Susan Lockert-Mash, Judge


Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion. 

Scroll down for important information.


Simmons et al. v. Bass et al., No. M2023-00275-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2024). Appellees, a married couple at the time, purchased two properties. Appellants, Husband’s adult daughters from a previous relationship, sought imposition of resulting trusts on the respective properties. Appellants, each of whom lived in one of the properties, maintained that they had agreements with their father whereby they would own the properties so long as they paid all expenses thereon. Appellee/Wife disputed such arrangement and maintained that the disputed properties were marital properties. Because of the suspect circumstances surrounding the purchases of the properties and the disputed testimony regarding any agreements by and between Husband and Appellants, Wife argued that the properties were not subject to the imposition of the equitable remedy of resulting trusts. The trial court denied Appellants’ respective petitions to establish resulting trusts, and they appeal. Because Appellants failed to meet the burden of proof to establish resulting trusts, we affirm the trial court’s decision.


State of Tennessee v. Pardue, No. M2023-00227-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 12, 2024). James Kevin Pardue, Defendant, was charged via presentment with one count of theft of property valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, and one count of home improvement fraud. After a bench trial, Defendant was found guilty of the lesser included offense of misdemeanor theft in count 1 and home improvement fraud in count 2. Defendant was sentenced to an effective sentence of six years on probation and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution at the rate of $600 per month as a condition of his probation. Defendant appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction for home improvement fraud. Defendant does not challenge his conviction for misdemeanor theft. After a review of the record and the parties’ arguments, we agree with Defendant that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction for home improvement fraud. As a result, Defendant’s conviction for home improvement fraud is reversed and the matter is remanded to the trial court for any further proceedings which may be necessary.


State of Tennessee v. Spears, No. M2023-00346-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 2, 2024). Defendant, Kinney Louis Spears, was indicted by the Houston County Grand Jury for the first degree murder of his wife, Mia Donnita Spears. The Houston County Circuit Court granted Defendant’s motion for a change of venue and transferred the case to the Dickson County Circuit Court. A Dickson County jury found Defendant guilty of the lesser-included offense of second degree murder, and the trial court sentenced Defendant to serve 25 years’ confinement. In this appeal as of right, Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, that several improper comments by the prosecutor during closing argument constitute plain error, and that his sentence is excessive. Having reviewed the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Odom, No. M2022-00756-CCA-R3-CD  (Tenn. Crim. App. June 26, 2023).  Defendant, Michael E. Odom, was convicted by a Houston County jury of assault and elder abuse. The trial court imposed a two-year sentence, suspended to supervised probation after sixty days of incarceration. Defendant appeals the trial court’s order denying his motion for a new trial. On appeal, Defendant argues that the jury instruction on elder abuse was incomplete and that the trial court improperly commented on matters of fact during trial testimony. Following our review of the entire record, the briefs of the parties, and oral argument, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Smith, No. M2021-00547-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. May 25, 2022).  The Defendant, James Rodney Smith, was convicted of arson following a jury trial, and he was sentenced to four years on probation and ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution. No appeal was filed, and the Defendant sought post-conviction relief and was permitted to file a delayed motion for a new trial and appeal. James Rodney Smith v. State, No. M2019-00820-CCA-R3-PC, 2020 WL 3832996, at *6 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 8, 2020) (reversing the post-conviction court’s denial of post-conviction relief and remanding for a hearing on due process tolling), no perm. app. filed. On appeal of the conviction, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the unanimity of the jury verdict, and the restitution order. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.


State of Tennessee v. Gibbs, No. M2021-00933-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 14, 2022). Defendant, Casey Bryan Gibbs, entered a nolo contendere plea to possession of methamphetamine over 0.5 grams and felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to ten years in the Department of Correction to serve 180 days with the balance suspended to the Community Corrections program. Following a hearing on a community corrections violation warrant based on Defendant’s failure to report, the trial court revoked Defendant’s community corrections sentence and ordered him to serve the remainder of his ten-year sentence in confinement. On appeal, Defendant argues the trial court abused its discretion in fully revoking his community corrections sentence and ordering him to serve the sentence in confinement. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.


Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.


Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.


For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.


Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.


In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.


Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.


So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.


You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”


Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).


Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.


Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.


So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.


The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.



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