On Aug. 7 (with early voting beginning on July 18), Rutherford County residents will go to the polls and elect the candidates they want to represent them as judges, county commissioners, county mayor, road board and school board members, sheriff and state representatives. One of these candidates, Toby Gilley, is running for General Sessions Judge, Part III.
Many voters may not know what general session judges are, and what “Part III” has to do with it.
Mr. Gilley explained it this way: “General session judges are small claims court judges, and in Rutherford County, there are three different general session courts. Parts one and two are criminal courts, and part three deals with civil and probate matters. Civil cases in small claims court, involve a legal dispute between two or more parties, less than $25,000,” said Gilley. Car accidents, landlord-tenant contract issues and evictions are examples of the cases covered. A simple definition of probate matters would be when a relative passes away and the estate has to go through the court system.
“The election cycle for a judge, across the state, is 8 years and I am the Republican nominee for General Sessions Judge Part III,” continued Gilley regarding his bid for the General Sessions Judge. “Larry Brandon is the Democratic candidate and an incumbent.”
For 17 years now, Gilley has been in ongoing practice with an AB rated law firm, meaning that peers statewide have assigned the highest possible ranking to the firm with which Gilley practices law. During that time, says Gilley, he has had the chance to work with and represent individuals, small businesses and large companies. He has served on the Murfreesboro city council for 14 years. “I am always very humbled and pleased,” he says, “when people tell me that I have the ability to see both sides of the issues. I work to see both sides and I use that ability to make good, level-headed decisions. Now, I hope to use the skills I have developed in my law practice and as a member of the city council, to serve the entire county and not just those inside the city limits of Murfreesboro.”
If elected, he will have to give up his city council seat; judges can only hold one position.
“I grew up on a farm in McMinnville and I am a first-generation college graduate. My dad farmed and worked in a factory; my mom was a bank teller. I did my undergraduate work at MTSU. My major was English, with minors in both psychology and criminal justice. I was elected MTSU student body president, so I stayed on and did two years of criminal justice graduate studies. I went to law school at UT Knoxville and graduated with a law degree in 1997. I began working as a law clerk for Rucker & Rucker while still in college. I would commute weekly from Knoxville to Murfreesboro. Today, I still work for the same law firm, but now it’s called Rucker, Rucker & Gilley. I am also certified by the Tennessee State Supreme Court as a civil mediator. In that capacity, I work as a third-party mediator to reach agreements between the parties before going to court,” Gilley explained.
With the conviction of someone on a mission, the city councilman explained his vision for the judgeship he seeks: “One of the first things you must understand about small claims court is, the vast majority of people who use small claims court are not represented by a lawyer. These are individuals that are usually representing themselves in civil lawsuits. In civil cases you are not appointed an attorney and some people simply can’t afford an attorney. General session courts are designed for that, they are designed to be the court of the people.
“To me, one of the key things to remember is, the people coming into this court may be experiencing the one and only time they interact with the court system. Attorneys and judges talk about what a great legal system we have, and I believe it is the best the world has to offer. But, if you don’t treat people with respect and dignity, you can lose the faith of the people. They need to know that they are going to be heard, treated fairly and with dignity. If you don’t provide them with that kind of service, you have missed out on a great opportunity to let the average citizen know what an asset session court is to the community. My goal for each person, regardless of why they are there, is to be treated fairly, even the people that are not successful, and may not agree with the decision I made, they will at least know that I took everything they said to heart, they were treated fairly and the system works. Also, I think it bears mentioning that, on the average, college-aged people think that general sessions court, has no effect on their lives. That’s not true, because one of the main things that general sessions part three covers is evictions and landlord-tenant disputes. The largest group of people that this effects are college-aged people.
“If elected it will be my responsibility to explain, to both sides, why I made the decision I made and why the law required me or gave me the discretion to make the ruling. Otherwise, I have done nothing to foster the future of our judicial system,” said Gilley. “I think my ability to explain the procedures to the people in court is one of my strongest suits. For the last seven years I have been teaching insurance law at MTSU as an adjunct processor. So week in and week out, I teach law to non-lawyers. I teach legal concepts to students where the vast majority are not going on to law school. I teach these classes in the school of business and I have to do it in a way that they understand. I think that my ability to do that will carry over into a judgeship that is helpful to those in a court room setting. Also, once a year, I am retained to write material and teach continuing legal education courses to attorneys. All attorneys are required to get a certain amount of continuing education credits every year. So I have a background in teaching both lawyers and non lawyers in important legal concepts.”
“Even when one party has a lawyer and the other does not, I will be listening for the facts of what happened. A lawyer may better prepare to present his case, but my job is to get to the heart of the matter, to seek and embrace the truth. I am prepared to do that regardless of legal representation or not. Sometimes my job is to try to guide people to common grounds. It is very important for a judge not to give advice; but you can guide them through the process. As an example I refer back to the Bible and the story of Solomon and splitting the baby. That story has been taken out of context by a lot of lawyers and judges when they look at a case and say all that judge did was split the baby, meaning they just split everything down the middle. But if you know the story, that’s not what it’s about. Solomon’s intent was to force the truth to come out and do what was right based on the truth. He didn’t physically split the child, instead he got to the bottom of who was the mother of that child and that it went home to the right place. To me, that’s the ultimate example of what a good judge is supposed to do,” Gilley explained.
Once again, early voting starts July 18, with the general election on Thursday, Aug. 7. Each and every one of us should d0 our duty as Americans and go vote.