At 2,400 feet in elevation, the Municipal Court of Lookout Mountain is the highest court in the state of Tennessee, contended Judge Flossie Weill as she opened the ceremony during which she inducted her replacement, Judge Stevie Phillips Persinger.
The climb to the bench had been even taller for four other local judges who also took the oath of office last week.
After a journey that stretched from the campaign trail to the general election, East Ridge Municipal Court Judge Tracy Cox, Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Michael Dumitru, Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson and Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Larry Ables followed Persinger in taking the oath in the courtrooms over which they will preside.
During each ceremony, friends, family members, colleagues and other well-wishers joined the newly elected judges in celebrating the occasion.
The Rev. Maribeth Manoff of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church set a reverent tone when she referred to Persinger as “a woman with a great heart for justice” during her invocation at the Lookout Mountain ceremony, which took place Aug. 30.
A Chattanooga native, Persinger earned her juris doctor from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2008 and launched Stevie Phillips Law in 2017.
While practicing, Persinger also offered her time and skills to various nonprofit organizations, including AIM Center, Welcome Home of Chattanooga and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.
Persinger also received a vote of confidence from Weill, whom she replaced. “I believe Stevie can do anything she wants to do,” Weill said before administering the oath, “and we’re fortunate she’s chosen to be our judge. There’s no person with more integrity, ability or spunk.”
Attorney Jeremy Cothern of Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway shared a story from his days as Persinger’s law clinic partner at UT to illustrate why he believes his friend is well-suited for the job.
“As a woman was explaining to us why her landlord was evicting her, she started barking like a dog and squatting,” Cothern says. “Stevie treated her with respect and dealt with her tactfully and gracefully. Those are skills that will serve her well as a judge.”
Cothern also praised Persinger’s ability to master the ambiguous segments of the law.
“The gray areas of the law are where the discretion of the judge matters, and there’s no one better than Stevie to navigate those and dispense justice in our community.”
Persinger promised Weill she would follow her example of integrity and thanked her husband, Thomas Persinger, for his support.
“Someone called me last week to congratulate me on the occasion of my husband’s new judgeship,” Persinger laughed. “This actually is Thomas’ judgeship because he wholeheartedly embraces everything I do – and I couldn’t do it without him.”
During the ceremony, Chattanooga Bar Association President Lee Ann Adams presented Persinger with her judicial robe. As Adams helped Persinger slip into the garment, she advised her to “wear it in good health and with wisdom.”
“May the causes of truth, justice and humanity never suffer at your hands,” Adams concluded.
Cox followed her stint as the first female attorney to be appointed as a judge for Signal Mountain, Tennessee, with her election as the first female judge of East Ridge Municipal Court.
Judge Christie Sell administered the oath during a ceremony conducted the morning of Sept. 1.
Like Persinger, Cox is a Chattanooga native and an alum of UT Law School. However, she launched her career in Asheville, North Carolina, where she worked as a prosecutor.
Cox has also represented victims of domestic violence for Legal Aid of East Tennessee and advocated for clients as an assistant public defender in Maryville.
As a community advocate, Cox has served on the board of directors for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County, the Chattanooga Family Justice Alliance Courts Task Force and the board of governors of the CBA.
Cox has also served on the Voices Committee for the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga. In 2013, Sell and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger recognized her for advancing domestic violence awareness in Chattanooga.
Cox’s father, former Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox, noted during his remarks that his daughter will preside over a court in which the people of East Ridge express great interest.
“The first time I came here as a young prosecutor, the court was full. During recess, I asked a gentleman, ‘Which case is yours?’ He said he wasn’t here on a case. So I asked a woman which case was hers. And she said she was here to observe.
“I learned people in East Ridge come to court simply to watch justice happen. That says a lot about the community in which my daughter will be a judge.”
Although State Sen. Todd Gardenhire did not mention or acknowledge Cox during his remarks, he did compliment the candidates for running a mud-free race.
“All the candidates who ran for judge were very cordial to each other. Seeing them work together was refreshing,” Gardenhire says. “No one tried to outdo the others; they just advocated for themselves. That spoke well of everyone.”
During her remarks, Cox said she also was grateful for the caliber of the race and thanked her opponents and the community.
“I appreciate this opportunity to serve the City of East Ridge. I intend to do it to the utmost of my abilities and fulfill my responsibilities with integrity and fairness.”
During an afternoon ceremony on Sept. 1, Patterson echoed Cox in commending his opponents – defense attorney Amanda Dunn and former criminal court judge Rebecca Stern – on running a “clean race.”
