Morris to retire from GS bench
Posted: Friday, April 3, 2009 9:15 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Obion County General Sessions Judge Raymond Morris has confirmed he will retire July 1 and his post-retirement plans don’t include “just laying down and quitting.”
“I’ve always worked. I’ve always had goals. So I’ll just stir around and figure out some goals,” he said.
A temporary successor will be appointed by the Obion County Commission at its meeting 9 a.m. May 18 at the courthouse. Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire said there are several candidates “in the running.”
“First of all, it’s got to be a lawyer,” McGuire said. “We thought we’d make the appointment one month early. That way, it would give the new judge time to shut down his business and work with Judge Morris a few weeks.”
One of three
On Sept. 1, 1990, a state law went into effect requiring that all general sessions judges be licensed to practice law. However, those currently on the bench were “grandfathered” in, meaning they could continue in office.
According to Teresa Seaton of the Administrative Office of the Courts, there are only three general sessions judges still serving who are in that category — Morris; Ronnie Zachary of Pickett County; and Kenny Linville of Trousdale County.
“This says something about Judge Morris,” McGuire continued. “He’s done a good job. He’s been elected time and again, which reflects the people’s confidence in him. He’s been fair. He’s done a wonderful job for Obion County. We hate to see him go. We wish him the best.”
Morris, 73, began his judicial career July 1, 1979, when he was appointed as a temporary stand-in for ailing General Sessions Judge Ebb Gwaltney. At that time, his personal history included five years of service in the U.S. Navy, seven years as a Union City police officer and a brief stint in the insurance business.
A native of Lake County, Morris is the son of the late Mary and Floyd Morris, a sharecropper couple who raised a family of three boys and four girls. The family ran a small farm on Greasy Lane producing corn, cotton and soybeans.
“I could tell you some stories about that,” he said. “I remember, when I was just a child, a crew coming down the road installing electricity in the houses. The first light we had was just a cord hanging down from the ceiling with a light bulb on it. We thought it was the most fascinating thing.”
Morris said when he was in the Navy, he took courses in business law and criminal justice and such. And later, when he was a Union City police officer, he attended and graduated from the police academy in Donelson. He also took FBI training in investigation, narcotics and dangerous drugs.
“Just why I got all that training, I do not know,” he said.
Today, he looks back and realizes how and why it all came together.
“I believe the Lord had a hand in it,” he said. “I’m not a religious person by any stretch, but I do believe in a Supreme Being. I believe in God. I believe that things worked out the way they have because He had a hand in it. Think about it. I’m from Lake County. My wife’s from Weakley County. We moved here knowing nobody.
“I was appointed to the bench, I served the rest of Judge Gwaltney’s term and I ran for election against a strong opponent, Union City attorney Bill Strickland. I really thought he would beat the socks off me. Fortunately, I won. I’ve been re-elected every time since then. People may think I’m crazy, but I think I became judge for a reason. It was part of a plan.”
Morris is married to the former Lou Collins. He met her when he was on leave from the Navy. After a whirlwind romance, they got married. “I knew it was the right thing to do,” Morris said. “She was what I was looking for in a wife. Good woman, and she’s proved it all these years by putting up with me.”
When they first moved to Union City, he worked at the police department, she at the former Salant & Salant plant, sewing shirts. Later, she got a job as a clerical assistant in general sessions court. After 29 years service, she retired in 2002.
“I owe my success and where I’m at today to my wife,” Morris said. “It if hadn’t been for her and the good Lord, I wouldn’t be here today.”
He said he “has no idea” the total number of cases he’s adjudicated in almost 30 years on the bench. “But I actually hear about 5,000 a year,” he said. “And there’s a lot more that goes through the court — forfeiture of fines, traffic cases. About 12,000 a year.
“As far as criminal cases, when I first started, the number of cases — alcohol or drugs related — ran about 40 percent. Now it’s 90 to 95 percent. It’s been a terrible increase.”
Morris said there are two important things he’s worked for and supported in his judicial time — respect for the court and proper appearance in court.
“I’m going to demand respect in the courtroom,” he said. “I’d like to think that over the years I’ve been here, that I’ve brought honor and dignity to the court. That was one of my goals. I’m not saying they didn’t have it before. I’m saying that was one of my goals. That’s what I’ve tried to do, be honest and fair. Treat people fair and yet do my job.”
One of the hardest things, “a most difficult thing,” he added, was to have a friend’s child stand before the bench awaiting judgment.
“You want to help your friend, but you also have a job to do. You are supposed to show impartiality,” he said. “If you don’t, people lose all respect for the court. You’re caught between a rock and hard place. But you have to make a decision. I’ve always been one to make a decision. I don’t mess around. Once I make my mind up what I should do, I do it. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do. You can’t be wishy-washy. You’re there to make a decision. You’ve got to judge. And if a friend gets mad at you because you did something right, he wasn’t really your friend in the first place.”
About the clothing issue, he said, it’s improved a lot since The Messenger published an article quoting him and the dress standards he expects from people coming to court.
“It has improved tremendously,” he said. “At arraignment, the procedure is, we set a court date. We go over what they’re charged with, and we give them a piece of paper telling them they don’t need to come to court in shorts. It tells them they need to be properly dressed, they’re not coming for a picnic, they’re coming for court.
“And even if they have no respect for me, they should respect the court. I lay the law down on that, and I’m serious about it. It’s ridiculous, the way some people show up in court.”
“I have enjoyed my years on the bench,” Morris said. “I like my job. It’s been a great honor and privilege to be a general sessions judge. I had no idea, when I was growing up, of ever becoming a judge.”
Published in The Messenger 4.3.09
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