VOL. 110 | NO. 248 | Thursday, December 26, 1996
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Joining the judiciary
Williams and McCarroll join and rejoin, respectively, Circuit Court bench
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
Circuit Court Judge Karen R. Williams is seated in her chambers, surrounded by walnut paneling and wearing a robe that belonged to the late Judge William W. OHearn.
Williams said she had hoped that OHearn could officiate at her swearing in, but sadly, he died a few weeks before the ceremony.
Although Williams said she had always pictured herself becoming a judge someday, she visualized taking the bench in her 60s instead of in her early 40s.
Williams is one of two new members this year in the Circuit Court judiciary, along with John R. McCarroll Jr., who recently was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Judge Wyeth Chandler.
Appointed by Gov. Ned McWherter in March to replace Judge James M. Tharpe, Williams was then elected in August to fill out the remainder of Tharpes term.
Williams takes her duty as a public servant seriously.
"Judges work for the citizens not the other way around," she said. "Since I have been on the bench, I have set things at odd times. Ive tried to schedule hearings around the needs of the litigants."
One of the toughest issues Williams said she has dealt with on the bench is child custody.
"The absolutely worst is trying to decide where to place a child after a divorce," said Williams. "You have so little information and sometimes you get the feeling that what you do have is so staged."
Williams went on to say that she is not opposed to custody matters which are drawn out, because it gives her more of a chance to observe the behavior of both parties involved.
A native Memphian, Williams graduated from Messick High School in 1968, and received her doctor of jurisprudence from the University of Memphis Law School after receiving a bachelors degree from the University of Arkansas in 1972.
Licensed to practice law in the fall of 1976, Williams joined the first all-woman law firm in Memphis Coleman, Sorak and Williams. A charter member of the Association of Women Attorneys, Williams has given numerous speeches about womens issues and the legal profession.
A long time lover of music, Williams also has played the piano and sung for years and has been active in theater productions. She said she still enjoys singing.
Williams married for the first time in the spring of 96 to James Robert Fleming, who shares Williams love of music. Fleming is a former recipient of the Tennessee State Banjo Picking Contest. Williams said she enjoys singing on occasion with her husbands bluegrass ensemble.
Her next musical conquest will be learning to play the fiddle. Williams said her uncle gave her a fiddle he won in a card game in 1940, which she has had restored.
Williams said her favorite part of being a Circuit Court judge is the vast diversity of law that passes through her courtroom.
"Part of what I enjoy about being a circuit judge is that you get so see such a broad range of topics," said Williams, who is in Division III.
For Division Is McCarroll, the most rewarding part of his four-month judgeship has been the feeling of helping litigants in his courtroom.
"If you think that youve been able to help somebody or protect somebody, then thats good," McCarroll said, making reference to the many orders of protection he and other circuit judges frequently hear.
"The real bottom line is that people need to get a fair hearing," he said. "Both sides need to be heard and treated fairly." McCarroll said he thought that was what most people wanted from a judge.
Prior to taking the bench, McCarroll worked as a mediator and arbitrator and served as a Circuit Court judge from 1974 until 1977.
McCarroll also worked with Guardsmark Inc. as chief financial officer, senior vice-president and treasurer; at Peoplemark Inc. as a senior vice-president; and as president of Travel Time, Inc.
McCarrolls work prior experience involved corporate litigation and trademark law. He also served on the hearing committee of the disciplinary board from 1978 until 1984.
A graduate of Central High School, McCarroll went on to Vanderbilt University where he also received both his bachelors and his juris doctor.
McCarroll is married and has five children. He attends St. Georges Episcopal Church in Germantown, where he is a current lay Eucharist minister.
McCarroll said he enjoys working as a circuit court judge again. He acknowledged the significance of each case to its litigants.
"Every case that comes in, its the most important thing in someones life, whether its a protective order or a divorce hearing. Every case we have is important."