“We focused on being positive rather than going negative,” Patterson said during his remarks. “It’s impossible to do that during some campaigns, but we abided by it and it worked out well. Mike Little, Judge Greenholtz and I had a great working relationship after we ran in 2016, and I plan to continue that with Amanda and Judge Stern.”
Although Patterson had no tales of defamation or backbiting to share, he did offer entertaining stories from his door knocking efforts, including one in which a campaign staff member spoke with an elderly man who had a Bible and a shotgun in every room of his house.
“He said, ‘If I get burglarized, then I’ll hit him with the Word of God. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll hit him with my 12-gauge.”
Patterson’s investiture began with remarks from the judge he replaced – the Hon. Don Poole. The retired judge praised his successor for having the intelligence and experience necessary for the role, as well as the temperament and patience he’ll need.
“Patience is important when dealing with certain defendants, as well as certain lawyers, and Boyd already has that attribute. I’m proud to tender the reins of this court to him.”
After Poole installed Patterson, the multitude of supporters packed into the court gave the new judge a vocal and enthusiastic standing ovation.
Patterson hails from Hamilton County, where he graduated from UTC before earning a master’s degree in psychology from the State University of West Georgia.
After counseling delinquent youth for two years, Patterson earned his juris doctor at Duquesne Law School, where he graduated in 2000.
After a stint at the Chattanooga law firm of Campbell & Campbell, Patterson joined the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked as a prosecutor for 15 years.
During this time, Patterson served as the gang task force coordinator for the city of Chattanooga and wrote an amendment to Tennessee’s RICO law that allowed street gangs to be prosecuted in state court as criminal enterprises.
Patterson has spent the last five years as an assistant public defender.
During his remarks, Patterson offered three pieces of advice he said might benefit attorneys practicing in his court.
First, he directed lawyers to treat the practice of law like an intellectual competition. “Many of you played sports in high school and college. Attorneys transition from athletics to the practice of law really well because they’re similar. Much of what happened on game day – or in court – is about preparation. So dig into the details of your cases.”
Patterson also urged attorneys to adopt a broad perspective of the law that exceeds the boundaries of not just Hamilton County and Tennessee but also the U.S.
“You’ll be surprised by how much some of the criminal systems around the world have in common. Despite all the division and all the differences, people have similar values – and you can see that in their laws.”
In closing, Patterson invoked a famous quote by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo, who said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
“Be creative and make a positive difference,” Patterson added. “A case from one small jurisdiction can revolutionize society if it goes high enough. And we have those kinds of cases here.”
The son of an ironworker and a homemaker, Ables says he learned the importance of hard work and education while growing up in Harrison.
After graduating from UTC with an undergraduate degree in public administration, Ables attended the Florida Coastal School of Law. From there, he returned to Tennessee, where he practiced criminal defense.
In 2004, Gen. Cox offered Ables a job as an assistant district attorney. The role provided Ables with the best possible judicial training, Statom said during her opening remarks at Ables’ investiture.
“I believe the DA’s office is the best training ground for a judge because you’re the first person to evaluate new cases. You decide what the just and right thing to do is.”
Statom, a former prosecutor who worked with Ables at the DA’s office, also applauded her fellow judge’s work ethic, which she said will benefit the people who appear before him.
“You work a ten-hour day in a four-hour stretch in Sessions Court, so you have to move quickly as you make decisions that impact people’s lives.”
Ables eventually left the DA’s office to serve as a Hamilton County magistrate. Former Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston summoned Ables back to the DA’s office in 2016.
As Ables contemplated running for the Sessions Court seat, he frequently conferred with his wife, Hamilton County court clerk Kayle Collins Ables, and their two sons about the sacrifices they would have to make.
“There would be no summer vacation, no going to the pool in the evening and most of our weekends would be spent at pancake breakfasts and campaign rallies,” Ables said after Statom administered the oath. “After much discussion and prayer, we committed ourselves to it. And I could not have done it without my wife and two boys.”
As Adams helped Ables put on his robe, she brought a day of ceremony and celebration to an end. (Read about Dumitru, who was also installed, in the article, “’I’d be a fool if I didn’t try to give back,’” published in the Aug. 19 edition of the Hamilton County Herald.)
“May the causes of truth, justice and humanity never suffer at your hands,” Adams said one last time before closing.
This marked the start of a new journey during which each judge will endeavor to dispense justice, fulfill their responsibilities with integrity and fairness, exercise patience and make decisions that impact many lives.