Attorney Dwight E. Tarwater was officially confirmed by the General Assembly as the newest justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Justice-designate Tarwater was nominated by Governor Bill Lee in January after a lengthy application process that included a public hearing. He will take the bench on September 1, 2023, following the retirement of current Justice Sharon G. Lee.
“Dwight is one of the state’s most distinguished and well-known litigators. He has consistently demonstrated a mastery of court rules and precedents while upholding the highest standards,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “The entire Court is thrilled to welcome him to the bench as a colleague. He has a deep understanding of complex litigation as well as a unique perspective on the other two branches of government in our state. I am sure he will serve the citizens of Tennessee well.”
Justice-designate Tarwater served as general counsel to former Governor Bill Haslam from 2014 to 2019, a position he accepted after decades of work as a trial and appellate attorney in Knoxville.
The job of general counsel to the governor is broad and all encompassing. From reviewing every legal document the governor signs to analyzing proposed legislation, the position handles a multitude of legal, political and governmental issues. Justice-designate Tarwater proposed reform measures in criminal justice, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and drug treatment as well as advised the Governor on criminal law issues involving defendants, such as extraditions, sentencing, and clemency requests, including those in capital cases.
“My life was greatly enriched during my service as Counsel to the Governor,” Justice-designate Tarwater said. “Suffice to say that my experience in government was rewarding, interesting and rounded out my career in a full and complete way. It also brought within my heart a great appreciation of the value of public service.”
Justice-designate Tarwater was born and raised in Knoxville. He earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He was named a Torchbearer, the University’s highest honor, recognizing excellence in academics, leadership and service. He earned his law degree from his alma mater.
After working as a judicial law clerk for Judge Houston M. Goddard of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section in Knoxville, Justice-designate Tarwater joined the law firm Egerton, McAfee, Armistead and Davis and four short years later was named a partner. Three years later, his name was on the door at Paine Tarwater Bickers LLP. He was invested in the Knoxville legal community, serving in almost every leadership position possible at the Knoxville Bar Association.
Justice-designate Tarwater developed a national reputation in handling complex litigation cases. He has managed hundreds of complex cases at the trial and appellate levels in both federal and state courts and has developed a particular talent for legal discovery, expert testimony, and jury trials. As a result, he has handled cases in all three Grand Divisions of Tennessee and more than 20 states.
In 2006, Justice-designate Tarwater was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is comprised of the best trial lawyers in the United States and Canada. He has repeatedly been recognized as one of the Best Lawyers in America, which is compiled through a peer review survey of thousands of lawyers.
Recognizing the impact even modest legal guidance can have on an individual person, Justice-designate Tarwater has consistently accepted cases pro bono from Legal Aid of East Tennessee as well as accepted other cases at reduced fees.
“Many of the clients that I vividly remember were those that I accepted on a pro bono or reduced fee basis: the drug addicted Vietnam vet that I defended in a paternity case; the lawyer whose sentence was reversed just days before his release date and who died of cancer shortly thereafter; the homeless man who lived in a dog house; the single mother trying to keep her car on the road,” Justice-designate Tarwater said. “For me, it was their case; for them, it was their life. No matter who I represented, the rule of law was paramount. It exists so that the freedoms of Tennesseans are protected and their duties adjudicated fairly.”
Justice-designate Tarwater served on the board of directors of LAET, the Volunteer Legal Assistance Program and the Pro Bono Project.
“As lawyers we are servants of the law and we owe to it our obedience, respect, honor, and hard work. We serve the law, and as such, we serve the people. I consider a position on the Supreme Court as the ultimate service, not only to the profession, but also to the people of Tennessee. I will serve with integrity, humility, and diligence,” Justice-designate Tarwater said.
Justice-designate Tarwater has three children and five grandchildren. He resides in Knoxville and his office will be at the Knoxville Supreme Court Building. His term will begin September 1, 2023, and he will be on the August 2024 general election ballot as an appellate “retain/do not retain” candidate. If retained, his term will end August 31, 2030.