VOL. 124 | NO. 124 | Friday, June 26, 2009
Ridder Takes Oath in Bittersweet Circumstance
By Bill Dries
SWORN IN: Circuit Court Judge Lorrie K. Ridder, right, takes the oath of office from Gov. Phil Bredesen, left, with her husband, Robert Ridder, and daughter, Kelly Ridder, looking on. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES
As she took the oath of office this week as a Circuit Court judge, Lorrie Ridder told a group of friends, family and fellow judges that the experience was bittersweet.
Ridder was appointed in April to fill the vacancy in Division 4 created by Rita Stotts’ January death.
“She was taken from us all too soon,” Ridder said Wednesday after taking the oath from Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Ridder was the founding director of the Tennessee Pre-Professional Program for students at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Stotts was the second director of the program that encourages diversity among law students and law practices.
“I think about her warmth, her wisdom, her grace, her good humor,” Ridder said of Stotts, someone she had known for 20 years.
Ridder was questioned extensively by the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission before the group selected her as one of three finalists. When Bredesen got the list, Ridder said he called her and asked her one question.
“What will you do if you are selected?” is how Ridder recalled the question.
She told Bredesen that she would apply the work ethic from her law practice to her work on the bench – setting her own deadlines and resolving motions and cases in a timely manner.
“More and more people are resorting to the courts, frankly,” Ridder said. “With the economic situation, we are going to see more and more first-time litigants. We’re going to see more and more pro se litigants. If we can increase the confidence in the justice system now, I think we’ve got a greater chance of impacting the justice system by making certain that everybody in our courtrooms feels like they’ve been treated fairly. We can increase their sense of self-respect.”
Ridder said most courts have a “customer service problem” because half of the litigants lose and leave court unhappy if they don’t reach a settlement with the other side.
Ridder’s former law partner, Bill Luckett, said Ridder will be a “wonderful judge.”
“My loss is your gain – our gain,” said the Clarksdale, Miss., attorney who is considering a bid for Mississippi governor in that state’s 2011 Democratic primary.
Ridder has been on the bench since her April appointment. Bredesen made the appointment as the Tennessee Legislature debated and modified the selection process, primarily by changing how appointments are made to the selection commission.
“I was pleased with the way that turned out,” Bredesen told The Daily News. “The most important thing to me was to preserve the Tennessee Plan – to preserve a merit selection process and the retention elections. … I think it gives us a far better judiciary than we would have under other circumstances.”
The plan is a two-year interim plan during which the Legislature is supposed to settle on a longer-term method. The interim plan was approved after numerous unsuccessful amendments to the method that included the popular election of appeals court judges in contested elections, no selection commission, and a longer list of finalists.
“I think having survived this challenge this time around, it should be smooth sailing from now on,” Bredesen said. “I certainly hope so.”