Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Mark J. Fishburn is not only looking forward to retiring later this year, he’s looking forward to returning to the bench this month. Judge Fishburn was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy to treat it in June 2021. This February, he received a stem cell transplant, which requires 45 days of isolation afterward because the procedure affects the body’s immune system.
“I just went to doctor and he eased my restrictions, so I can get back to living life again,” said Judge Fishburn. “My doctor predicted I would be back to work June 8, but he said I can return in April if I’m feeling up to it.”
Judge Fishburn is looking forward to returning to Davidson County Criminal Court this month, a seat he was appointed to in 2003 by Governor Phil Bredesen.
“I was elected general sessions judge in 1998 and I ran because friends requested it,” said Judge Fishburn. “There was an incumbent that they were not satisfied with and I was drafted into being a potential sacrificial lamb and going against an incumbent and ended up winning the election. I was actually a sitting general sessions judge when I was appointed by Governor Bredesen.”
Trying to develop programs to help those who commit crimes get back on track to becoming productive members of society, interacting with the public, and his professional friendships are what he enjoys most about being a judge.
“I just enjoyed the camaraderie of dealing with the attorneys and the bar association, and the judges around the state,” said Judge Fishburn. “I just think we have a wonderful judiciary and I am honored to have been a part of it for so many years.”
As for his successor, he advises helping the electorate understand that the purpose of a judge is to be fair and impartial, and that being a judge goes way beyond making decisions.
“It includes trying to make rulings that provide hope for those who need it and solace for those who need it,” said Judge Fishburn. “It’s a difficult thing to balance when you have victims of personal crimes and you have defendants who have committed some heinous crimes. Regardless of what you’ve done in life, there always needs to be some level of hope for those individuals. It gives them an opportunity to see that in changing their ways, they can still do something in life that is rewarding.”
Those rewards are returned every time Judge Fishburn receives positive feedback from victims and defendants, who sometimes share their thoughts after the fact. No matter how difficult the case, Judge Fishburn has learned how to stop it from affecting him long after it’s over.
“I’ve been at it long enough where I can compartmentalize my work and my social life,” he said. “I get to work usually by 6 a.m., so that’s when I do all of my thought processing and think about how I can achieve what I need to achieve with each case. When I leave the office, 99% of the time, I leave it at the office. I was an attorney for 19 years before becoming a judge. You think being a judge is fairly easy, but it’s extremely complex and overwhelming at times.”
Still, Judge Fishburn has no plans to abandon the legal field in retirement.
“I will continue to teach at the Nashville School of Law,” he said. “I’m looking at some other part-time possibilities. I’ll stay active in the law in some capacity. It might be pro bono work. It might be getting back into the courtroom, from the lawyer’s standpoint rather than from the judge’s standpoint.”
Although Judge Fishburn said he will miss being on the bench in some ways, he is looking forward to new career opportunities.
“I am looking forward to my next career of practicing law in some capacity, whether it be pro bono work, volunteer work, offering myself and my service to the Supreme Court as a substitute judge, or if there’s anything I can do to help them out,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a turn in the road for continued living and enjoying life.”
One way he plans to live it up in retirement is through travel.
“My wife works for Delta Airlines and the Renaissance Hotel chain, so I get to fly around the world free,” said Judge Fishburn. “Paris in September, Nice and Monaco in October, and a South Pacific cruise for my wife’s milestone birthday next year. I will also visit my grandchildren in Jupiter, Florida. Because of Covid and my compromised immune system, I haven’t been able to go down and see them in a couple of years. I’m definitely going to go down and see them a bunch.”
Prior to being appointed to the Criminal Court, Judge Fishburn served as a General Sessions Court Judge, from September 1998 - September 2003. He was a private practice attorney, from 1980 – 1998.
Judge Fishburn graduated from the Nashville School of Law in 1979 and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, in 1972.
His honors include the Nashville Bar Association "Assistance of Counsel" Award; the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Association "Outstanding Mental Health Professional" Award; the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) - Tennessee Chapter "Professional Award in Mental Health; and the NAMI - Nashville "Ambassador of Hope Award in Criminal Justice" Award.
Judge Fishburn is a member of the Nashville Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association and
Nashville Bar Foundation. He is a former board member at Rochelle Center and Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee. He is involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and participates in independent volunteer work for various charities and civic organizations.
Judge Fishburn is set to retire at the end of his term on August 31, 2022.