Bredesen appoints Meares to 5th Judicial District Division II

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Maryville attorney Michael H. Meares was named by Gov. Phil Bredesen as Circuit Court judge for Division II in the 5th Judicial District of Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon, June 27.

Meares, who serves as a practicing attorney and partner at the law firm Dungan and Meares, fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge D. Kelly Thomas to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

"Judge Meares is an experienced legal professional who will serve our state in the highest tradition of the court," Bredesen said. "He brings a reputation for fairness, wisdom and professionalism to his new post, and I want to thank him for his dedication to our state."

Meares began his legal career in 1983 as an associate at the law firm of Shutts and Bowen in Miami, Fla., and moved in 1986 to the law firm of Meares, Morton, Meares and Ansley in Maryville. He entered public service in 1989, as the first public defender for the 5th Judicial District.

"I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve as judge. I will work hard for all citizens and commit to being fair and following the law," Meares said, in a press release. "We have a tradition of great judges in Blount County, and I am proud to have the opportunity to be counted among them."

Meares received the Distinguished Service Award in 1980 from the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and has worked closely over the past 10 years with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, serving on the board and acting as co-chair for the annual fundraising campaign in Blount County.

Meares, 51, graduated from Duke University and received his legal degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law. He attends Saint Andrews Episcopal Church and has served in several local organizations, including the United Way of Blount County, Blount County Adult Literacy and the Community Action Agency. He was chairman for the Blount County Democratic Party and has served as a board member for the Foothills Land Conservancy.

When contacted, Meares' office staff said he was away on vacation with his family and could not be reached for additional comment.

Three Maryville attorneys were the finalists for the position vacated by Blount County Circuit Court Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr., when he was named to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. Eleven members of the 15-member Judicial Selection Commission came to the Airport Hilton in January and chose three nominees for Bredesen to consider to fill the seat. From a list of five candidates, they chose Meares and Assistant Public Defender Stacey Davis Nordquist and Maryville attorney Craig Garrett.

Nordquist returned a call shortly after 4 p.m. "Of course I’m very disappointed, but I thought the process was very fair as far as meeting with judicial selection commission and having people speak on our behalf and the application process," she said. "It was all very organized and well done."

When asked if she would ever consider running for circuit court position, Nordquist said it’s premature to any kind of statement at this point. "I just don’t know right now," she said. "I really appreciate the support I received from both people inside the justice system and outside the justice system."

Garrett said the governor’s attorney called him and Nordquist this afternoon. Garrett said he was at lunch when his cell phone rang and the lawyer told him Bredesen had picked Meares.

Garrett said he had mixed emotions. "The application process we went through was so difficult and time consuming, and I definitely invested a lot of time and effort and wasn’t selected by the governor," Garrett said.

Garrett said he wasn’t surprised the governor chose someone else. "Even though I felt I was the most qualified individual, party politics played a big part," Garrett said. "The fact that the governor just named a Republican to the Supreme Court, I didn’t think the governor could stand the political heat from his own party by naming two Republicans to judicial vacancies in a two-week period."

Since first applying for the appointment, Garrett has been candid regarding his intentions to run for the judgeship in the 2008 elections.

"I’ll say this: The governor’s appointment is temporary and lasts only until the county-wide election in August of 2008. The Republican primary will coincide with the Presidential primary on Feb 5, 2008," he said. "It’s my intention to launch my campaign in the near future for the position of circuit court judge."

Garrett said Bredesen’s delay in appointing a new judge to the seat formerly held by Thomas has created a log jam in the system. Only two jury cases have been tried in the last six months, he said.

"I don’t understand why the governor took so long to make a decision. I don’t know what his thought process was, but the judicial system in Blount County has suffered."

Garrett said the governor created a difficult situation for whomever he named by taking so long to make a decision.

"I don’t have any idea why he waited. He has had the three names since Jan. 19," Garrett said. "It’s inexcusable. That’s over five months he’s waited to make the appointment. It’s unfortunate, and it has created quite a backlog."

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