Members of the National Bar Association mourn the death of its former President Ozro Thaddeus (“O.T.”) Wells, who most recently attended the NBA convention in New Orleans.
Wells’ lasting imprint on the NBA spans more than five decades during which he served as an advisor to numerous NBA presidents, including current leader Joe Drayton.
In addition to serving as NBA president from 1972-73, Wells served as president of the National Bar Institute. He has been recognized by several legal organizations including the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, a NBA affiliate chapter, and NBA Region II. He was also a founding member of the National Negro Golf Association, the oldest African American golf association in the world, as well as a proud member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Wells graduated from the public school system in Greensboro, North Carolina, received his bachelor of arts degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta (1953) and received his law degree from Boston University (1956).
Wells served in the U.S. Army in the Signal Corps until honorably discharged in 1958 and thereafter admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.
Wells later launched his legal career at the Wall Street law firm, of Fink & Pavia, New York, NY, now Pavia & Harcourt LLP. In 1959, Mr. Wells was admitted to the New York Bar and joined with noted attorneys William C. Chance Jr. and Nathan Mitchell, which became Chance, Mitchell & Wells, one of the first minority law firms in the lower Manhattan court district focusing on criminal defense.
In 1962, Wells joined with attorney R. Franklin Brown to establish the firm of Wells & Brown which later became Wells, Brown, Mason, Bums & Hall, with a focus on criminal defense, personal injury cases among other matters.
Wells was a once-in-a-lifetime orator of unparalleled skill and a phenomenal trial lawyer. During the height of the civil rights era, he was co-counsel along with attorneys Percy Sutton and Mark Lane, in the first sit-in cases, which strangely enough, occurred in New York City.
Later, Wells represented one of the leading civil rights organizations, the Council for Racial Equality (CORE); he also represented attorneys; judges; elected officials; notorious Harlem underworld persons such as “Bumpy” Elsworth Johnson; “Red” Dillard Morrison; members of the clergy; members of the medical/dental professions; the Five Percenters, a splinter group of the Black Muslims; and represented extremists and various other so called radicals such as H. Rap Brown and his associates; and was counsel for the late great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.
In the early 1970s, Wells was pressed into service for the Department of Defense by President Richard Nixon to go to Germany with a delegation of three attorneys on a fact-finding mission designated “Operation Awareness.”
Nixon’s appointment gave a temporary GS rating to Wells that had the equivalency of a major general, with a mandate to investigate problems that had arisen between Black United States military personnel and German nationals. Wells was called upon again during the turbulent era of Watergate when as NBA president, he became a member of the designated Attorney General Elliot Richardson’s five-man advisory group, which led to the selection of the first Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox.
Later in his career, Wells served as the lead trial attorney for the historical litigation to resolve the leadership of The Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the world. He was subsequently instrumental in setting up the first constitutional convention for the Church, which resulted in establishing the offices of the General Board and presiding bishop. In addition, Wells has served as counsel to both the presiding bishop and the General Board of the Church of God in Christ.
For two decades, Wells served as a guest faculty member in the “Trial Advocacy” program for the New York County district attorney. Until his death, Wells was “of counsel” to the prestigious Black-owned law firm of Donaldson & Chilliest, LLP.