Opinion: Greenholtz pick could set up another appointment with busy county commission

Staff File Photo / Judge Tom Greenholtz speaks in his courtroom during a 2018 arraignment.

The appointment of Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals by Gov. Bill Lee has set off another in a series of appointments and maneuvering with which the Hamilton County Commission is becoming quite familiar.

Less than a year ago, with the resignation of District 9 Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston, the commission named a replacement, who was then-Hamilton County Board of Education member Steve Highlander.

Shortly after that, with the death of District 29 state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, the commission appointed an interim replacement, his wife, Joan, who served until a special election in September.

Now, with the resignation of state Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, the commission today is expected to name an interim replacement, who would serve until the November election. If it is Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Martin, who has offered to be the interim appointment and is running for the seat in August, that will set off another appointment process for his seat.

A replacement for Greenholtz in criminal court for the 11th Judicial District will be named at some point by Gov. Lee. If his replacement is someone already serving in Hamilton County Sessions Court, it would be up to the county commission to name his or her replacement.

Greenholtz, 48, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate who was formerly associated with the Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel (2006-2015), Shumaker, Witt, Gaither & Whitaker (2004-2006) and Summers & Wyatt (2002-2004) law firms, was appointed to criminal court by former Gov. Bill Haslam in the fall of 2015. He replaced Judge Rebecca Stern, who had retired the previous June.

Greenholtz had to run to keep his seat in 2016, and two of his opponents in the May Republican primary were then-Hamilton County prosecutor Boyd Patterson and assistant public defender Mike Little, who also had been in the original list of names submitted to Haslam for the spot that eventually went to Greenholtz.

Coincidentally, in the upcoming May primary, Stern's and Patterson's name are on the ballot again for a different division of criminal court, along with that of Greenholtz, who was running unopposed for re-election.

Last week, Caldwell Huckabay, a local attorney, qualified to run as a judge in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, Division 2. That seat is currently held by Judge Alex McVeagh, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Haslam in 2017 and has qualified to run for re-election.

When Huckabay qualified, he released a statement, which said in part: "I am hopeful and all but certain that Judge Tom Greenholtz will receive the governor's appointment to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which he should. Judge Greenholtz is, by all accounts, clearly the most qualified person for that position and he will continue to serve Tennessee admirably. His elevation to the Court of Criminal Appeals will create a vacancy in Criminal Court, Div. 2. The widely held sentiment in the community is that Alex McVeagh is by far the most qualified person to replace Judge Greenholtz in Criminal Court. I wholeheartedly concur with that sentiment. He should be the next Judge in Criminal Court, Div. 2. Judge McVeagh's elevation to Criminal Court will create a vacancy in General Sessions Court, Div. 2 and I am running to be the person to fill that vacancy."

His statement indicates to us the communications pipeline from the governor's office to the local judiciary must be active indeed.

Greenholtz would succeed Judge Norma McGee Ogle, though his appointment is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly, and it would be effective Sept. 1.

"Judge Greenholtz is an eminently capable and highly respected jurist," Lee said in an email to this page. "His passion for the law is evident, and he understands the essence of the court's role within our system of government. I know he will serve our state with distinction on the Court of Criminal Appeals."

Greenholtz received his bachelor's degree in 1996 from UTC, graduating magna cum laude with a major in public administration. He received his law degree in 1999 from the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, where he graduated summa cum laude and was executive editor of the Tennessee Law Review.

After graduating from law school, he was a law clerk for Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William M. Barker from 1999 to 2002. He also has served as an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for 20 years.

With Greenholtz's leadership and under the supervision of McVeagh, a second drug court in Hamilton County opened in 2018 for defendants with addictions and a history of misdemeanor arrests.

We salute his appointment and anxiously await to see how the commissioners handle their next round of appointments.