“Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time.” – Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s quotation captures the long legacy of excellence and service embodied by Judge James G. Martin, III, who recently completed a 14-year term as Circuit Court Judge and Chancellor for Division II of the 21st Judicial District, an area that until September 1, 2022, comprised Williamson, Hickman, Lewis, and Perry Counties. That legacy extends not solely to his career as a jurist, but it extends back to his earliest childhood days and from there to his performance in college and law school, his service in the United States Army, and his career as a lawyer in private practice.

Judge Martin was born in Chattanooga and grew up in Hendersonville, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi. During his childhood his father farmed and raised cattle. Jim was soon responsible for a wide variety of farm chores, including hauling hay to feed the family cattle and chasing down cows when they broke through the fences. Jim Martin has said was during this time he learned that the backbone of success is grounded in hard work.

He applied this work ethic to his educational pursuits. He graduated from high school with high marks – so much so that they earned him an offer from Vanderbilt University. Jim pursued his college education at Vanderbilt, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Economics in 1969. He did exceptionally well in college and earned a full scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University School of Law.

However, before going to law school, the Vietnam War interrupted his plans. Judge Martin entered the Army in the summer of 1969. He thought he would be serving as a “law clerk,” but he soon found that the Army had a different idea. After basic training, he was shipped out to Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. Jim returned home in 1971and entered Vanderbilt Law School, where he excelled. He graduated first in his law school class in 1974, earning a variety of high honors along the way.

For someone with Jim’s record of excellence, the normal post-law school path would have been to join a large corporate law firm in the Northeast or Midwest. But, fortunately for our community, that is not the path Jim chose. Instead, influenced by his own vision of what a lawyer should be and aided by a chance encounter with Vanderbilt’s Dean Dent Bostick, Jim moved to Franklin, Tennessee and joined the law firm of McWilliams, Berry & Oglesby. At the time, Cletus McWilliams represented the City of Franklin, among other clients. Working for the City became a favorite assignment for Jim, and within a short period of time, Jim, himself, was appointed City Attorney. Franklin was a much smaller community in 1974 than it is today, and deep relationships could be cultivated more quickly. Jim received excellent training and mentoring from each of Cletus McWilliams, C.D. Berry, and Jim Oglesby. It was also during this time that Jim’s work ethic and aptitude for litigation began to be noticed both by the community at large, local judges, and his fellow attorneys. Ed Silva recently noted that the lawyers in Franklin took notice of “this hard working and well prepared” new attorney. Ed said, “he raised the bar for all of us.”

In 1977, Jim joined the Nashville law firm of Farris, Evans, & Warfield. He became a founding partner of its successor, Farris, Warfield, Kanaday, which became Stites & Harbison, PLLC in 2001. Jim brought his peerless work ethic and high standard of excellence with him to his new firm. Aided by a close working relationship with one of Nashville’s most prominent attorneys, Charles H. Warfield, Jim began developing, what would become a stellar reputation for civil litigation, especially in the field of family law. By the end of his career in private practice and in the minds of many, Jim Martin became the preeminent family law litigator in the State. He remained a partner in the law firm until the fall of 2008.

It was also during his time at the Farris Warfield firm that Jim Martin began a long-term friendship with former Justice Cornelia (Connie) Clark. Justice Clark joined Jim’s firm in 1979 and immediately began working with Jim on legal work for the City of Franklin, as well as handling civil litigation for a wide variety of clients. Martin and Clark became quite a powerhouse. They demonstrated over and over high ethical standards, unmatched professionalism, and an unwavering pursuit of “just doing the right thing.”

Jim’s reputation for excellence grew to such an extent that in 2008 Governor Bredesen selected him to fill the unexpired term of Judge Davies of the 21st Judicial District. Thereafter, Jim faced two elections. The first in 2010, and the second in 2014. As a compliment to his reputation, Jim did not face opposition in either election. During each election year, attorneys within the 21st Judicial District overwhelmingly supported his candidacy and gave him highly favorable recommendations. During his service on the bench, Judge Martin became Judge of the Recovery Court, an institution that has saved and improved the lives of many non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. In 2019, Judge Martin received the Making a Difference Award for his dedicated work on Recovery Court. Jim served as Judge of Recovery Court for 8 years, and upon the conclusion of his term this year, he received a thunderous, celebratory send-off.

The final year of Jim’s service on the bench has been marked by one recognition after the next – admirable tributes for a job well-done. In April 2022, Jim received the Good Scout Award from the Middle Tennessee Council of Boy Scouts. In May 2022, the Tennessee Bar Association awarded Judge Martin the prestigious Justice Frank F. Drowota, III Award – an award given only to a judge or judicial official in Tennessee who demonstrates extraordinary devotion and dedication to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. In September 2022, County Mayor Rogers Anderson read a Resolution adopted by the Williamson County Commission honoring Judge Martin and declaring September 16, 2022, as Judge Jim Martin Day. That Resolution was followed up by Resolutions from the Tennessee Senate and House, as well as, from the City of Franklin.

Although Judge Martin has stepped down from the Court, he has not retired. He will spend more time with his wife, Janis, his daughters, and his grandchildren. He also will return to the practice of law and continue to serve this community, and all of us will be the better for it. Judge Martin is an individual of great integrity, a mentor and role model to many, and someone who displays servant leadership and a compassionate heart. To Judge Martin, I would say: the Williamson County community is forever indebted to you for your dedicated service.

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