Circuit Court History

In 1809, when the superior courts of law and equity were abolished, circuit courts were established in their stead, invested with all of their powers and jurisdiction, both at common law and equity.

The circuit courts derive their name from their jurisdiction over several counties, making up a particular district, or circuit, created by the legislature. Both population and distance played a part in the formation of a particular circuit. The judges, in holding the terms of these courts in years past, “rode the circuits.”

The general jurisdiction of the circuit courts is fixed by statue and is as follows:

“The circuit court is a court of general jurisdiction and the judge thereof shall administer right and justice according to law, in all cases where the jurisdiction is not conferred upon another tribunal. (Section 16-501, Tennessee Code Annotated)

Under these provisions, it may be said that the circuit courts have jurisdiction of every juristic controversy which may arise where no other tribunal is designated by statue. (Tennessee Procedure in Law Cases, Higgins and Crownover.)

The circuit court for Davidson County was duly organized on March 12, 1810 and proceeded to do business. A commission for Governor William Blount was produced and read by Thomas Stuart, Esquire, such commission bearing the date of November 24, 1809, and directing Stuart to become the judge of the first circuit court to be established in the state.

The early minute books of the circuit court are fragmentary and rather sketchy, so the history of the court is not complete. Archibald Roane and Bennett Searcy are named in these early minute books as judges, but it is impossible to say whether they were duly appointed judges or were only serving as special judges.

The civil business of the circuit court of Davidson County increased to such an extent that, in 1870, it was necessary to relieve the circuit judge of a part of the load. In that year, a common law court jurisdiction was formed to handle the excess business in Davidson and Sumner counties. Jo Conn Guild was appointed judge for the new court, and he served until its abolition in 1878. A single circuit judge thereafter managed adequately to hear and determine the cases in Davidson County until 1895 when the load again became very heavy. The legislature, by act of February 6, 1895, created the Second Circuit Court, and, on February 14, 1895, Claude Waller was appointed as its judge.

The work of the court again increasing with the growing county, in 1913 the legislature created the Third Circuit Court; on September 25, 1913, Governor Ben Hooper appointed George N. Tillman as its judge.

(Judge Alf G. Rutherford went on the Third Circuit Court bench in 1914 and in 1918 became a candidate for the First Circuit Court Bench, was elected to it and served upon it. He is the only judge to serve on more than one of the parts of the Davidson County Circuit Court.)

In 1957, the General Assembly established a Fourth Circuit Court for the county. This act (Senate Bill No. 72) gave the new court concurrent jurisdiction with the other three circuit courts in all matters involving divorces, annulments, separate support and the care of children, adoptions, actions under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, appeals from the juvenile court, and all other proceedings involving domestic matters and the relationship of husband and wife, parent and child. Benson Trimble has presided over this court since he was sworn in as the first judge on April 15, 1957

In 1963 a Fifth Circuit Court was created by the Eighty-Third General Assembly (House Bill No. 44). It has concurrent with the First, Second, and Third Circuit Courts. Governor Frank G. Clement appointed Sam L. Felts, Jr., as the first judge. Judge Felts conveyed the court April 17, 1963.

Chapter 264 of the Public Acts of 1965 created the Sixth Circuit Couth with the same jurisdiction as the other circuit courts. James Swiggart was appointed its judge, and the court conveyed on April 26, 1965.

The Probate Court was replaced by the Seventh Circuit Court in 1998, see Tennessee Annotated 16-2-505 and 16-2-506, Section and 16-2-506, Section (20)(A). This Court began its duties on September 1, 1998. The Seventh Circuit Court retained exclusive jurisdiction over the probating of wills and the administration of estates etc., along with Chancery Court jurisdiction, and all of the jurisdiction of the former Probate Court. The effect was simply to change the name of the Court form Probate to Seventh Circuit. Frank G. Clement simply remained as Judge.

The Eighth Circuit Court was established in 1998, under Tennessee Code Annotated 16-2-505 and 16-2-506. This court began its duties on September 1, 1998.

Increased population has caused a change in the circuit courts. The Circuit Courts of Davidson County have jurisdiction in the Twentieth (20th) Judicial Circuit, which includes Davidson County only.

First Circuit Court
M Thomas Stuart,1809
William F. Brown,1836
James Bucks,1838
Thomas Maney,1839
Nathaniel Baxter,1852
Manson M. Brien,1864
Eugene Cary,1867
Nathaniel Baxter,1870
Frank T. Reid,1874
W.K. McAlister,1886
J.W. Bonner,1893
John W. Childress,1902
Thomas E. Matthews,1908
A.G. Rutherford,1918
Richard P. Dews,1934
Roy A. Miles,1958
James William Rutherford,1974
Robert E. Lillard,1978
Hamilton Gayden, Jr.,1978

Second Circuit Court
Claude Waller,1895
John W. Childress,1895
J.A. Cartwright,1902
M.H. Meeks,1908
A.B. Neil,1918
Weldon B. White,1942
Byrd Douglas,1942
Weldon B. White,1946
Byrd Douglas,1947
John L. Uhliam, Jr.,1965
Hal D. Hardin,1975
John T. Nixon,1977
Harry S. Lester,1978
Marietta Shipley,1990
Amanda McClendon 2006*

Third Circuit
G. N. Tillman,1913
A.G. Rutherford,1914
E.F. Langford,1918
Henry F. Todd,1958
Don R. Binkley,1967
Joe C. Loser, Jr.,1978
Matthew J. Sweeney, III,1986
Barbara Haynes,1990
Phillip Robinson, 2012

Fourth Circuit Court
Benson Trimble,1957
Muriel Robinson,1982
Philip E. Smith, 2009

Fifth Circuit Court
Sam L. Felts, Jr.,1963
Stephen North,1974
Rose P. Cantrell,1982
Walter Kurtz,1982
Joe P. Binkley Jr, 2008*

Sixth Circuit Court
James M. Swiggart,1965
Thomas Brothers,1989

Probate Court
Shelton Luton,1963
James Everett,1982
Frank G. Clement,1995

Seventh Circuit Court
Frank G. Clement,1998
Randy Kennedy,2003

Eighth Circuit Court
Carol L. Soloman,1998

The Probate Court was replaced by the Seventh Circuit Court in 1998, established by Tennessee Code Annotated 16-2-505 and 16-2-506, Section (20)(A). This court began its duties on September 1, 1998. The Seventh Circuit Court retained exclusive jurisdiction over the probating of wills and the administration of estates, etc., along with Chancery Court Jurisdiction, and all of the jurisdiction of the former Probate Court. The effect was simply to change the name of the Court from Probate to Seventh Circuit. Frank G. Clement simply remained as judge.

This information was retrieved from:

BENCH AND BAR II
2003
Author – David C. Rutherford
Publisher – The Nashville Bar Foundation
Editor – William T. Ramsey

*updated by Trial Court staff