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In Memoriam

United States District Judges


David McKendree Key
United States District Court
Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee
1880-1895

Judge David McKendree Key

David McKendree Key died February 3, 1900. He was born January 27, 1824 near Greeneville, Tennessee. Judge Key graduated from Hiwassee College in 1850, becoming the school’s first graduate. During his college years, Judge Key read law in Henry H. Stephens’ Madisonville office; he was admitted to the Tennessee bar the year of his graduation and established a law practice in Madisonville and Kingston. In 1853, Judge Key and Albert G. Welcker established the law firm of Welcker and Key in Chattanooga. During the Civil War, Judge Key became a Lieutenant Colonel in the 43rd Regiment of Tennessee Infantry. After the war, he became the senior member of the Chattanooga firm of Key, Aiken, and Key. In 1870, he was elected a member of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention and later was elected chancellor of the third district of Tennessee. He served as chancellor until 1875, when he was appointed by Governor James D. Porter to fill the U.S. Senate seat of former President Andrew Johnson. Judge Key served as a U.S. Senator until 1877. President Rutherford B. Hayes selected Judge Key to serve as Postmaster General, a position that he held until his appointment in 1880 to the United States District Court for the Middle and Eastern Districts of Tennessee by President Hayes.


Charles Dickens Clark
United States District Court
Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee
1895-1908

 
Charles Dickens Clark died March 15, 1908. He was born in 1847 in Laurel Cove (Van Buren County), Tennessee. Judge Clark served in the Confederate Army under General George G. Dibrell. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1871 from Burritt College in Spencer, Tennessee. Judge Clark graduated from the Law Department of Cumberland University in 1873. He practiced law in Manchester, Tennessee for eight years and moved to Chattanooga. Judge Clark was nominated to the federal bench as a district judge by President Grover Cleveland on January 21, 1895. He was the first district judge from Tennessee to serve widely by designation and assignment on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.


Edward Terry Sanford
United States District Court
Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee
1908-1923
United States Supreme Court
1923-1930

 

Edward Terry Sanford died March 8, 1930. He was born July 23, 1865 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Justice Sanford received a B.A. and a Ph.B. from the University of Tennessee and a B.A., M.A., and LL.B. from Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Between 1890 and 1907, Justice Sanford engaged in private practice in Knoxville and served as a lecturer at the University of Tennessee School of Law. He was a special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States from 1905 to 1907 and Assistant Attorney General of the United States from 1907 until his appointment to the United States District Court, Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee, by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Justice Sanford served at the district level until his elevation to the United States Supreme Court in 1923.


Xenophon Hicks
United States District Court
Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee
1923-1928
United States Court of Appeals
For the Sixth Circuit
1928-1952

Xenophon Hicks died November 2, 1952. He was born May 2, 1872 in Clinton, Tennessee. Judge Hicks received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Grant University in Athens, Tennessee, in 1891 and an LL.B. from Cumberland University Law School in 1892. Subsequent to his admission to the Tennessee bar, Judge Hicks served as Clinton City Attorney and Anderson County Attorney. In 1898, he served as a captain in the Sixth U.S. Volunteer Infantry in the Spanish American War. Following the war, Judge Hicks served as an alderman and mayor of Clinton; he was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1911 and served one term. Judge Hicks was nominated to the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee by President Warren G. Harding. Prior to his appointment to the district court, he had served as Assistant State Attorney General, Judge of the Criminal and Law Court for the Second Judicial Circuit of Tennessee, and Judge for the Nineteenth Circuit Court of Tennessee. In 1928, Judge Hicks was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit by President Calvin Coolidge. His service of twenty-four years was longer than that of any of his predecessors.


George Caldwell Taylor
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1928-1949

George Caldwell Taylor died December 19, 1952. He was born May 29, 1885 in Greeneville, Tennessee. He received an A.B. from Tusculum College in 1906 and an LL.B. from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1908. Judge Taylor began his law practice with the firm of Nicholas and Taylor in Rockwood, Tennessee. In 1911 Judge Taylor became the secretary to Tennessee Governor Ben Hooper. Upon the expiration of Governor Hooper’s term, Judge Taylor then practiced law in Greeneville. In 1921 Judge Taylor was appointed by President Warren Harding to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, a position that he held until his appointment to the federal bench in 1928. Judge Taylor was the last judge to serve the Eastern District while the district had only one judgeship.


