The Magistrate’s Court Vacancy Committee on Tuesday forwarded the names of three candidates to fill the unexpired term of Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Wright to the governor’s office following a public hearing at the General Morgan Inn .
The candidates are Crystal Jessee, a lawyer from Greeneville; J. Bradley Mercer, Deputy Attorney General of the 3rd Judicial District; and Rogersville lawyer William E. Phillips II.
Governor Bill Lee could nominate one of the three candidates or appoint another qualified person to fill the remaining year of Judge Thomas J. Wright’s term.
Wright retired on September 1. He was elected in 2014 for an eight-year term on the circuit court that ends in 2022.
Members of the Commission heard statements from the three candidates for the post of judge and conducted individual interviews. Each cited their qualifications in the opening statements and then answered questions from members of the trial committee.
Two ballot papers were cast by the eight members of the Vacancy Committee of the Court of First Instance present. Two of the candidates were deemed qualified for the post of judge. The commission did not specify which ones and forwarded the list of the three candidates to Lee.
William C. Koch Jr., dean of the Nashville School of Law, chaired the public hearing of the commission.
“We will officially advise the Governor that we are unable to provide a list of three qualified candidates for the post. We have determined that two candidates are qualified, ”Koch said after the hearing.
Lee “has the prerogative to appoint any attorney he deems qualified (among) candidates for the post, including any other qualified attorneys in the 3rd Judicial District,” Koch said.
A background check of each candidate will be performed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and forwarded to Lee, who will then interview the candidates and select an individual to fill the remaining year of Wright’s Circuit Court tenure.
Given the need on the Circuit Court bench in the 3rd Judicial District, Koch predicts that the selection process “will go fairly quickly.”
In response to a question, Mercer said anyone appointed to be a judge would have a learning curve. All the candidates cited their professional experience and temperament as suitable for a judicial post.
Commission member Hal North told Phillips he understood that the judiciary was historically “a Greene County bench.”
Phillips responded that as a judge he would serve all residents of the 3rd Judicial District of four counties.
Jessee, 41, has been practicing law since 2005. His Greeneville-based firm, the Jessee Law Office, focuses on civil litigation and domestic law issues. She is a candidate for the magistracy of the Circuit Court when she is elected in 2022.
Mercer, 38, has been practicing law since 2010. He practiced in private practice until 2014, when he became Deputy Attorney General based in Hamblen County. Mercer has worked in the Greene District Attorney General’s office as a district attorney since 2019.
Phillips, 44, has practiced law since 2002. He is a partner at the law firm Phillips & Hale in Rogersville. He is an attorney for the city of Rogersville and also represents clients in criminal law and family relations matters.