Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy Retires After 2 Decades on the Bench

August 31, 2016

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy, who has served on the bench for two decades, retires today.

McCoy has presided over high-profile cases involving important public issues, including the Tennessee Voter Identification Act, the Open Records Act, and TennCare litigation.

McCoy graduated from Vanderbilt Law School with four other women in her class. For the first two years of her career, McCoy seldom saw female lawyers in court. She recounts times when she was ignored because she was the only woman in court.

“When I would talk, nobody would hear me. They would talk over me. It happened all the time,” McCoy recalled. However, she learned to make her contributions known.

“It took me several years to say, ‘I was speaking!’ and the men would listen.”

In her early career, she served low-income individuals at Legal Services. Today the organization is known as Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. For a brief period of time afterward, she served as a staff attorney for the Tennessee Department of Revenue. She was a partner in the firm of Farrell and McCoy from 1975 to 1982. She then worked with Ed Davies, Pete Cantrell, Jerry Humphreys, Bob Davies and Reynolds Davies as a partner for 14 years. McCoy was first elected for judgeship in 1996 and re-elected in 1998 and 2006.

Even before the campaign process, McCoy says that she was often given a helping hand by the network of lawyers in Nashville at a time when she felt she knew few people in the community. In 1996, when McCoy hesitated to run for judge, she received a call from an elected official who encouraged her to run. Minutes before the deadline, her paperwork was submitted, and she was elected by Davidson County to serve on the bench.

Though McCoy is known for her light-hearted nature, she prides herself on treating her career with earnestness.

“Since I was sworn in as a judge, I never forget that for everybody that comes into my courtroom, it is the most serious thing they have ever experienced,” she said.

Throughout her life, she has found creative ways to bring women together; McCoy was a founding member of Cable, the premier leadership organization for women’s professional advancement. The organizing committee, which included Chancellor McCoy, Barbara Richards, Martha Trammel, Bea Hubbard, and Mary Martin Schaffner, chose the name “Cable” because the word suggests strength of the links between women. She was also one of the founders of Lawyers Association for Women.

Nonetheless, McCoy emphasized that she was not one to alienate men; she cultivated meaningful friendships with her male partners during her career and recognizes that many of her influences in the field of law were men.

McCoy also was president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference in 2009-10 and presiding judge of the 20th Judicial District from 1999 to 2001

“I have always tried to listen attentively in class and to others who have gone before me, which had to have been mostly men, about the propriety of your conduct, observance of the rules, and about treating people with civility.”

When asked why she will retire, she said, I love this job, but I think it’s an appropriate time to let someone else have this wonderful opportunity.”

McCoy hopes to become a member of a corporate board, where she can share her knowledge of business law. She added that she also will focus on her family.

“I am going to find a way to dispose of 43 years of practicing law and being a judge, put those memories aside, and go and create new memories,” McCoy said.

Five applied for the 20th judicial district chancery court opening. While McCoy lamented that none of the applicants were women, she knows her successor, Bill Young, will find the job as enriching as she did for 20 years.

“Nothing I do is ever the same. It’s all different, it’s all fascinating, and it’s cutting edge. I have the privilege to have the best lawyers in my court, bar-none,” she said. “It is just the best job in the world.”

McCoy is married to Supreme Court Justice Roger Page. They have four grown sons and three grandchildren.

Chancellor Carol McCoy