Judge marks 50-year legal career

Clarence Shattuck has spent most of his life on the front lines of other peoples' mistakes.

As a Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge who has wrestled with cases involving everything from motorcycle wheelies to murder for nearly 30 years, he likes having the opportunity to scare or inspire people into getting straight.

PERSONAL GLANCE* Name: Clarence Shattuck* Job: Hamilton County Sessions Court judgeAge: 75* Education: Bachelor's degree from Tennessee Tech University and law degree from the University of Tennessee* Family: Shattuck lives with his wife, Ruth, in Hixson and has three sons

And sometimes what he says on the bench works, he said.

"Just last week, I was going through McDonald's to get an Egg McMuffin and there was a woman at the window and she said, 'You were my judge back when I was bad, but you and some other people taught me to get right,'" Shattuck said. "People come up and say, 'I was in front of you, but I haven't come back.' You do feel like you get through to some people."

Shattuck, 75, recently was recognized by the Tennessee Bar Association as a senior counselor for having worked in the legal field for 50 years.

Every two years for more than 15 years, Shattuck is ranked by local attorneys in a Chattanooga Bar Association poll as one of the area's top judges. The poll asks lawyers to rate judges on judicial temperament and moral conduct, said Lynda Hood, executive director of the Chattanooga Bar Association.

"It is amazing. He is always one or two of the top rated judges," she said. "He is just a nice person. He is willing to do anything you ask him to do."

When he looks back on his time in the courtroom, he said it's been an exciting ride.

"People ask me, 'How do you keep going? Isn't it just the same old thing?'" he said. "Every defendant is different and, as a result, every case is different. That's what keeps me going."

When he was a young lawyer in the 1960s, he said, he was the attorney for the first man in Hamilton County to ask for a paternity blood test in a child support case. The judge ruled in favor of the test.

"I remember the judge saying he had never heard of that test," he said. "It ended up proving the client wasn't the father of the child."

While on the bench, he said, he was the first judge in Hamilton County to apply the "make my day" law, which protects homeowners who kill home intruders from murder charges.

One of the toughest decisions was to dismiss rape charges against six University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players several years ago. There was a lot of pressure in the case because of the publicity it received, but he said testimony didn't show enough proof to send the case on to a grand jury.

"It can be easier to send [cases] onto the grand jury," he said.

Still, Shattuck's friends say the law is just a part of his life.

Twice a week he plays basketball with a team of senior men with whom he's played for more than a decade. They've won the state Senior Olympics for the last five years, a fact he likes to brag about.

Don Myers, a retiree who plays on the team and attends Shattuck's Sunday school class at Hixson United Methodist Church, said he knows Shattuck takes a lot of care to be tempered and give "justice and mercy" on the bench.

So, Myers said he and the other men can't help but enjoy getting him worked up on the basketball court.

"He competitive," Myers said, laughing.