On Aug. 31, 11th District Criminal Court Judge Don Poole hung up his judicial robe and entered retirement. After 17 years on the bench and three decades of practicing law, it wasn’t easy.
“I’m going to miss being a judge,” says Poole. “People ask about my feelings. I’m happy to a certain extent, expectant to a certain extent, but I’m also sad to a certain extent because I’ve enjoyed being a judge.
“I hope I did a good job. I tried hard. I studied hard. I worked hard. Hopefully, people will remember that.”
Poole said he always wanted to be a judge. That is, after he gave up on joining the FBI.
“I went to law school with the intent of being in the FBI,” says Poole. “After I graduated, that didn’t sound too exciting, so I became a law clerk. After practicing for several years, I had the desire to be a judge.”
Poole was appointed to the bench in January 2006. Since it was an election year, he had to run in the primaries a few months later. He then ran again in August to retain his seat.
Despite having to endure difficult cases from time to time, Poole enjoyed his judicial career.
“I like being a judge, for one thing,” says Poole. “You come in contact with a lot of people – lawyers, witnesses, jurors, defendants. I enjoyed all of that and my interaction with them.
“I also enjoyed the staff and fellow court members I work with, not only in the criminal court but also the mental health court.”
Poole was a prosecutor and defense lawyer before becoming a judge. He believes a diverse career portfolio is a benefit to anyone seeking a judicial vacancy.
“The person who’s been elected to succeed me has that background as a prosecutor and many years in the public defender’s office. I think that’s a good background,” says Poole. “I also think you certainly need to stay up-to-date on criminal laws, rules of evidence, procedure and practicing law.
“I hope the people who want to (someday) be a judge will do those things. A background in various areas is important.”
No matter how much experience a judge brings to the bench, some cases leave a lasting impression. Poole’s most memorable case still haunts him.
“I had many memorable cases that bother me to this day because of the extreme sadness that remains with me,” says Poole. “One that comes to mind was a boyfriend who brutalized his girlfriend’s young boy, all day and evening, which finally resulted in the death of the child.
“Also, the Woodmore Bus Crash, where many young children were killed and injured, and a tractor trailer crash that occurred on I-75 that resulted in six deaths, including four in the same family. I also remember the many cases wherein young defendants killed young victims.”
Fortunately, Poole’s retirement plans will force him to concentrate on new and exciting subjects.
“I thought about going back to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and taking some history classes,” says Poole. “When I went to college, I planned on being an engineer, but that wasn’t my forte. A lot of my background my first year of college was engineering classes. I missed some of the liberal arts classes, so I’d like to take some of them.”
He also plans to spend more time with his two children and four grandchildren and travel with his wife, Candice. The two have been married for 54 years.
“I’ll tell you what my wife has in mind,” says Poole. “She came here from out West. She was raised in Las Vegas. I was in the Air Force, so we got married and she came east and south with me 50 years ago. She now has family in Boise, Idaho. She wants to spend six months in Boise with her family. I want to spend a week, so I hope we can compromise on that. Maybe not six months, but a good portion of it anyway.”
Before his judgeship, Poole was a private practice attorney from 1972 until 2006. Before that, he served as an assistant district attorney for Hamilton County for three years and was a clerk for the Tennessee Supreme Court. After his clerkship, he served three years in the United States Air Force as a JAG captain.
Honors, memberships, community service
Poole received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chattanooga Bar Association.
He’s a member of the Chattanooga Rotary Club and the Inns of Court and a fellow of the Chattanooga and Tennessee bar associations, the American Bar Foundation and the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Poole served as a Sunday School teacher at Brainerd United Methodist Church for approximately 35 years.
Poole is a 1964 and 1965 graduate of the University of Tennessee.
Source: Tennessee Administrative
Office of the Court