The Wilson County Commission selected attorney Ensley Hagan to be the next Wilson County general sessions court judge Monday night to replace John Gwin, who plans to retire at the end of the year.
The commission chose Hagan on a 13-10 vote over attorney Julie Robinson. Trey Marshall was also in contention. Because no one received 13 votes after the first round of balloting, Marshall dropped out of the running, and Hagan and Robinson were left to vie for the judgeship.
“Obviously, I’m extremely pleased with the outcome,” Hagan said. “Given the quality of the other two lawyers who were also seeking the position, I am truly honored and humbled by the county commission’s decision Monday night.”
Before the vote, all three candidates, who were nominated by the public and officially nominated by the commission, spoke to commissioners.
In his comments to the commission, Hagan said he had, in the past, filled in for Gwin.
Before he was chosen, Hagan said, “I want to thank Judge John Gwin for setting the bar for what a judge should be and for establishing such a well-run court. I hope to emulate what Judge Gwin has accomplished beginning Jan. 1. It is an honor to be considered for this very important position.”
“This court decides many extremely important matters, child custody and visitation for parents who are both married and not married; dividing marital property; orders of protection, which likely involve domestic abuse and can keep someone from their home or from having a firearm; administration of probate estates, will contests which can be very complicated and determine who gets what in an estate, guardianships for minors and conservatorships for incompetent adults. You have to ensure that the most vulnerable are not taken advantage of and mental health patients. This court has the authority to deprive someone of their liberty. That is a really big deal.”
Hagan said the “most important job this court has is protecting children. I have done all of these things. I have made these kinds of tough decisions. I’ve practiced in all of those areas, and I’ve filled in for Judge Gwin, at his request, numerous times in each of these areas of law. Since Judge Gwin told me of his upcoming retirement nearly two years ago, I have not wavered in my intention to seek this position. I have made my plans known, and I want you all to know that a vote for me tonight will not be wasted. I plan on running for this seat in 2020.
Hagan has also filled in for two other judges, Barry Tatum and James H. Flood, “numerous times. I believe this demonstrates great confidence in my abilities as a judge. Presently, I am in my second three-year term as a member of the Board of Professional Responsibility Hearing Committee that hears complaints against Tennessee lawyers. This is a group of lawyers selected by the Tennessee Supreme Court to decide whether lawyers are abiding by the required ethical rules.
“I consider this a high honor. Judges are leaders, and I am a leader in this community. From being president of the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club to being on the board of SCAN to working with Wilson Warriors, to the Lebanon Planning Commission to the Wilson Bank & Trust Community Council, to heading up the Rotary Foundation, I have been and am a leader.
The issues family court deals with require an “open mind, a compassionate heart and a firm hand. One who can control a courtroom but also allow all Wilson Countians who come before it to be heard. I can assure you that I will not develop any robe fever or what’s called robeitus,” Hagan said. “This judgeship belongs to the people of this great county, not the one wearing the robe. But more than my legal experience, I bring my own life experience.”
In addition to requests Hagan fill in for Gwin, Hagan said, “Judge Gwin has often given me some very good advice over the years. Basically, he’s been a mentor to me. One such piece of advice he told me very recently in his office was ‘Son, do not lose your patience. Some people will do and say some really, really stupid things in court, but just do not lose your patience.’ Those who know me will tell you that I have the knowledge, temperament, experience, open-mindedness and humility to hit the ground running on Jan. 1, 2019.”
The county was in a crunch to pick a new attorney because the Jan. 3 docket is full, according to Gwin, and the new judge would have to be chosen before then.