Johnson City attorney Robert D. Arnold — better known as Don Arnold — was overwhelmingly selected as the third Washington County Sessions Court judge Thursday during a special called County Commission meeting.
Arnold, 70, said he was honored and humbled with the appointment to fill the newly created judicial seat. He beat out five other candidates who applied for the job. Only one other applicant received a nomination from a commissioner before the vote. Arnold garnered 19 votes to Steve Darden’s 3 votes.
As soon as the commission voted, Arnold was sworn into office by Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp. Arnold was joined at the swearing-in by his wife, Linda, and their oldest grandson, Will Arnold.
“There’s a great honor in being a judge. There’s a responsibility that goes with it. I will do my utmost best to make sure that justice is properly administered in Washington County, Tenn., at all times in my court,” Arnold said after his appointment.
He said he plans on being on the job this morning ready to serve on the bench if needed.
“I’ll be on the bench in the morning if they’ve got anything for me to do, and I’m sure they do,” he said after Thursday night’s meeting.
That certainly could be the case, and Sessions Judge James Nidiffer said the third judge was needed.
“I’m grateful to the County Commission for getting us the judge. We badly needed this,” Nidiffer said. Having a third judge will “help us get our criminal docket in a position to meet everyone’s needs and help us administrate justice. We’ve needed it for a long, long time.”
Nidiffer and other court personnel have already been working on a schedule for the available courtrooms at the Justice Center because only two of the seven courtrooms are designated for Sessions Court. One of the judges will “float” to different courtrooms, officials have said.
Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn already has personnel and equipment in place to accommodate the third judge. She had to hire another person for the clerk’s office and purchase a laptop that will be used wherever the third judge holds court.
With the new position, Sessions Court also will now handle Environmental Court. That’s something totally new for all three judges. But even with that added part, the third judge will ease the burden Nidiffer and Judge Robert Lincoln have carried for several years.
Arnold received his law degree from the University of Tennessee and has been licensed in Tennessee since 1967. His prior experience includes working as an assistant district attorney general and in private practice.
Arnold also served in public office as a Johnson City commissioner, Johnson City mayor and in the Tennessee Senate representing Washington and Hawkins counties.
Arnold does have an active law practice, but has six months to close it out. He said he will need to make some court appearances for clients, but most of his practice will be conducted after hours since he plans on taking the bench immediately.
He also will have to run for election in the August 2014 general election. Arnold said it’s his intention to be a candidate for the judgeship at that time.