The Courts of Knox County, Tennessee
By Judge Dale Workman
Knox Co. Circuit Court Division I
Ms. Doris R. Martinson, CA, manager of the Knox County Archives, called the Chief Deputy of the Knox County Circuit Court in July 2010 and asked if they were aware that 2010 was the 200th anniversary of the creation of Tennessee's Circuit Courts. The writer, in a discussion with the Chief Deputy for Circuit Court, agreed to research the acts that created the courts serving Knox County and the judges who have served. None of this article would exist without the guidance and help of Ms. Martinson.
The writer thought there would be a comprehensive history already written that would require only updating. The writer was wrong. With this article, for the first time, the history of each of our courts is documented in a single place with a listing of the judges that have served in these courts.
List of Judges and Chancellors
In the Beginning
Prior to 1790, the area we call East Tennessee was a part of North Carolina. On December 22, 1789, North Carolina's second Cession Act offered the territory we now call Tennessee to the federal government and it became a separate federal territory. [Tennessee Legal Research Handbook by Lewis Laska, 1977] From 1790 until 1809, the court for the new state, established by the first general assembly, was an "Inferior Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions" in each county with a justice of the peace. The state was divided into two judicial districts called "Washington" and "Mero." In each judicial district there was a "Superior Court of Law and Equity." [Tennessee The Volunteer State 1769-1923 by John Trotwood Moore and Austin P. Foster, 1923] In 1792, Ordinance #4 created a "Hamilton District" covering Jefferson and Knox Counties, with two Superior Courts of Law and Equity." [Compilation of the Private Acts of Knox County by CTAS, 1983]
The Acts of 1809 (designation of Private and Public Acts did not exist until 1911) Chapter 48, established the Circuit Courts and a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals and abolished the Superior Courts. There were five Circuit Courts for the state, with one judge in each circuit. The Act required that court be held twice annually in each county. The Circuit Court had sessions in Knox County on the second Monday in February and August. Judge James Trimble was the first circuit judge serving Knox County. [Knox County Archives Minute Books and Files] If you want to look at these early cases, go to the Knox County archives. One of the criminal offenses dealt with by the early Circuit Court was betting on elections.
In 1817, the Acts, Chapters 65 and 77, authorized the legislature to appoint Attorneys General, Solicitors and two Notaries Public for each circuit. In 1870, Knox County was in the 3rd Judicial Circuit with the counties of Anderson, Morgan, Fentress, Cumberland, Roane, Blount, Monroe and Christiana. In 1870, Knox County was part of the 2nd Chancery Division with 11 other counties. [Acts of 1870 Chapters XLVI (46) and XLVII (47)]
In 1887, the legislature authorized Knox County to issue bonds to build a courthouse. [Acts of 1887 Chapter 140]
In 1895, the Court of Chancery Appeals, the first intermediate appellate court, was established with three members elected statewide. [Acts of 1895 Chapter 76]
In 1899, in Chapter 427, the legislature realigned all of the counties and the circuit districts. This legislation created the 3rd Judicial Circuit, with Knox County as the only county in the district. The same chapter established Criminal Courts for Davidson and Shelby counties.
The 1901 Acts, Chapter 6, separated Knox County from the 12th Chancery Division as a single county division, but the judge of the Circuit Court heard the Chancery Court cases.
In 1903, Chapter 247 of the Acts established a state board to examine and certify those fit to practice law.
In 1907, Chapter 1 of the Acts established a "Judge of the Criminal Court of Knox County," who was appointed by the Governor but publicly elected in 1910 to an eight year term. The new judge had to alternate with the circuit judge hearing the circuit docket. The same act established a Clerk of the Criminal Court; the initial clerk was the existing clerk of the "Criminal Branch" of the Circuit Court.
The Acts of 1909, Chapter 98, eliminated the requirement that the Criminal Court Judge hear circuit dockets.
In 1909, Chapter 11 of the Acts created a separate Chancellor, who was initially appointed by the Governor then elected in August 1910 to serve for an eight year term.
In 1909, a second Circuit Court was created for Davidson County. In 1915, a second Chancery part was created in Davidson County.
Additional Circuit Courts
In 1931, the Private Acts Chapter 166 created the Second Circuit Court with the Governor appointing a judge. The judge was elected in August 1932 and elected in 1934, to an eight-year term. Until the Private Acts 1949, Chapter 450, the Second Circuit Judge heard both criminal and civil cases.
The Public Acts of 1959, Chapter 208, created the Third Circuit Court of Knox County. The Governor appointed James M. Haynes in 1959. Judge Haynes was elected by the citizens in 1960, 1966, 1974 and 1982. Judge Haynes retired in 1990, having served as circuit judge for 31 years.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Knox County has one of the most interesting histories. Initially a "Juvenile Court" was created by the Acts of 1913, Chapter 277. In 1925 by the Private Acts, Chapter 643, divorce jurisdiction was added and the name changed to the "Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court." In 1965 the Private Acts, Chapter 196, repealed the divorce jurisdiction and the name reverted to the Juvenile Court of Knox County. Judge Richard R. Douglass, the last Judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, had to decide which of the judge positions he would run for in 1966. Judge Douglass was elected Juvenile Court Judge in 1966.
