Judge Steven Stafford returned to his alma mater Tuesday to hear four cases as part of a panel of the Western Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Stafford completed his undergraduate studies at UTM and received his law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
Stafford reflected on some of the highlights of his journey from UTM student to judge, citing a number of great opportunities he had as a student.
“I was fortunate to have great professors here at UT Martin and they set the standard for academic achievement for what was expected of me,” he said.
Stafford practiced law in Dyersburg for 10 years and was later appointed Chancellor of the 29th Judicial District (serving Dyer and Lake counties) by former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. In 2008, he was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals by former Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Stafford held distinctive roles during his judicial career from trying criminal and civil cases ranging from murder cases, personal injury cases, health care liability cases, divorces, boundary line and custody disputes. He said that all cases have a personal involvement and the different issues brought to the table are important.
“It’s important to not only the litigants, but to everyone who is involved in it and as a judge you’ve got to treat every case as being important and if you don’t, you’re not doing the job you’ve been elected to do,” he said.
Judges on the Tennessee Court of Appeals serve eight-year terms. They may run for re-election if they desire to continue to preside over cases.
In his downtime, Stafford enjoys spending time with his family, including his grandchildren in Mississippi when he is on the road.
According to the Tennessee State Courts website, Stafford is a current chairman of the Tennessee Bar Foundation, past-president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and has chaired and served on numerous committees within the conference. He is also a frequent seminar speaker for judges and attorneys on various topics, including in the field of ethics.
Stafford does not have any future goals in mind. “I’ve had a wonderful career and obviously hadn’t thought of future goals because I really enjoy what I’m doing and I enjoy who I work with. I enjoy the challenges that the job brings so I can’t say that I really thought a whole lot about future goals,” he said.
He does, however, have advice for UTM students who are contemplating their goals.
“There is a feeling out there that if you don’t attend certain colleges or universities then you’re not prepared to do certain jobs. I think that is a misnomer and totally inaccurate. The University of Tennessee at Martin is a great institution. I look around and see a lot of my friends who I went to school with who are attorneys, doctors, dentists, or all types of professionals and I don’t think that you should give up on your dreams because you go to a certain university. I think if you attend UTM you can do anything you want to do,” he said.