Leslie Rogers Darr
United States District Court
Eastern and Middle Districts of Tennessee
1939-1940
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1940-1967

Leslie Rogers Darr died May 29, 1967. He was born November 8, 1886 in Jasper, Tennessee. Judge Darr attended Pryor Institute, a junior college in Jasper, and received an LL.B. in 1909 from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. Following his admission to the Tennessee bar in 1910, Judge Darr established a law practice in Jasper. He was elected Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit of the Tennessee Circuit Court in 1926 and remained in this position until his appointment to the federal bench by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Judge Darr’s initial appointment in 1939 was temporary to fill a judgeship created in 1938 to serve both the Middle and Eastern Districts of Tennessee. In 1940, his appointment was made permanent, and he was reassigned solely to the Eastern District. In addition to his district service, Judge Darr served by designation on the United States Court of Claims and several other circuits throughout the nation.


Robert Love Taylor
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1949-1987

Robert Love Taylor died July 11, 1987. He was born December 20, 1899 in Embreeville, Tennessee. Judge Taylor attended Milligan College, earning a B.A. in philosophy in 1921, and he received a Bachelor of Law degree from Yale University in 1924. He practiced law with the firm of Cox, Taylor, Epps, Miller and Wilson in Johnson City, until his appointment to the federal bench by President Harry S. Truman. Among the most notable trials Judge Taylor conducted were those in the 1950s and 1960s that resulted in the desegregation of the University of Tennessee, Clinton (Tennessee) High School, and the Knoxville public school system. Judge Taylor was called upon twice by Chief Justice Warren Burger in the 1970s to preside over sensitive criminal trials, one involving Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Otto Kerner, Jr., and the other, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel. When Judge Taylor assumed senior status in 1985, he was the most senior federal judge in active service in the country.


Frank Wiley Wilson
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1961-1982

Frank Wiley Wilson died on September 29, 1982. He was born June 21, 1917 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Judge Wilson received an A.B. from the University of Tennessee in 1939 and a J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1941. He practiced law in Knoxville with the firm of Poore, Kramer and Cox until 1942, when he joined the United States Army Air Corps. Following his military service, Judge Wilson established a solo practice in Oak Ridge and then formed a partnership with Eugene L. Joyce. Judge Wilson continued in that partnership until his appointment to the federal bench by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Judge Wilson is best known for overseeing the 1964 trial of union leader Jimmy Hoffa who was tried for jury tampering, mail and wire, fraud, and conspiracy. 
 


Charles Gelbert Neese
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1961-1989

Charles Gelbert Neese died October 22, 1989. He was born October 3, 1916 in Paris, Tennessee. Judge Neese received an LL.B. from the Cumberland University Law School in 1936. Judge Neese practiced law in Paris, Tennessee, until he became the Field Secretary to U.S. Representative Herron Pearson, serving in that capacity from 1940 to 1941. He then became executive assistant and general counsel to Governor Prentice Cooper and served until 1944, leaving to serve in the Naval Reserves in World War II. Following the war, Judge Neese returned to private practice in Paris. He also worked as a public relations representative for Tennessee-Kentucky Chain Store Councils during this time. Judge Neese served as campaign manager for U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver in 1948 and 1954, and he was Senator Kefauver’s administrative assistant from 1949 to 1951. He returned to private practice in 1952, this time in Nashville, and continued practicing there until his appointment to the federal bench by President John F. Kennedy on November 20, 1961.


Thomas Gray Hull
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1983-2008

Thomas Gray Hull died July 29, 2008. He was born May 20, 1926 in Greeneville, Tennessee. Judge Hull served with distinction in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He attended Tusculum College in 1947 and 1948 and received a J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1951. Judge Hull practiced law with the Greeneville firm of Easterly and Hull from 1951 to 1963. He served in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1955 to 1965. In 1972, he was appointed circuit judge for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. He resigned in 1979 to serve as legal counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander. Judge Hull was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on October 24, 1983, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and received his commission on November 14, 1983. He served as Chief Judge from 1984 to 1991. Judge Hull assumed senior status on October 1, 2002 and served in that capacity until his death on July 29, 2008. 


