Judiciary Mourns The Loss of Retired Court of Appeals Judge Susano

May 10, 2022

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr., passed away on May 7, 2022 at the age of 86. Judge Susano served on the Court of Appeals for over 25 years, taking the bench in 1994 and retiring in April of 2020. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest serving appellate judge in the State of Tennessee. He authored over 1,000 opinions and served as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals from 2013 to 2015.  Judge Susano was the recipient of the Justice Frank F. Drowota III Outstanding Judicial Service Award in 2017, received the Knoxville Bar Association’s Courage in the Face of Adversity Award in 2004, and the American Board of Trial Advocates, Tennessee Chapter Appellate Judge of the Year in 2003.

“Judge Susano’s service to our state was extraordinary,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “He was a gifted writer and his opinions, which touched on almost every issue of civil appellate law, set a standard for being clear, articulate, and well-reasoned. More importantly, he was a tremendous friend and mentor to many judges and lawyers. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in the law as well as the relationships his nurtured over the years.”

Judge Susano served as a member of the Court of the Judiciary from 1999 to 2003 and was Presiding Judge Pro Tem from 1999 to 2002. He was a Fellow of the Ten­nessee and American Bar Foundations. He served as an Executive Committee Member and Treasurer for the Tennessee Judicial Conference.

Before Judge Susano was appointed to the bench by Governor Ned McWherter in 1994, he was in private practice for 30 years. He began his successful legal career at Bernstein, Susano & Stair, and later at Susano, Sheppeard, Giordano & Swanson. He served on the advisory committee to the Tennessee Supreme Court on Civil Rules and served his community on numerous nonprofit boards and in many capacities at his beloved Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

Judge Susano was born in 1936 in Knoxville to Charles D. and Eloise (Dondero) Susano, Sr. Both preceded him in death as did his brother, Michael. A prayerful and faithful man, Judge Susano always relied upon God to steer him in the correct direction. His early values were formed and honed by his Catholic upbringing, first at home, then at Knoxville Catholic High School, where he was captain of the basketball team that won the Sixth District Championship in 1954. Anyone who knew the Judge also knew that one of his greatest joys was his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame’s College of Commerce with a major in accounting in 1958. He could always be found, and often heard, in front of the TV on fall football Saturdays cheering for the Irish.

Drafted into the United States Army in 1958, he was honorably discharged in 1960 and moved back to Knoxville to enroll at the University of Tennessee College of Law where he was a member of the Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif in 1963. He then served in the inaugural group of law clerks to the Tennessee Supreme Court, clerking for Chief Justice Hamilton S. Burnett. 

His remarkable life and career were all the more extraordinary because for the last 30 years, Judge Susano was confined to a wheelchair after a sleep-walking accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. He never considered himself handicapped, saying “I’m only handicapped if I let myself be. At worst, I have been challenged, forcing me to reinvent new ways to negotiate the new times.” 

Judge Susano embraced technology to assist his mobility in everyday life, which allowed him to meet the statewide responsibilities of his office. He continued to drive daily and was frequently seen zipping around downtown Knoxville in his motorized wheelchair from the courthouse to Gay Street for a constant stream of lunch and meetings. 

A man of wide and diverse interests, he reveled in his Italian cultural heritage, his passion for Notre Dame Fighting Irish football, and relished his lifelong friendships. By all accounts and reckoning he was a humble man who lived an extraordinary life.

He is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 57 years, Carolyn; son Stephen of Nashville and his wife, Ana; daughter Maria Susano of Arlington, VA; son, Charles III of Knoxville and his wife Robin; and Preston Warren, who he loved like a son, of Dallas and his wife Lynn. He is also survived by his brother, Tommy; brother-in-law David King and his wife Jennifer; and six adored grandchildren, Sophie, Jacob, Madison, Sydney, Hanna and Hudson.

The family will receive friends in Knoxville on Monday, May 16th from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral Hall at Sacred Heart and the funeral mass will be on Tuesday, May 17th at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Those attending the mass should park on the south side of the Cathedral. Arrangements by Rose Funeral & Cremation – Mann. www.rosefuneraltn.com.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Endowment at the University of Tennessee College of Law, Attn: Ellen Cole, Director of Advancement at UT College of Law, 1505 Cumberland Ave., Suite 248, Knoxville, TN 37996. Donations may also be made to the disABILITY Resource Center, Attn: Brook Rogers, 9111 Cross Park Dr. Suite E 135, Knoxville, TN 37923.

More information about Judge Susano is available in this story: https://www.tncourts.gov/press/2020/04/03/retirement-ceremony-celebrates-court-appeals-judge-charles-d-susano-jr