The Public Acts of 1965, Chapter 265, created the Fourth Circuit Court of Knox County, with the first judge elected in August 1966 and elected to an eight year term in 1974. Judge George S. Child Jr. was elected the first Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court and served until 1982. The act creating the court designates the court "Circuit Court, Division IV of the Third Judicial Circuit." The act confers concurrent jurisdiction with Divisions I, II and III of the Circuit Court in all matters and "particularly in those matters involving divorces ... and all other types and kinds of actions, litigation and proceedings involving domestic matters."
Additional Criminal Divisions
Division II of the Criminal Court of Knox County was created by the Public Acts of 1970, Chapter 364, 63 years after the initial Division I was created. The first judge was not appointed by the Governor but elected by the voters in August 1970. Judge Richard Ray Ford was elected in 1970, reelected in 1974 and retired in 1982.
Division III of the Criminal Court of Knox County was created in the Public Acts of 1976, Chapter 518, which mandated that the Criminal Court of Knox County be divided into Divisions I, II and III. The act provided that the initial judge would be elected in August 1976 and an election for an eight year term in 1982. The act is somewhat unique in that it specifies that the judge has the power to appoint a secretary and court reporter for the court.
Additional Chancery "Parts"
The Public Acts of 1961, Chapter 275, divided the Chancery Court of Knox County into "Part I" and "Part II." The act required an election of the first Chancellor of Part II in August 1962 and an election for an eight year term in 1966.
The Public Acts of 1984, Chapter 931, in a realignment of all the state courts and an addition of judges, created Part III of the Chancery Court of Knox County. The new Chancellor was elected in August 1986. In 1986 sitting Judges of the General Sessions Court, Republican Judge Sharon Bell and Democrat Judge Harold Wimberly Jr., were the nominees of each political party. Judge Sharon Bell was elected and became the first female to serve in a court of record in Knox County.
Court of General Sessions
The "Court of General Sessions" of Knox County was created by the Private Acts of 1939, Chapter 54. The enabling legislation specified three divisions -- Divisions I, II and III. The act divested Justices of the Peace in Knox County, which were created in the Act of 1790, of all judicial jurisdiction but they remained members of the County Quarterly Court and had authority to perform marriages. The act required one of the judges to be "available" from 5 p.m. until 12 a.m. to issue warrants and set bails. Each judge was paid $3,600 per year. The Governor appointed the first judges. Subsequently, judges were elected in August 1940, and elected in 1942 for eight-year terms.
In 1959 the Public Acts, Chapter 72, created Division IV of the "Court of General Sessions" of Knox County. The Governor appointed the first judge until the county general election in 1960 and the judge served until 1966 and an eight year term thereafter.
In Chapter 109 of the Public Acts of 1959, the state adopted a system of uniform "General Sessions Court" for all counties except some very small counties. Chapter 310 of the Public Acts of 2003 eliminated judicial authority for Justices of the Peace in all counties. In 2005 the state transferred jurisdiction for probate matters in all counties to the Chancery courts and eliminated the Monthly County Court.
In Chapter 22 of the Public Acts of 1995, Division V of the General Sessions Court of Knox County was created. The first judge was "appointed by law" by the county legislative body, recognizing that Article VII Section 2 of the Constitution of Tennessee, as amended in 1977, exclusively gave the power to fill county offices to the legislative body of each county.
Previously we covered the initial court created in 1913 and the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court with the addition of Part IV of the Circuit Court. The Juvenile Detention Center and its Board were created in Knox County in 1977, Chapter 117. The facility itself has expanded and remodeled with the buildings on Division Street.
This material was prepared by Hon. Dale Workman and submitted to the Knoxville Bar Association for publication in September, 2010.
THE COURTS OF TENNESSEE
By Judge Dale Workman
Circuit Court Judge Division 1 6th Judicial District (Knox County)
Prior to the creation of a separate territory or statehood, the laws of North Carolina controlled the area we now call Tennessee. The General Assembly of North Carolina, in the acts of 1777 Chapter 2, divided North Carolina into six Judicial Districts Wilmington, Newberry, Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough and Salisbury. [Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol I 1715-1809 page 1565]
In Chapter 47 of the acts of 1785 North Carolina created a Superior Court of Law and Equity for a new District for Davidson County (the name precedes the creation of Tennessee as a state) named the Mero District. In 1788 the North Carolina General Assembly in Chapters 31 and 32 added Sumner and Tennessee counties to the Mero District. [Ibid page 402]
On December 22, 1789, North Carolina's second Cession Act offered the territory we now call Tennessee to the federal government and it became a separate federal territory. [Tennessee Legal Research Handbook by Lewis Laska, 1977]
The Territorial Assembly at Knoxville with William Blount as Governor met on August 25, 1794 and divided, what would soon become the State of Tennessee into three Judicial Districts Washington, Hamilton and Mero. [Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol. I 1715-1809 page 457] A Superior Court of Law was in each district with three judges appointed by the Congress of the United States on July 13, 1787. The act continued the Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, presided over by a Justice of the Peace that had existed while a part of North Carolina.
