Chief Deputy Clerk Lisa Marsh Retires After 25 Years with Tennessee Courts

Chief Deputy Clerk Lisa Marsh remembers her first day working in the clerk’s office of the Tennessee Supreme Court, 25 years ago.

“I didn’t even know where the Supreme Court Building was in downtown Nashville.”

What she knew for sure was that she had an interest in the law and this was the right job at the right time.

“I quit college really fast after I started. I said, ‘I’ll go back next year.’ This was a temporary job for the clerk’s office.”

Marsh arrived for what she expected to be a 30-day assignment to fill out postcards, which back then were the notices of brief filings and records.

“They had me to do that and some other mundane things and I loved it here,” said Marsh. “I would actually spend my lunches here in the library and there was only a clerk, a chief deputy and one deputy clerk. At the end of my 30 days they offered me a full-time job and I just loved it. I liked the processes. I still do.”

"You will not find a more dedicated or reliable public servant in the judiciary than Lisa Marsh,” said Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Neal McBrayer. “So many of us, especially me, have come to rely on her intimate knowledge of the inner workings of clerk's office. It is difficult for me to imagine coming to the courthouse without her steady presence."  

It wasn’t long after Chief Deputy Marsh was hired full-time, in 1976, when a phone call came in that she’ll never forget.

“I was very young, so I was probably 18 at the time and we received a bomb threat by phone and I put the caller on hold to let the clerk know, ‘Hey we have a bomb threat here.’ I’ll never forget that,” she said. “Of course, TBI, Metro, you name it, they showed up. They evacuated the building. I’m kept in the office with the clerk and the police being interviewed. I look back and laugh, obviously, but how could I have put that person on hold? Luckily, we have not had one of those in a long, long time.”

Marsh describes her duties as unique and often finds others are intrigued with her work in the state judicial system.

“Even if you work in a law office or a trial court, the appellate level is a world in and of itself,” said Marsh. “It’s still unique to those areas of law. So, no, it wasn’t something people were dying to come and do. That’s another thing that I liked about it and still like about it is that it is unique. There are not that many people that have had the opportunity and the chance to do this work. It’s kind of a privilege in my opinion. I definitely respect the court system. I know it’s less than perfect. It’s a huge entity, but it works”

 “Lisa has been the rock in the Clerk's office for decades,” said Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Frank Clement, Jr. “I recall first meeting her when we were both new employees to the building in the late 1970's and it was a joy to see Lisa in the Clerk's office when I returned to the building in 2003. Seeing her was like coming home.”

Marsh has shared her vast knowledge with young clerks entering the field over the years. She believes it’s important to have an understanding of the court system as a whole.

“When our judges at the appellate level and the Supremes speak, that changes the world for all Tennesseans. It’s super important, so I try to stress not everybody has the opportunity to do this work and it’s unique in and of itself. There are only three clerk’s offices in the state. But the beauty of it, too, is that trial courts, law offices, appellate level, supreme court, it all fits together and that just is pretty amazing.”

"Lisa Marsh has been an incredible public servant for the vast majority of her adult career,” said Justice Jeff Bivins. “She has been the person with the answer, that no one else knew. And, if she didn't know the answer, she would find the answer. We will truly miss Lisa's smiling face every day. She has been a great public servant for a long time. She has been an excellent leader, an incredible resource, and a problem solver in the Clerk's office. I wish her the best in her retirement.”

While rules are sometimes amended, the processes the clerks follow remains the same. What has changed everything, according to Marsh, is technology.

“When I started, we were filling out postcards and mailing those and everything was handwritten in docket books,” she said. “Whereas now, everything is kept electronically, so that part has changed. But the basics of the process have not changed. We still go by the rules.” Helping people has always been a big part of why Chief Deputy Marsh loves her career.

“Lisa has always been a servant of the people,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger A. Page.  “Her kind heart shines through whether she is helping judges, lawyers, litigants, or members of the public. She was especially helpful to my staff and me during my term as Chief Justice.”

 “Helping others, that’s a big piece of it,” she says with a smile, “You always get a sense of gratitude from that. I do. I think most clerks do.”

“Lisa’s knowledge, dedication, work ethic and patience are unsurpassed,” said Jim Hivner, Clerk of the Appellate Courts. “She is respected by everyone and it has been my honor to work with her for the past ten years of her career.  She will be missed but we all wish her the best in her retirement.”

When asked what advice she might have for her successor, Marsh said getting to know your staff is key.

“Most of all, learn their strengths and weaknesses” she said. “Not a weakness in a negative way, it’s just how people learn. There are different methods in which they learn. They’re all different.” As her retirement draws near, Marsh reflects with fondness on her clerking career.

“It has been really a huge opportunity and blessing, not to work here once, but twice,” she said. “As I said, I was gone for 23 years. I worked here from ’76 to ’83. After our first son was born, I left a few months later to be home a little bit and went back to work. I call it ‘on my side of the river’ in the county of Sumner and worked with courts there, and with a law office. I stayed at the same office with the same attorney for 18 years. Health insurance brought me back here and it was on a fluke that I continued to clerk again. A good friend of mine is still here and, long story short, I came back and it’s worked out really well. Eighteen years was this stint and I had a little over seven the first time, so 25 altogether. It’s been fun. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve learned so much. I’ve met so many people. It’s been an honor to work with a lot of them.”

For now, her retirement plans include spending time with family and adjusting to a slower pace. That’s a big deal for someone who’s worked since the age of 15. Marsh looks forward to helping her daughter with her Nashville business, and visiting her son and his family in Kansas. She looks forward to spending more time with her husband, who closed his Nashville business March 1, and their five grandchildren.

“I will always be grateful to her,” said Justice Page. “My wish for her and her family is to enjoy a long, happy, and restful retirement.”