Having experience as a trial judge and moving on to the appellate court is "like reading a play and seeing one," the judge said recently, during a reception in his honor.
"I see things differently than someone who has never presided (over a trial). I can visualize the action going on. Its like reading a play and seeing one," Thomas said during a reception the Blount County Bar Association held for him recently at the Blount County Public Library.
Thomas talked about his new job as a member of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Eastern Division. The governor appointed him in mid-November.
A crowd attended the reception to praise Judge Thomas work and thank him for his years of service.
Thomas said he learned much in Blount County that he will apply in his new position. "Blount County is a wonderful place to be involved in the criminal justice system," he said. "Its not something someone would want to leave. I hope I can add something to the Court of Criminal Appeals."
Thomas new office is in Knoxville and his longtime administrative assistant Joy Hall is working with him. Hall was very impressed with Thomas new courtroom in Knoxville.
"Ive never been in a courtroom that has that presence," she said. "Theres a reverence. It makes chill bumps when you enter it."
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham and Thomas talked about their years working together before Thomas was elected to the bench. "Kelly and I go way, way back," Cunningham said. "Our dads were very good friends. Some of the fondest memories I have are the two or three years Kelly and I practiced together. The same guy showed up everyday. Kelly is a Blount County treasure. Blount Countys loss is the state of Tennessees gain."
State Rep. Doug Overbey presented Thomas with a proclamation from the Tennessee House of Representatives. "I think one of your greatest accomplishments is establishing the drug court," Overbey said. "Ive seen lives changed. Thats all any of us want to do is make a difference in peoples lives."
Maryville attorney Matt Haralson also praised Thomas for his years of service. "The Bar Association is proud Judge Thomas has been appointed to this prestigious position," Haralson said. "His sense of justice and fairness will serve the Court of Criminal Appeals well."
Paula McGhee and Alesia Orren of Maryville College stopped by to honor Judge Thomas and spoke highly of him. "I think Kelly has the perfect mix of logic and intuition," Orren said. "When youre able to combine these two components, you know youre going to have good judgment."
McGhee said she and Thomas were part of a race dialogue study together and thats how they became friends. "He will be good in overseeing court and making sure everyone has a fair chance," she said.
The Dec. 14 event was not the only one organized to honor Thomas. On Dec. 8, Joe Gallagher of Louisville organized a luncheon at Sullivans Downtown with Supreme Court Judge Gary Wade as speaker. Besides Thomas, special guests included State Rep. Joe McCord, Maryville City Councilman Tom Taylor, Blount County commissioners Wendy Pitts Reeves, David Ballard, Dr. Bob Proffitt and Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham. Wade was the judge Thomas succeeded on the State Court of Criminal Appeals.
"His presence and the presence of Mayor Cunningham added a lot of
prestige to the luncheon," Gallagher said.
Gallagher praised Thomas as an outstanding individual. "The reason we onored him was his community service," Gallagher said. "We know him and respect him as an outstanding jurist." Gallagher said.
Thomas also has worked hard with the Boys and Girls Club, established the Blount County Drug Court and helped establish a new community credit union for low income residents so they wont have to go to check cashing places, Gallagher said.
"Thats what motivated me to promote the luncheon," he said.
"It turned out to be outstanding. We had 65 to 70 people, and it was
both Republicans and Democrats."