VOL. 123 | NO. 149 | Thursday, July 31, 2008
McMullen Looks To Appeals Court Seat
By Rebekah Hearn
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Camille McMullen has been named the newest addition to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Western Section. McMullen, who was appointed to the judgeship in June by Gov. Phil Bredesen, is filling the vacancy created by Judge David G. Hayes’ retirement.
McMullen had worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Memphis office since 2001. Prior to that, she served as an assistant district attorney for four years.
Paving her way
McMullen, originally from Nashville, said she always wanted to be a lawyer. As an undergraduate student at Austin Peay University, she majored in political science, after which she attended law school at the University of Tennessee.
“I had an idea that I wanted to do this type of work because I was attracted to the trial work and a lot of what was going on in terms of just being committed to justice for people,” McMullen said.
Encouragement from friends, family and teachers in her early years helped shape her, she said.
“There were people in my life, just different mentors … (who) basically said, ‘You can do this, and you need to apply yourself,’” McMullen said. “So I did, and this is where I am.”
Following law school, McMullen clerked for the since-retired state Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joe Riley. It was an experience she said was vital to the shaping of her career.
McMullen attributes her writing skills, good thought and analysis of the facts to Riley’s mentoring.
“He was just a great mentor in making you see more than really what was there,” she said. “(As) an appellate court judge, you’re reviewing a lot of work that comes from the lower courts … and he was just magnificent at that.
“He was probably one of the most, and still is, one of the most respected legal minds in (criminal law) in Tennessee.”
After completing her clerkship, McMullen served as an assistant district attorney for Shelby County beginning in 1997. McMullen said she learned she truly enjoyed trying cases during her tenure there, which lasted a little more than four years.
“I got to tell you, being an assistant district attorney was one of the greatest feelings, when you have the victim sitting with you, and being able to give that feeling to the victim that justice was done,” McMullen said.
During her time at the district attorney’s office, she said she even received letters from defendants saying their case helped turn their lives around or impacted them positively.
As an assistant district attorney, McMullen said she took the time to explain to her clients what was going on in their cases and why, so they understood exactly what was happening.
McMullen said many people who don’t gain that full understanding of the ins and outs of their cases, especially when the case isn’t resolved in their favor, often walk away with a negative feeling.
“I always felt like the very least I can do is explain to you at each step of the way what impact this is having, how the legal system is impacting you, your life and your situation,” McMullen said. “They’ve been victimized by someone (or) something, and they just want to know, ‘How am I going to get redress?’”
Following that position, she moved on to become an assistant U.S. attorney in the Memphis office, where she stayed for seven years until her recent appointment to the judgeship.
“I think it was one of the most exciting positions you could possibly have,” McMullen said of her job as a federal prosecutor. “Just every day, we had something exciting and newsworthy – even though we couldn’t talk about it most of the time.”
Now that she’s come full circle from her clerkship in the criminal appeals court to becoming a criminal appeals judge herself, McMullen said she does have certain expectations of lawyers who come before her with appeals, although she’s not going to forget what it’s like to be on their side.
Lawyers often get backed up on their trial calendars, and McMullen said that, for instance, when a lawyer comes before her to file a motion to continue or ask for an extension of time in which to file a brief, she knows what are and aren’t good reasons for those requests.
“The fact that I’ve been practicing for a good while, I can understand what the lawyers have gone through and can empathize,” McMullen said. “I do have a certain level of expectation, because I’ve been there.”
Her spare time is mostly spent with her husband and two children. She’s also an avid runner as a part of the Memphis Runners Track Club.
“I just enjoy it; I’m not the best, I’m not competitive,” she said. “I just enjoy the camaraderie of runners.”
McMullen also mentioned that she occasionally does Bikram yoga, or “hot” yoga, where the participants perform yoga in a steam room set at 90 degrees.
“It was hard for me initially when they closed that door,” McMullen laughed. “But it’s great for runners to do; it really loosens you up.”