Judge Kennedy’s had a lot of memorable moments in his courtroom over the past 19 years. However, the use of Zoom and WebEx, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, gave a whole new meaning to crazy court incidents. So much so that his staff believes this memorable moment from February 2022 is one for the memoirs.
“We were doing a lengthy trial and all of a sudden, a fellow came on our Zoom who was unidentifiable,” Judge Kennedy said. “We didn’t know if he was a party or a witness or somebody who wanted to get on Zoom. He came in on Zoom and within about a minute or two of being there, he morphed into a hamster. But after he morphed into a hamster, he shot into our screen a porno movie.”
Judge Kennedy calls it a moment of levity. Although this one was unwelcomed, Judge Kennedy often encourages moments of levity in his courtroom.
“Over the years, I also had a chance to do all of the removal of minor status cases for future rock stars and all the people who are wanting to come to Nashville,” Judge Kennedy said. “What I’ve done over the years, I have them be the first case on the docket and have them sing. It’s a moment of levity. In the real world of litigation, it can sometimes be grim and stressful and depressing for the litigants. It’s a lighter moment. We let them get up and sing and we always tell them we are sure they will go out and become superstars.”
It's moments like these that allow Judge Kennedy to look back and realize what a blessing it was that he lost his bid for a General Sessions Judge seat in the 1990s. He continued practicing law and when Frank G. Clement, Jr. was appointed by then Governor Bredesen to move from the Circuit Court bench to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, there was an open seat and he decided to apply and was appointed Thanksgiving weekend 2003.
“I was initially appointed and I believe he swore me in in the old Supreme Court chambers up on Capitol Hill on December 4,” Judge Kennedy said.
Sitting on the Circuit Court has brought him a lot of joy and satisfaction over the years.
“Probably just in a general sense, the opportunity to help folks solve problems that could not be resolved without litigation has been the single most important aspect of being a judge overall,” Judge Kennedy said. “I do more conservator cases than any other judge in Tennessee. The opportunity to help disabled adults and folks who can no longer care for themselves has been a real honor.”
Judge Kennedy also looks back fondly on his service as an officer for the Tennessee Trial Judges Association, calling it one of the greatest privileges of his career. He was selected to serve as Vice President of Tennessee Trial Judges Association, 2009-2015.
“In that role, I had the chance to meet some of the finest people I’ve ever known,” Judge Kennedy said. “It has been my experience that trial judges and appellate judges are people who really truly want to present a fair and impartial forum for the citizens of our state. I think that is why, from my perspective, our local judiciary and our state judiciary are held in reasonably high esteem, and I hope it stays that way.”
As for the candidates seeking to fill his vacancy, Judge Kennedy believes it’s important for them to show the general public they are confident in the rule of law. He recommends they set aside the adversarial advocacy they practiced as trial lawyers and, instead, become referees.
“You’re no longer a player,” Judge Kennedy said. “You’re no longer in combat with your opposition. You are suddenly thrust into a position where you’re not an advocate for your side, you’re simply an advocate for the rule of law. It’s a different role, and I think if anyone wants to seek a position as a judge, the first thing I’d ask him or her to do is be sure to have the capacity to set that advocacy aside. Partisanship of any kind, other than being partisan in favor of the rule of law and in favor of justice, is always wrong and it doesn’t matter whose court you’re in.”
Prior to being appointed to the Circuit Court, Judge Kennedy was a private practice attorney at Kennedy & Brown. He also served two terms on the Metro Nashville Council. He is a 1972 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and received his J.D. from the Nashville School of Law in 1977.
Judge Kennedy’s honors include the Long Rifle Award, Middle Tennessee Council, Boy Scouts of America; Volunteer Award, Senior Citizens, Inc.; and the New Club Builder Award, Donelson-Hermitage Exchange Club. He is a member of the Nashville Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Association for Justice, Tennessee Trial Judges Association, National College of Probate Judges, Nashville Bar Foundation, Harry Phillips American Inn of Court and the Tennessee Judicial Conference.
He was also heavily involved in his community, serving as a Member, Metro Charter Revision Commission and Member, Board for Senior Citizens, Inc. He is the former President of the Donelson-Hermitage Chamber of Commerce. Judge Kennedy was active with Boy Scouts of America, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Exchange Club. He is a former Player's Agent for Donelson Little League and Youth Football Coach, and former service member of the President's Advisory Council for MTSU. He is a former Instructor at Nashville School of Law and a Member of St. Stephen Catholic Church.
Judge Kennedy plans to serve the remainder of his term, which concludes on August 31 of this year.
“I have a jury trial set in a breach of fiduciary duty case set aside for the last week in July and the first week in August, so I guess I will go out with a bang instead of a whimper,” Judge Kennedy said.
His personal plans include staying in Nashville to support his successor and spending quality time with his wife, Debbie.
“Debbie and I have been married our whole adult lives,” Judge Kennedy said. “I’ve been married a lot longer than I’ve been a lawyer or a judge. We want to do some of the things on our bucket list we haven’t had time to do, and among those are to spend more time with our adult grandchildren and our teenaged grandson. We’re both going to travel. We both have a taste for it. And, I think she and I will sit down and talk about those things we haven’t been able to do in the community in more recent years that we used to do. I would imagine she and I will come up with some plans.”
Judge Kennedy also plans to keep an active law license and continue his bar association membership.