AuthorDavidson, Marshall L.


Most appellate judges, like most appellate lawyers and probably most people in general, do not readily think of themselves as having much influence on how others in the profession think, act, and otherwise manage their personal and professional lives. But the reality is much different.

Consider, for example, Chief Justice Frank F. Drowota, III, who probably had at least as much influence on the shape of Tennessee law as any of the more than 100 Justices who have served on the Tennessee Supreme Court. (1) One of the longest serving and most beloved justices in Tennessee history, (2) he was my mentor for nearly thirty years until he passed away in 2018.


    Judges, like everyone else, are shaped largely by their life experiences. So it was with Justice Drowota. He grew up in the Nashville church where his father served as the pastor and, despite what they say about preachers' kids, Justice Drowota maintained that he rarely misbehaved as a boy.

    However, there was an occasion when his father took him outside to spank him with a switch. Pastor Drowota said to his son, "This will hurt me more than it does you." Young Frank replied, "Dad, I really don't want this to hurt you, so let's just call it even." To his surprise, his father agreed, and so began the emergence of Justice Drowota's talent as a skilled negotiator and mediator.

    Fast forward to 1970 and Justice Drowota was practicing law in Nashville when he was appointed to the Chancery Court of Davidson County which, as it turned out, was the site of his most embarrassing moment as a judge. It happened during a trial when he leaned back in his chair as he normally did, but this time the chair flipped backward, catapulting him onto the floor and sending his feet flying toward the ceiling. Justice Drowota described the incident as "every judge's worst nightmare." But he also described it as a lesson in humility.

    After spending four years in the trenches of a busy trial court, (3) Justice Drowota was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals where he served until his election in 1980 to the Tennessee Supreme Court at the age of just forty-two. He earned the respect and confidence of his new colleagues and they selected him to serve as Chief Justice--not once, but twice. He served twenty-five years on the Tennessee Supreme Court, the second-longest term in state history. (4) Not bad for someone who, while serving as a young naval officer, had to find a quiet place aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea to take the Law...

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