Joseph Byrd has joined the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts as the lead attorney for the newly created Indigent Services Team. In his new role, Byrd will manage the team that oversees the indigent representation program, which provides court-appointed attorneys in certain types of legal cases. The program, which processed over 75,000 claims for reimbursement in 2022, is administered per Tennessee Supreme Court Rules 13, 26, 40 and 42 and other statutory requirements. Previously, the auditing and legal staff was spread across several divisions of the AOC. After multiple retirements and staff changes, all employees are now part of the Indigent Services Team.
“We are excited to welcome Joe to the AOC,” said AOC Director Michelle J. Long. “His excellent legal skills combined with a solid foundation in leadership and his enthusiasm are exactly what the new Indigent Services Team needs. The indigent representation program has changed tremendously in the amount and types of claims filed, but our staffing approach had not changed. This is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how and why we operate as we do. This new structure evolves the program and is the vision of Deputy Director Rachel Harmon. I thank her for her hard work over the past several months as it has come to fruition. General Counsel John Coke will work directly with the Indigent Services Team now and his team has really stepped in over the past several months on a day-to-day basis to manage the approval process. We look forward to the next chapter.”
Byrd has wide-range of experiences as a litigation attorney. Most recently, he was an assistant attorney general in the civil law division in the office of the Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. He managed dozens of cases in both federal and state courts as well as before the Tennessee Claims Commission. Previously, he was disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. In that role, he served as a trial attorney and managed cases from pre-petition to adjudication.
“I was particularly interested in the role of lead attorney because it is a leadership position,” Byrd said. “Leadership has always been part of my skill set. The more I learned about the position and how I would be able to directly help the attorneys and judges across the state, I knew this was a great opportunity to serve the public. I love learning, and I love the law. I know there will be a learning curve, and I am excited to tackle it.”
Byrd also previously served as Bradley County, Tennessee’s first full-time county attorney, where he handled a wide-range of legal matters, including defending the county in civil matters; prosecuting county environmental, code enforcement and property tax cases; contracts and negotiations; public records and public meeting compliance; and more. He also served as a city attorney in Apopka, Florida.
Byrd spent almost a decade in private practice in Tennessee and in Michigan. While in private practice, he served as court-appointed defense counsel in criminal and post-conviction cases and as a guardian ad litem in dependency, neglect, and abuse cases.
“I have a deep appreciation for the work attorneys do in indigent cases,” Byrd said. “It is serious and important work. We all recognize that the reimbursement levels are low, and they are providing a tremendous service to our state and communities. Our criminal justice system and juvenile courts cannot operate without these attorneys stepping up. I have deep respect for the work they do every single day.”
In addition to managing the Indigent Services Team, Byrd will review and approve complex, expert, investigator and court reporter orders as well as requests for prior approval of specific expenses. He will also be the point of contact for judges, attorneys and others with questions regarding the program.
“The team concept is very important in this environment,” Byrd said. “We have to work together to be more efficient and develop our team members and the program as a whole.”
Prior to earning his law degree from the University of Toledo, Byrd was a lead pastor at Church of God Ministries, where he more than doubled his congregation. Byrd holds a Ph.D. in Theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and an M.Div. from the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“Being a person of integrity is important to me. Trust is important to me,” Byrd said. “I have always had a deep admiration for the decorum of the courtroom and respect for the judicial process. The concepts of respect and reverence cross over between law and theology, and I am sure will serve me well as I navigate this new role.”
Byrd and his wife live in Spring Hill. They have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.