Assistant Blount County District Attorney Robert Headrick put on the black robe of a judge yesterday at 10 a.m.
The Blount County Commission chose Headrick over attorney Laura Rule, manager of the Legal Aid Society’s Blount County office, and attorney Steve Merritt to become the new General Sessions judge, Division IV. Headrick replaces Judge David Duggan, who won his race in August to become the new Circuit Court Division II judge.
Headrick received 15 of the 21 votes, with Commissioners Monika Murrell, Bob Proffitt, Wendy Pitts Reeves, Bob Ramsey and David Ballard voting for Rule. Commissioner Joe McCulley passed.
“This is one of the most important things -- short of the birth of my children -- to happen in my life. I appreciate the commission’s confidence in me,” Headrick said.
Headrick was sworn in Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in the Division IV courtroom on the third floor of the Blount County Justice Center. A reception will follow.
The commissioners also chose colleagues Steve Samples as their new chairman, Gary Farmer as their chair pro-tem and Mike Lewis as parliamentarian.
Samples won with 16 aye votes and outgoing commissioner Bob Ramsey joked that Samples did better than he ever did. “Congratulations Commissioner Samples, you got more votes than I ever did,” he said.
Samples said he was grateful for the vote. “I hope I do you proud,” Samples said.
The commissioners made the choices in a special called meeting prior to the monthly commission workshop.
Samples took verbal applications to fill the position of General Sessions Court Division IV from the audience and then commissioners made nominations.
Commissioner John Keeble nominated Headrick, Proffitt nominated Rule and Reeves nominated Merritt.
During questioning from commissioners, each said they planned to run for the position in 2010.
Each of the candidates took a few moments to introduce themselves to the commissioners. Each had filed copies of their resumes with the commission.
Headrick said that since graduating law school in 1991 he had spent his career as an attorney in public service. He said he was a prosecutor in Florida and worked civil law with the state attorney general’s office in Tennessee after returning home to Blount County in 1998. He then became an assistant district attorney in Blount County.
Headrick said he clerked for a domestic relations attorney, had experience trying crimes involving children and also gained experience trying domestic violence cases. The prosecutor said that General Sessions Court is the “touchstone” for all criminal cases and that he was ready to serve as judge in that court.
“I am a native of Blount County and certainly feel I can only better serve the people of Blount County in the position of General Sessions judge,” he said.
Merritt said he had lived in Blount County since he was 13 and cited his age and experience as reasons for choosing him. He graduated law school from the University of Tennessee in 1976 and began practicing in Blount County in 1977. “I’ve handled all the types of cases that come into General Sessions Court,” he said.
Merritt said he had served in place of judges in General Sessions Court at various times when they have been absent and said he was the most experienced and oldest candidate of the three.
“Hopefully with age and experience comes wisdom, and I hope you’ll consider that and vote for me,” he said.
Rule said she had many years experience in the legal profession. “I have represented large corporations and, as one of my clients said of himself, I have represented ‘people who don’t have two nickels to rub together,’” she said.
Rule said she has practiced in state and federal courts and argued case in all the state appellate courts, including the Tennessee Supreme Court. “Much of my practice has been in General Sessions Court,” she said. “The General Sessions Court is the first court and many times the only court that people see.”
Rule said after several years of private practice, attorney Buzz Thomas convinced her that “I needed Legal Aid and Legal Aid needed me,” so she took a position with the agency and in 2002 became manager of the Blount County Legal Aid office serving indigent residents in the area. “
“I am now at the point in my life where I can more fully appreciate the wise words of Winston Churchill. ‘You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give,’” she said.