Judge with more than three decades of experience on the bench announces retirement

Judge with more than three decades of experience on the bench announces retirement

February 27th, 2019 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Sessions Court Judge Judge Clarence Shattuck, photographed on the bench Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Updated at 8:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, with more information.

Chattanooga's legal community will soon say goodbye to a judge with 36 years of experience on the bench.

General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck announced Wednesday to the Hamilton County Commission that he plans to resign April 1. Since Shattuck, 83, is resigning as opposed to stepping down because of a medical disability, state law says commissioners will vote on a replacement who will at least serve until the seat is up for election in 2022. In fact, that's how Shattuck was selected in 1982.

"I am honored and appreciate the opportunity the commission gave me over 36 years ago, and the citizens who have elected me on five occasions since," Shattuck said Wednesday. "I have loved my job and have looked forward to coming to work every day and have tried to do my best for Hamilton County and its citizens."

At least one person expressed interest Wednesday in replacing Shattuck: Kevin Wilson, the judge in Collegedale's municipal court since 1999. Multiple attorneys said East Ridge Judge Cris Helton and former Chattanooga prosecutor and current defense attorney Gerald Webb also were interested. Neither returned calls requesting comment.

On Wednesday, most in the legal community focused on Shattuck, a graduate of the University of Tennessee's law school who began practicing in Hamilton County in the early 1960s. They saw him as a judge who tried to be fair to both sides, who wasn't afraid to make an unpopular choice such as dismissing a charge or keeping a bond lower in a high-profile case, and who routinely tried to recruit people to play in his senior basketball league. To this day, he continues to play and will travel to New Mexico in the summer for a tournament.

Times Free Press archives don't show many complaints with Shattuck's judgeship over the years. A newspaper editorial from 2009 chided Shattuck for OKing a decision by one of his fellow judges, Ron Durby, to dismiss minor criminal charges for a family member of the Criminal Court Clerk at the time in chambers as opposed to in the courtroom. Activists were also upset when Shattuck and two other Sessions Court judges said in the late 1980s they would not open an inquest into the 1983 jail death of Wadie Suttles, who was found unconscious in his cell and died from complications related to a severe head fracture.

On the whole, attorneys said, Shattuck didn't legislate from the bench and tried to do what was right.

"He has uncommon patience and will listen fairly," said Chattanooga defense attorney Lee Davis. "And that's what Sessions Court is there for, whether it's civil or criminal. This is the court where most disputes can be solved. The thing I think is remarkable is [that] his patience and consideration is the same today as it was 25 years ago."

Shattuck grew up in Soddy-Daisy, one of four children to a housemaker and a defense plant worker who later drove a bus. After playing varsity basketball in Soddy-Daisy and graduating from law school, he practiced civil and criminal law in Chattanooga for several years before the commission appointed him. Shattuck noted Wednesday that he was blessed to practice with several associates who went on to become judges themselves: Durby, Sam Payne and others.

He said he hopes his announcement Wednesday gives the commission enough time to find a replacement before he leaves on April 1. He said he has been blessed with a long, healthy career and enjoys running into people who appeared in his court for minor crimes and turned their lives around years later.

"I've been blessed with fine colleagues and hopefully I'll be able to cover for them some time in the future," he said. "I jokingly said at the commission meeting here that I had my physical a couple of weeks ago and everything was cleared."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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