The Congress of the United States admitted Tennessee into the Union on June 1, 1796. [Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol. I 1715-1809 Page 527]
In 1806 Chapter 19 of the acts create a new District designated Robertson to be held in Clarksville with Robertson, Dickson, Montgomery and Stuart counties from the Mero district. The same chapter created the Winchester District in Carthage with Jackson, Smith and Wilson counties from the Mero district. The counties of Davidson, Sumner, Williamson and Rutherford constituted the remaining Mero District.
The General Assembly of the State of Tennessee in Chapter 48 the Acts of 1809 the established the Circuit Courts and a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals. [Ibid page 1148] There were five circuit courts for the state, with one judge in each circuit. The Act required that court be held twice annually in each county. The First Judicial Circuit contained Greene, Washington, Carter, Sullivan, Hawkins, Grainger, Claiborne and Campbell counties. The Second Judicial Circuit contained Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier, Blount, Knox, Anderson, Roane, Rhea and Bledsoe counties. The Third Judicial Circuit contained Smith, Warren, Franklin, Sumner, Overton, White and Jackson counties. The Fourth Judicial Circuit contained Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, Williamson, Maury, Giles, Lincoln and Bedford counties. The Fifth Judicial Circuit contained Montgomery, Dickson, Hickman, Humphreys, Stewart and Robertson counties. Section 22 of the act abolished the Superior Court of Law and Equity. [Ibid page 1154] (Shelby County was not created until 1819.) [Acts of 1819 II Chapter 218 page 606] 2010 is the 200th anniversary of the creation of Tennessee's Circuit Courts.
Section 23 of the act created a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals of two judges, elected by both houses of the General Assembly, and one Circuit judge. The Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals heard writs of error from the Circuit Courts and met one time a year in Jonesborough, Knoxville, Carthage, Nashville and Clarksville. Section 25 of the act required that a circuit judge from designated districts would set on cases from other circuits.
The Acts of 1811 Chapter 72 Section 4 gave exclusive jurisdiction for equity cases to the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals and divested equity jurisdiction from the Circuit Courts. [Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition 1811-1820 page 10] Section 16 of the act removed a circuit judge as a member of the court and created a third judge for the court. The Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals first divided its equity docket as a result of Chapters XII and XIV of the Acts of 1822. [Acts of 1822 page 15 and 17]
The separate Chancery Courts were created in 1836 with three Chancellors elected from the three Chancery Divisions. [Acts Acts of 1835-1836 Chapter IV page 32] The Eastern Division counties were divided into nine Chancery Districts: (1) Carter, Sullivan and Washington; (2) Greene; (3) Hawkins; (4) Grainger; Claiborne and Campbell; (5) Jefferson, Cocke and Sevier; (6) Anderson, Knox and Blount; (7) Morgan and Roane; (8) Bledsoe, Hamilton, Marion and Rhea; (9) McMinn and Monroe. (Loudon County was initially created as Christiana County.) [Acts of 169-1870 Chapter II page 4] The Middle Division counties were divided into 15 Chancery Districts: (1) Fentress, Overton and Jackson; (2) White and Warren; (3) Smith; (4) Wilson; (5) Rutherford; (6) Bedford; (7) Franklin; (8) Lincoln; (9) Giles and Lawrence; (10) Wayne and Hardin; (11) Maury; (12) Dickson, Humphreys and Hickman; (13) Stewart and Montgomery; (14) Robertson and Sumner; (15) Davidson and Williamson. The Western Division counties were divided into nine Chancery Divisions; (1) Weakley and Obion; (2) Dyer and Gibson; (3) Carroll and Benton; (4) Perry and Henderson; (5) Madison; (6) Haywood, Tipton and Lauderdale; (7) Fayette and Shelby; (8) Henry; (9) Hardeman and McNairy.
The first Constitution of Tennessee adopted in February 1796, became effective upon admission to the Union. [Ibid page 527] A second constitution became effective on March 27, 1835. [Constitution of 1835 Acts of 1835-1836 page 10] The third Constitution of 1870 is published in Tennessee Code Annotated.
The Code Commission Notes indicated that the provisions of Article VI of the Constitution were the same in all three constitutions. [Code Commission Notes to the Preamble page 2 Vol. 1A TCA] The only change to the provisions, in the notes, was the 1978 repeal of Section 15 that provided for elections of Justices of the Peace and Constables. This notation is not correct. The Circuit and Chancery courts were only added to Article VI Sections 1 and 4 with the Constitution of 1870. The Supreme Court was only included in Section 1 in the 1835 Constitution. [Acts of 1835-1836 page 10]
This material appeared in the January 2011 issue of DICTA.