Now, at 26, he has achieved that dream after being named special master under Judge Bill Swann for the Knox County Fourth Circuit Court.
A special master is a practicing attorney who is appointed by a judge to hear certain cases. Shipley, who obtained his law license in 2012, will hear Order of Protection cases in family court.
If that isn’t enough of an accomplishment, Shipley is also the first blind judicial official in Knox County.
Born with a vision disability, Shipley does have some sight but said he is legally blind. It never held him back from working the tobacco fields on his family farm or getting that law degree on his way to the bench.
“Law school required me to work a little harder,” but hard work was in his blood as he grew up working tobacco.
“I aspired to be a judge,” Shipley said in a phone interview from his Knoxville office at the Held Law Firm.
“I always wanted to be a judge and to get to do this so early in my career is incredible,” he said.
Shipley recalled the childhood game of cops and robbers, but he had a twist to it.
“My friends would play cops and robbers and I would play court. When the cops caught the robbers, they would come to me and I would play court,” he said.
Being an attorney has been a way for Shipley to give back, he said, but he also remembers his roots and how he got to where he is now.
“Law is a way for me to help people. ... I wouldn’t be where I am now without papaw, mom and dad believing in me and supporting me every step of the way,” he said.
Shipley said his serving as judge is dedicated to his late grandfather, Charles L. Fletcher, of Greeneville.
Shipley’s parents, Jack and Cheryl Shipley, still live in Limestone and he visits a couple of times a month.
He said his blindness was a challenge in law school, especially with the amount of reading required.
“I don’t know if I’d see myself as a model for anyone else” with limitations, he said. “Everybody had a limitation of some type or another. ... I hope I can show people that no matter what your limitations are, if you work hard at you can get further than most people think.”
Shipley said he is grateful to Swann for the opportunity to serve and the trust the judge has in him to do the job.
“Judge Swann gave me my start in the legal field. He introduced me to family law and helped me cultivate a passion for what I do.”
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