The Honorable AC Wharton
Attorney/Principal, The A C Wharton Group, LLC
Executive Director Development, ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
A C is currently the Principal of The A C Wharton Group, a business and government consulting firm. Mr. Wharton previously served as the Mayor of Shelby County and the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, the first person to ever hold both of those offices. Prior to entering elective politics, for twenty-two years he served as Chief Public Defender for Shelby County. Mr. Wharton is a graduate of Tennessee State University, and holds a law degree from the University of Mississippi. He brings a wealth of experience in community development, government finance, healthcare, higher education, and public policy. In addition to his experience as a member of a variety of civic and community service boards, Mr. Wharton was formerly a member of the Nation’s Bank Memphis Advisory Board and the Memphis District of the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.
He received his B.S. degree in Political Science at Tennessee State University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi Law School. He taught at the University of Mississippi Law School for twenty-five years.
Upon graduation from law school, Attorney Wharton worked for approximately two years in Washington D. C. in the General Counsel’s office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as Director of the Public Employment Litigation Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In 1973 he returned to Memphis to take over the struggling Memphis Area Legal Services program. He tripled the budget, and expanded coverage to Fayette and Tipton Counties. He also established one of the nation’s first legal services for the elderly program. It was during his tenure with Legal Services that the program undertook high impact litigation such as Craft v. Memphis Light, Gas and Water which stood for the proposition that customers were entitled to due process before their utilities were terminated and the Greene v. City of Memphis, another Supreme Court case which involved the closure of West Drive in the Hein Park neighborhood. The program also sued to reform the city jail, a lawsuit which resulted in closing that jail and building the current jail at 201 Poplar. As Chief Public Defender Wharton led the program to become one of the largest in the country. Wharton drafted, and had the legislature to pass the first fee legislation to give Public Defender programs across the state a dedicated accepted funding source. He expanded the role of the program to include more than courtroom litigation and to establish rehabilitation programs such as Building for the Future, which won a Harvard University Innovation Award. The first law to make domestic violence a felony was drafted by Wharton.
As County Mayor, Wharton took steps to initiate the Wells Fargo litigation challenging predatory lending. The lawsuit ended in a multi-million-dollar settlement with funds being used to assist first-time home buyers and to establish a countywide blight removal program. Wharton became a fixture in the federal courts handling a number of high profile and complicated criminal cases ranging from RICO violations to employee discrimination. One hallmark of Wharton’s courtroom style was to develop and maintain a warm, respectful, and close rapport with jurors.
Throughout his career, Wharton has taken much time to counsel with prelaw and law students and to support such organizations as the Black American Law Student Association as well as individual students. Wharton was among the founding members of the Lamar Order at the University of Mississippi Law School which provided funding for the Law School. As Legal Services Director and Chief Public Defender at one time roughly ninety percent of Black attorneys had gotten their start under Wharton tutelage, either at Legal Services or in the Public Defender’s Office. Wharton and his wife, Ruby, were among the first supporters of the Summer Internship Program for high school students who desire to enter the legal profession.
Wharton has also served as a Special Justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
A C serves on numerous civic and professional boards, including the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, AGAPE Child and Family Services, and the National Museum of African American Music.
A C is married to Attorney Ruby Wharton and has raised six sons.