James Howard Jarvis, II
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1984-2007

James Howard Jarvis, II died June 6, 2007. He was born February 28, 1937 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Judge Jarvis received a B.A. in 1958 and J.D. in 1960, both from the University of Tennessee. Following law school, Judge Jarvis joined his father’s law firm, O’Neil, Jarvis, Parker and Williamson, in Knoxville. He became a partner in the Maryville, Tennessee, firm of Meares, Dungan and Jarvis in 1970. From 1972 to 1977, he served as judge of the Blount County Law and Equity Court. In 1977 he was elected judge of the Thirtieth Judicial Circuit Court in Blount County and served until his appointment to the federal bench. While on the state bench, he was a member of the executive committee of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association and the Tennessee Judicial Conference. Judge Jarvis was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on September 6, 1984 to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, to a new seat created by 98 Stat. 333. He received his commission on October 12, 1984. Judge Jarvis served as Chief Judge from 1991 to 1998. He assumed senior status on February 28, 2002 and served in that capacity until his death on June 6, 2007.


Pamela Lynn Reeves
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
2014-2020

Pamela Lynn Reeves died September 10, 2020. She was born July 21, 1954 in Marion, Virginia. The first in her family to attend college, Judge Reeves graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Tennessee in 1976 and earned her J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law in  1979. Judge Reeves practiced law in Knoxville from 1979 until 2002 when she formed the law firm of Reeves, Herbert & Anderson, P.A.— one of the first law firms in Knoxville dedicated primarily to mediation.  
She was the first woman to chair the Knox County Election Commission, the first woman to serve as president of the American Associations of Mediators, and the first woman to serve as president of the Tennessee Bar Association. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her appointment in 2014 and she became the first woman to serve as a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee. In 2019, she succeeded District Judge Thomas Varlan to become the first woman to serve as Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee.  
 

 

United States Magistrate Judges


 

Charles Josef Gearhiser
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
Part-Time Magistrate 
1967-1978

Charles (Charlie) Josef Gearhiser died June 17, 2013. He was born on August 14, 1938, in Dyersburg, Tennessee and was a scholar and athlete.  He played baseball, football, and wrestled. After his undergraduate studies at Austin Peay University, Mr. Gearhiser received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1961, where he was a member of the Tennessee Law Review and Order of the Coif. Mr. Gearhiser was a founding member of the firm of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott and Cannon, PLLC. Mr. Gearhiser loved the practice of law and was a mentor to many young lawyers. Mr. Gearhiser litigated numerous complex and difficult cases during his career and tried over 100 cases to a jury verdict. Early in his career, he was law clerk to U.S. District Judge Frank W. Wilson and served in that position during the historic Jimmy Hoffa trial in 1964. He served as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Tennessee and then as part-time United States Magistrate from 1967- 1978 while engaged in private practice.


Thomas Wesley (Jack) Overall
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1970 – 1985

Thomas Wesley (Jack) Overall died on September 24, 2004. Judge Overall was born in Gallatin, Tennessee on June 11, 1914. He graduated from Cumberland University School of Law in 1938. He lived in Nashville where he taught commercial law and both studied and taught accounting at Andrew Jackson Business University. In December 1970, he was appointed to the federal bench as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee. He retired from the bench in December 1985. He also served in the United States Army in the Pacific Theatre from 1942-46. 


John Y. Powers
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1984 - 2004
 

John Y. Powers died March 28, 2012. Judge Powers was born in Michigan but was raised in Jackson, Tennessee. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1951 and then Vanderbilt Law School in 1953. He practiced law for 25 years in Chattanooga, and then in 1984, he was appointed to the federal bench as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee. He retired from the bench in 2004. He also served in the United States Army, where he worked in counterintelligence and the JAG Corps. He achieved the rank of Colonel.


Joe Alexander Tilson
United States District Court
Eastern District of Tennessee
1985 - 1995

Joe Alexander Tilson of Morristown, Tennessee died May 27, 2008. He was born November 29, 1929 in Greeneville, Tennessee.  He graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Judge Tilson was a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Korean War. He was a Chancellor from 1963-1964, assistant attorney general, and practicing attorney. He was appointed to the federal bench as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee in 1985 and served for ten years until 1995.