Friends and colleagues of retired U.S. Magistrate Judge John Powers recalled him as a dedicated jurist who showed compassion to all who entered his courtroom.
The 82-year-old Signal Mountain man died Thursday. Heritage Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
Though it has been nearly a decade since Powers left the bench, his influence continues to be felt by lawyers and judges today.
“I started my law career with him and he married me and my wife,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Piper. “And both are still going strong.”
Piper worked as a law clerk for Powers from 1988 to 1989 before eventually becoming a federal prosecutor.
Both Piper and current U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter visited Powers a week ago, they said.
Carter was appointed in 1999, replacing Powers, who had completed two eight-year terms but then was recalled to part-time status until his full retirement in 2003.
“He really helped me learn my way as a judge,” Carter said. “He was a great colleague, friend and mentor.”
U.S. District Judge H. Ted Milburn appointed Powers in 1984, a year before U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar took the bench in Chattanooga.
Powers graduated from high school in Jackson, Tenn., in 1947, and went to undergraduate and law school at Vanderbilt University. He moved to Chattanooga in 1959 and began practicing law. He retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
East Ridge City Judge Arvin Reingold and Powers were partners in a law firm together from 1980 until Powers was appointed to the federal bench.
Reingold called Powers a “wonderful human being” and said he was “understanding” and “thoughtful,” the qualities that make a good judge and lawyer.
Edgar said in a Friday phone interview from Florida that Powers was a “faithful friend” and could always be found in his office.
A man of large physical stature, Powers earned the nickname “The Incredible Hulk” during a doctors versus lawyers benefit basketball game in his pre-judge days, Edgar recalled.
“Nobody ever called him that after he went on the bench,” Edgar said laughing.
U.S. Attorney Bill Killian had cases with and against Powers before his judgeship and then brought civil and criminal cases before the man over the course of Powers’ 19-year tenure.
“He was a very conscientious and diligent judge who went out of his way to make sure the litigants understood they were being treated fairly,” Killian said.
Though he was a hardworking man, many friends said he never failed to show a caring side.
“He was super practical about getting the job done, but in his zeal in getting the job done he never forgot he was dealing with people,” said Christopher Varner, president of the Federal Bar Association’s Chattanooga Chapter.
Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier, appointed in 1995, lunched with Powers often each week and illustrated one of his friend’s empathetic moments as a judge.
A woman who’d won a civil lawsuit as a plaintiff lived in one of the outlying counties of the region. For her to receive her money Powers had to explain the results of the case and sign paperwork for her.
But she, averse to the city and the courts, refused to return to Chattanooga.
Collier said Powers met the woman on the side of a country road near her home at 8 p.m. to explain the judgment and sign the paperwork, holding a “hearing” on the spot.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...
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