Chief Justice Sharon Lee Lays Out Road Map for Judiciary at Investiture Ceremony

September 17, 2014

Dignitaries from across the state gathered in Knoxville Wednesday to mark the formal investiture of Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee.

Gov. Bill Haslam administered the oath of office to Chief Justice Lee, who was surrounded by her family in the Courtroom of the Tennessee Supreme Court within the Historic Post Office in downtown Knoxville.

Chief Justice Lee, who was elected to a one-year term as Chief Justice by her fellow Justices, spoke to several of the goals she has set her sights on for the judiciary.

She suggested a “top to bottom review” to see how the courts can be better stewards of tax dollars and deliver services more efficiently and effectively. She also emphasized the need for better use of technology, such as the implementation of electronic filing systems. She hopes to study the business court model, used in other states to “provide a good forum for businesses that provide jobs to Tennesseans to resolve their disputes.”

Chief Justice Lee also acknowledged the contentious retention elections this summer and how they put the judiciary in the spotlight and underscored the need for fair and impartial courts.

“Tennessee got a civics lesson about the importance of checks and balances and the necessity of a separate and independent judiciary,” she said. “Our courts play a fundamental role in protecting individual rights, providing predictability to business and in guaranteeing the fair functioning of our government.”

Chief Justice Lee praised the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice initiative, launched six years ago and recognized as one of the best in the country among programs that focus on ways to better serve those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer for non-criminal matters.

“In 2013, over 700,000 hours of pro bono legal work was performed by lawyers in Tennessee for people who could not afford to hire a lawyer. We are truly the Volunteer state,” she said

Chief Justice Lee once again pledged her support to Amendment 2, which will change the state Constitution to provide that appellate judges are appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the Legislature, and elected in a retention election by the voters.

 “This amendment will eliminate any doubt about the constitutionality of the method of selection of our appellate judges,” Lee said. “To speak with authority, we must be accountable to the people we serve.

“The system Amendment 2 proposes creates the right balance between making sure we have an independent, diverse and qualified judiciary to uphold the rule of law, while still having accountability to the people and our elected representatives,” she said.

Chief Justice Lee also thanked her family members in attendance, including her mother, Judy Lee, whose 38 years of work in the Monroe County Clerk and Master’s office helped forge the path to Chief Justice Lee’s distinguished legal career.

Chief Justice is the third woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. She was appointed to the Court in 2008 by Gov. Phil Bredesen and was elected Chief Justice by the justices of the Court in August for a one-year term that began September 1. 

Before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lee served as a Judge on the Tennessee Court of Appeals from 2004-2008. From 1978-2004, she practiced law in her hometown of Madisonville and also served as a municipal judge, a mediator, and a county and city attorney. Justice Lee received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Chief Justice Lee is active in her community, serving on several boards including the YWCA Knoxville and the East Tennessee Historical Society. She also is involved with the Volunteer Ministry Center and the 2014 Congressional Medal of Honor Convention.

Chief Justice Lee has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Chief Justice William E. Barker Equal Access to Justice Award, the YWCA Knoxville 30 Remarkable Women over the past 30 years, the Lizzie Crozier French Leadership Award from the East Tennessee Women's Leadership Council, YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women Honoree, the Woman of Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts Council of the Southern Appalachians, the Spirit of Justice Award by the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women, and the University of Tennessee Alumni Professional Promise Award.