Tenn. High Court Gets New Member, New Chief

     (CN) – Tennessee Supreme Court changes this month include a newcomer to the court and a new chief justice.
     Sharon Lee was elected in August to a one-year term as chief justice by her fellow justices and was sworn in by Gov. Bill Haslam Sept. 17 in Knoxville. Lee is the third woman to serve as the Volunteer State’s chief justice.
     Lee was on the Tennessee Court of Appeals from 2004 to 2008, when she was appointed to the state supreme court. Her bachelor’s and law degrees are both from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.
     Chattanooga attorney Joe Manuel has known Lee for more than 30 years. They were classmates at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
     “We competed in one of the law school moot court competitions. She and her partner competed against my partner and I,” said Manuel. “We actually won the competition, so I always love to tease her about that.”
     Manuel described Lee as a “genuine” person.
     “I think she’ll lead in a dignified but also a common sense way,” he told Courthouse News. “You have someone who has not been removed, during her law practice, from everyday individuals.”
     Manuel said the Tennessee Supreme Court’s recent unanimous selection of new attorney general Herbert Slatery III was a good example of her leadership.
     “It was an excellent statement about her ability to build consensus,” he said.
     Holly Kirby, the newest member of the court, was sworn in by Haslam Sept. 19 in the University of Memphis School of Law’s Historic Courtroom.
     She is the only Western Tennessee representative on the state high court.
     Kirby fills a vacancy left by Janice Holder, who retired in August. Holder was the first female Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice.
     Kirby was the first woman to serve on the state court of appeals, her job since 1995. She earned both her law degree and her bachelor’s degree at the University of Memphis.
     Jef Feibelman worked with Kirby at Burch, Porter & Johnson in Memphis for more than 10 years and her sense of humor is one thing he remembers about working with her.
     “When we sent her our letter offering her a job, we forgot to put a stamp on it,” Feibelman told Courthouse News. “So she wrote us back a letter saying how thrilled she was about the offer and how much she looked forward to [working] with us, and what a nice touch it was that we had sent our letter postage-due.”
     She is fun to work with and intelligent, he said.
     “She’s very, very smart,” Feibelman said. “She is very direct in her communications, so you always know exactly where you stand and what she’s thinking.”
     Judge John Everett Williams worked with Kirby on the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In 1995, she became the first woman to serve on that court.
     “Because of her strong work ethic, I think she’ll be a very good liaison between the supreme court and the bar in general,” he said. “She will take whatever role she is given very serious and she will be a good ambassador for the court.”
     Williams agreed with Feibelman’s assessment of Kirby’s sense of humor.
     “She is very serious about her work. She is not so serious about herself,” he said. “I think her temperament, just being able to laugh at herself from time to time, will serve her well in that very serious and challenging role.”

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