cases and will also be working with Georgia State Law’s Center for Access to Justice.
“At the Southern Center for Human Rights, an exceptional group of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and administrative staff has been a part of everything I have been involved in,” he said. “I am grateful to my students who have done extraordinary work as interns with us and later on their own as attorneys. I look forward to continuing to teach and work with other students in the future.”