Chancellor Telford Forgety set his sights on becoming a judge early in his career.
“My first job out of law school was clerking at the Court of Appeals for Judge Jim Parrot who, at that time, was the presiding judge of the Court of Appeals and from my hometown of Strawberry Plains,” said Chancellor Forgety. “Of course, while I was not the judge myself, I worked for the judge and was able to see firsthand what judges did and how they did it. It was always in the back of my mind as something I’d like to do some day and, by good fortune, I was able to do it.”
Taking the Bench
Chancellor Forgety’s opportunity came in October 1997, when he was appointed to complete the term of his predecessor, Judge Chester S. Rainwater, Jr., who had taken disability status.
“His term was to end, of course, on Sept. 1, 1998,” said Chancellor Forgety. “I was appointed in October of 1997 and I served to fill out his term. I ran in my own right in 1998 and was elected, and have served ever since.”
For nearly 25 years, Chancellor Forgety served the 4th and 5th Judicial Districts, which include Blount, Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson and Sevier Counties. He is the only chancellor in the state to serve two judicial districts.
“I live in Jefferson County and it is just about right in the middle of the court houses,” said Chancellor Forgety. “Blount County takes about an hour from my house, but the other courthouses, I can be to any of them in 20 or 30 minutes. For me, it was not an issue.”
In fact, his favorite part of the job was interacting with people in his districts.
“Getting to know and work with the people from the clerk’s offices to the attorneys to the county officials to the litigants in all the five counties has been a blessing,” said Chancellor Forgety. “I have said it several times over the last few weeks and it is absolutely true. Nobody could have had a better work experience over five counties and over 25 years than I’ve had. It’s just been a wonderful experience. I’ve loved every minute of it. To tell you the truth about it, I think I’m like all judges. I owe the people a lot more than they owe me. They’ve done a lot more for me than I’ve ever done for them and I tried my best to do my job the best I could.
Doing the job sometimes involved cases that attracted a lot of media attention, such as a case involving a young boy’s birth name and constitutional implications to a parent’s rights.
“At birth, he had been given the first name of Messiah,” said Chancellor Forgety. “His last name, as I remember, was his mother’s maiden name because his parents weren’t married. Child support issues were the reason the case went before the child support magistrate in the first place. Anyway, the biological father came in and asked for the child’s last name to be changed to his last name. The child support magistrate changed the child’s first name, as well. She determined Messiah was not an appropriate name for a child. It came up to me on appeal. It was all over national and international news. I held that under the law a parent had a right to name her child anything she wanted to, and that the court could not interfere with that.”
Another case that stands out is Deer Path, a land development that straddled the county line of Jefferson and Sevier Counties. It was purchased by a Florida developer, who planned to build houses and sell them as retirement homes to ministers of the Church of God.
“To say the least, he just fouled up this development every way you can foul it up from a land title and an infrastructure standpoint,” said Chancellor Forgety. “Roads weren’t built where they were supposed to be or not built at all, water lines not put in, etc. Worst part is, he had taken out a huge developmentloan and he went bankrupt on the development. He just walked away from it. We had the people who bought these lots who had nothing. In many instances, the lots were not even buildable because there was a road running through them. The mortgage holder foreclosed on most of the lots and the lot owners just walked away from it. The bank had these lots and couldn’t do anything with them because of the land titles, the subdivision lines, and all the infrastructure was so fouled up, they were just unsellable.”
The bank filed suits in Chancellor Forgety’s courts in Jefferson County and Sevier County to reform the title and subdivisions, in an attempt to transform them into sellable lots.
“Those two lawsuits took 10 years to finally resolve,” said Chancellor Forgety. “Literally, every time I went to court in Sevier and Jefferson Counties, I had Deer Path cases. Ultimately, the bank got the lot lines, the infrastructure, all the subdivision approvals straightened out to the point where they had sellable lots to try and recoup some of their money. I’m sure they lost money on it. I’m not sure how much, but they didn’t end up losing the whole thing.”
That was one case Chancellor Forgety was happy to have resolved.
As for passing on wisdom from the bench, Chancellor Forgety recommends studying the court file.
“One thing that I always try to do before I go to court, whether it is on a motions day or a trial day, I always try to sit down with the court file, read it and see what the case is about, see what the plaintiff’s position is, see what the defendant’s position is, and try to do some preliminary research at least, so I can be as prepared as I can be for whatever hearing we are going to have,” said Chancellor Forgety. “I’ve always done that. I have received a lot of good commentary because I have done that. I think that is tremendously important for any judge to know as much as you can about any case coming up, at least from the court file.”
On August 31, Chancellor Forgety traded case files for travel. He and his wife, Vickie, are heading to Europe this fall, followed by a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
“At least from the start of my retirement through the end of this year, we’re pretty well booked up,” said Chancellor Forgety. “We also have grandchildren who live in Hendersonville, just outside of Nashville, so we’re back and forth to them and them to us. We’re going to do a lot of that, too.”
Looking Back on his Career
Participating in events with fellow judges holds a special place in Chancellor Forgety’s heart.
“I have truly enjoyed being a part of the judicial conferences,” said Chancellor Forgety. “I served a couple of terms as president of the Trial Judges Association and I served in various offices of the Conference itself. I have truly enjoyed the judicial conferences and getting to know the judges from all over the State of Tennessee. Not just my area, but all over the State of Tennessee from far east Tennessee to far west Tennessee. That’s been a wonderful experience, as well.”
Prior to taking the bench, Chancellor Forgety served as a Law Clerk with the Tennessee Court of Appeals under Judge James Parrott, from 1975-1976. He was also in private practice at Rainwater, Forgety and Jones in Dandridge, Tenn.
Chancellor Forgety received his undergraduate degree from Carson-Newman College in 1972 and his Juris Doctor from Memphis State University in 1975.
Chancellor Forgety was named the Highest-Ranking Judge in The Mountain Press Survey, in October 2000. From 2009-2010, he served as President of the Tennessee Trial Judges' Association. He held the posts of Secretary, Treasurer and Member of the Executive Committee for the Tennessee Judicial Conference. He also served as a member of Appellate Judge Evaluation Committee.
Chancellor Forgety is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association; as well as the Jefferson, Cocke, Sevier, Blount and Grainger County Bar Associations.