A longtime fascination with judges and the courtroom led Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth to the bench in 2006.
“By the time 2006 rolled around, I’d been trying cases in criminal courts for almost 30 years, and I was fascinated by the judges I appeared in front of,” says Hollingsworth. “Some good fascination, some questioning fascination, but fascinated with what they did.”
When he heard his predecessor, Judge Sam Payne, was thinking about hanging up his robe, Hollingsworth met with him to discuss what it’s like to sit on the bench.
“I felt like that was something I wanted to do, something I wanted to experience, so when he decided to retire, I took my shot,” says Hollingsworth.
Once on the bench, his love for the law grew.
“When I went to law school in 1974, I’d never met a lawyer in my life,” Hollingsworth says. “I had no clue what I was getting into. I had a history degree and I worked for a year in sales. I decided that wasn’t for me and I’d go to law school. We were living in New Orleans at the time, and LSU Law said, ‘Come on up.’”
By “we,” Judge Hollingsworth is referring to himself and his wife, Mary, who put him through law school on her teaching salary.
“We had no student loans,” says Hollingsworth. “We paid $190 a semester in tuition. Younger lawyers say, ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up; I don’t want to hear it,’ and I don’t blame them. It’s crazy right now.”
While the phrase “shut up” might seem a little harsh, it played an important role in Hollingsworth’s legal career.
“’Shut up and listen.’ I can be a little blunt sometimes, but that’s advice I got – and it was good advice,” says Hollingsworth. “We all forget from time to time that we’re affecting peoples’ lives. Whether as a practicing lawyer or as a judge – even if you’re dealing with a corporation – what we do affects peoples’ lives, and we need to keep that in mind.
“It can dictate someone’s future – it can dictate what happens to a person – even if it’s with a large corporation. There are people in that corporation who are going to be affected, so we need to always be mindful of the importance of what we do.”
While some might feel drained after a long workday, Hollingsworth often feels invigorated when given the opportunity to pour over cases with his colleagues.
“Just last week, we were in court all day going through a bunch of motions, which is a long story,” says Hollingsworth. “It was a medical malpractice case somebody else is going to have to try, but at the end of the day, somebody said, ‘You must be exhausted.’ I said, ‘No, I’m kind of jacked up.’ I was having fun.
“Like anything else, there are times when I’m thinking, ‘Get me out of here before I explode,’ but, generally, I’m going to miss being with lawyers and the other people in the courtroom.”
It’s no surprise Hollingsworth’s favorite courtroom memory also involves long hours of legal discussions.
“I won’t name names, but late into the afternoon one time there were a couple of experienced lawyers – lawyers I’ve known for 30 years and practiced with and against – all in a room hashing out a variety of things,” says Hollingsworth. “We were arguing and we were getting mad and we were laughing. At the end of the day, we had this well-reasoned order put together and signed off on it.
“That’s the kind thing I enjoy doing – sitting down and arguing with good lawyers and hashing things out.”
Hollingsworth is looking forward to continuing these types of legal discussions in retirement, as he plans to start a mediation practice.
“It will help me to keep busy,” says Hollingsworth. “The theory being I’ll be doing things on my schedule instead of everybody else’s. We’ll see how well that works out. I’m looking forward to remaining active in the law practice in some fashion.”
Hollingsworth also plans to celebrate a special personal milestone.
“My wife and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary,” he says. “She’s no longer teaching, and I’m retiring, so we’re going to have a 50th anniversary retirement trip in September and October. Other than that, we’re playing it by ear.”
Before going on the bench, Hollingsworth served as an associate and then partner at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel (1989-2006), an assistant district attorney general in Hamilton County (1984-1989), an assistant district attorney and section chief in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1978-1984) and a law clerk for Judge William Cline of Clinton, Louisiana (1977-1978).
Hollingsworth received his law degree from Louisiana State University in 1977 and his undergraduate degree from Tulane University in 1973.
Honors include being named a fellow of the Chattanooga and Tennessee bar foundations and receiving the Pro Bono Partner Award from Legal Aid of East Tennessee.
Hollingsworth is a member of American, Tennessee and Chattanooga bar associations.
His community involvement includes being a member of Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga, joining the boards of Hope for the Inner City and Goodwill Industries, and serving on the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Bono Advisory Committee and the Chattanooga Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee.
Source: Tennessee Administrative Office of the Court