Savannah attorney Bill Lewis has spent his 37-year career quietly defending people charged with crimes and unable to afford their own lawyers.
So when the Savannah Bar Association named him the recipient of the annual Robbie Robinson Award, it came as a surprise.
The award, one of several awarded annually by the local Bar during its Law Day event, recognizes an attorney who has “demonstrated dedication to the principles of service to individuals and of advancing the legal, political, social and civil rights of the Savannah community.”
Robinson, civil rights attorney and alderman, was killed on Dec. 18, 1989, when a mail bomb exploded in his office on Abercorn Street. The bombing was linked to Robinson’s efforts in the civil rights arena.
Lewis, a public defender since the local office opened in January 2005 and now chief assistant there, said Robinson’s history made the award that much more special.
Lewis began practicing in 1980, starting out with attorney Paschal Bignault, and would see Robinson from time to time at functions with Bignault or at the courthouse.
“It gave me more of a thrill just to have known Robbie,” Lewis said. “It made it more special to me.
“It gives me pause to think that sort of thing still was going on in 1989, that somebody gets killed by a mail bomb. …”
Lewis’ trial partner, attorney James Byrne, nominated Lewis.
“He’s been practicing law for 37 years,” Byrne said. “I just don’t know anyone who cares more about the poor clients we represent. … He’s just tireless and has always been that way.”
Byrne said Lewis is a mentor and “always has an upbeat attitude.”
• Sandra Kent, administrative assistant to Chatham County State Court Judge Gregory V. Sapp, won the Judge Edward Hester Award, recognizing the outstanding local courthouse employee who has been helpful to members of the local bar.
• Attorney Catherine Bowman won the John B. Miller Award, recognizing a Savannah Bar Association member who is selflessly dedicated to making Savannah a better place to live through volunteer community service.
• Edward Gresham, partner Savannah PR, and Savannah Branch, NAACP executive board member, won the Liberty Bell Award recognizing a non-lawyer for outstanding service in promoting a better understanding and respect for the rule of law.