Judge Timothy Lee Easter sat down with Attorney at Law Magazine to discuss his position on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Middle Section, a position he has held since September 2014. He was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam and elected to finish the full-term in August 2016.
AALM: How did you transition from your career as an attorney to your career as a judge? What prompted the change? What advice do you have for attorneys considering the switch?
EASTER: Transition was very hectic for me. I was appointed in January 1998 to a newly created circuit judgeship, so the start date was immediate. I faced a very serious primary challenge four months later. I lived a helter-skelter life for a while, shutting down my practice, sitting as a new judge and trying to campaign. The advice I would give for someone considering the switch is to begin planning well in advance – in every way.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff.
EASTER: I have a wonderful staff! They make me look good. I try to create an office atmosphere that recognizes what takes place in the workplace has its roots in the home place. We respect each other’s talents as legal analysts after we respect our primary role as a parent, spouse, son, daughter and liver of a life outside this office. I like to take the Mr. Fizzwig approach – from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – in the affairs of my staff.
AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
EASTER: Be prepared – from head to toe. Prepared in the brain to confidently argue all legitimate sides of your position; prepared in the mouth by sounding like a lawyer who is not offended by the challenge of position weaknesses; prepared in the gut by taking personal shots from a less worthy adversary without stooping to such a tactic in return; and prepared in the toe by the way you personally present – shined shoes with closed toes! I still believe this is what a client expects of their attorney.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
EASTER: The time we have as an appellate judge to give the proper attention to important issues and matters that affect the lives of Tennesseans. I have a tremendous amount of respect for trial judges who have so many cases on their dockets that there is never enough time in their schedule to perform a reflective and copious drill down into a complicated issue, needing a correct determination, while a courtroom full of other litigates wait to be heard – or worse, a jury sits idle. Amazingly, the Tennessee trial judges get it legally correct far more often than not.
AALM: What do you find most challenging about your profession?
EASTER: The decline of good old-fashioned civility. It bothers me that too many litigators seem to think the golden rule does not apply to the rules of procedure.
AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?
EASTER: I am excited about the advancement of problem solving courts. My experience shows me they work. I am happy to see more and more people from all branches of government recognizing the value of these innovated courts.
AALM: Are there any challenges that you believe need to be corrected in the legal community?
EASTER: One challenge that needs correcting in the legal community is a fresh review of our nearly 30-year-old criminal code. Partly because of legislative action with certain crimes that needed particular enhancement or attention, we now have in many circumstances disjointed results that create a necessary correction on appeal. I am happy to see that this issue has become a top plate matter with the Tennessee Supreme Court.
AALM: How are you involved with the local community?
EASTER: I am involved in my community by participating in nonprofit organizations. I have been a board member of the Brentwood YMCA for many years and continue to see how that organization is so much more than a gym and swimming pool. Of course, I still do all I can for the 21st Judicial District Recovery Court.
AALM: Do you have any mentors? What are some of the most important lessons they taught you?
EASTER: One of my mentors was Judge Henry Denmark Bell, who passed away two years ago. He taught me that in delivering fairness and justice, a judge can be subtle. He had a way that will not be duplicated.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
EASTER: The one accomplishment that I am most proud of achieving is raising, along with their mother, two grown daughters that make me humble. I look at the souls they are and I take on a different type of swagger. They are amazing young ladies making wonderful life choices.