By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Native son and local attorney Jimmy Smith of Troy was elected by the Obion County Commission today to serve as the temporary replacement for outgoing General Sessions Judge Raymond Morris of Union City.
Morris will retire July 1.
Smith, 54, was one of three candidates nominated during a meeting of the commission that assembled at 9 a.m. in the Circuit Court courtroom. Only commissioner Kenneth Cheatham did not answer the roll call. Chairman Ralph Puckett announced that 20 of the 21 commissioners were present.
“Let me say this about Judge Morris,” Puckett told his peers and a crowded courtroom. “He’s done an outstanding job for Obion County. I’ve known him many, many years. I hate to see him go, but I know it’s time.”
Puckett then called for all in attendance to give Morris a standing ovation.
Puckett asked Morris if he wanted to say anything. Morris smiled and declined.
“We just want you to know we appreciate what you’ve done for us,” Puckett told him.
Puckett opened the floor to nominations and explained the process of selection.
“There will be a motion by commissioners to nominate candidates,” he said. “We will not need a second. All we’ll need is a motion. We will call the roll. You’ll vote for the candidate you choose. On the first ballot, if a candidate does not get 11 votes, the lowest man will have to drop out. Then we’ll call the roll and vote again and continue to do that until (a candidate) gets 11 votes.”
Commissioner Perry Barfield nominated attorney Jim Powell.
Commissioner Terry Roberts nominated Smith.
Commissioner Allen Nohsey nominated attorney and Juvenile Court judge Sam Nailling Jr.
Before the first roll call vote, Puckett opened the floor to those commissioners who wished to make a statement.
Commissioner Danny Jowers said it was the hardest thing he’s had to do since he’s been on the commission. “We have three fine individuals here. ... I just want (them) to know I think they’d all make a great General Sessions judge,” Jowers said.
Commissioner Dwayne Hens-ley expressed similar sentiments. “We deal with a lot of issues on the county (commission) and this, by far, is the toughest,” he said. “We have three individuals who are quite capable, very qualified. ... I have nothing personal against any of them. ... This has been a tough decision.”
Then came the first roll call vote, the result being:
• Powell, 8.
• Smith, 10.
• Nailling, 2.
Shortly thereafter, Puckett presided over the second round. The crowd kept silent, watching and following each vote as Clerk
Vollie Boehms called commissioners’ names one by one.
At last, she intoned the results. “Mr. Powell, 8; Mr. Smith, 12.”
Puckett repeated her words and added some of his own. “Mr. Powell, 8; Mr. Smith, 12,” he said. “Mr. Smith, you’re our next General Sessions judge, to serve until next election.”
The courtroom crowd broke its silence with spontaneous applause.
Smith accepted Puckett’s invitation to come forward and make a few remarks about the auspicious occasion.
Standing center stage at a podium, Smith began by paying homage to Morris, saying he wanted to reiterate what was said earlier.
“If it weren’t for the fact that he’s stepping aside, I would never ever have thought about this position,” he said.
He then thanked commissioners. “There are no promises I can make, other than to do the best job I can and be honest and fair with everybody,” he said. “I think Judge Morris has shown us that the General Sessions position has the ability to touch the lives of more people in this county from a judicial standpoint than any other because it comes in contact with so many people.”
Smith, son of James R. “Bubba” Smith and Charlotte Smith of Hornbeak, is a 1979 graduate of the former Memphis State University Law School. He has been in private practice almost 30 years. He is married to the former LeEllen Fox of Obion. The family consists of Clay, a freshman at Lipscomb University in Nashville; Samuel, a freshman at Obion County Central High School in Troy; Jackson, an eighth-grader at Hillcrest Elementary School in Troy; Micah, a second-grader at Hillcrest; and Pablo Salas, “a young man who lives with us.”
“Pablo has faced a lot of adversities,” Smith said. “His mother passed away. His grandparents moved out of the county. He’s lived with us during the school year so he can go to school here.”
Smith told The Messenger that as General Sessions judge, he hopes to make a difference in people’s lives. “Folks involved in criminal matters, I want to give them a chance, if they want a chance, to earn their way back to being respected individuals,” he said.
One thing he’d like to give them is a chance to earn a GED certificate while they are on probationary status. He has two trains of thought about people who have had the General Sessions Court experience. “No. 1, they don’t come back to see us again, and No. 2, they’re better individuals than they were when they came in,” he said.
“I am a big proponent of drug court. I am looking forward to working with Judge (Bill) Acree and Judge (Tommy) Moore,” Smith said. “Drug court is the impetus of some of these other things I’m talking about. They have been so successful with the (local) drug court program. I’d like to, on a smaller basis, do the same kinds of things in General Sessions Court.”
Even though he’s been elected General Sessions judge for the county, Smith said he’s still Jimmy Smith and hopes people don’t lose sight of it.
“I’ll be the same person tomorrow as I was yesterday,” he said. “My legacy will be the way I treat people. We all know judges who got what we call ‘black robe fever.’ I almost would like not to wear one.
“But at the same time I want respect not so much for me but for the court. I want people to know they were treated fairly and honestly and to understand this is not a fun and games place.”
Published in The Messenger 5.18.09