The Hon. Nicholas W. Whittenburg marked the start of his first 14-year term as a U.S. bankruptcy judge with his installation ceremony, held Friday, Oct. 16 at the Historical U.S. Courthouse on East 11th Street, the home of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Tennessee. The courtroom on the third story of the stately building was filled with family members, friends, and colleagues of Judge Whittenburg, who had gathered there to honor him and wish him well.
The Hon. Marcia Phillips Parsons, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Eastern District of Tennessee, welcomed everyone to the ceremony and provided the first remarks given on behalf of Judge Whittenburg, saying he has “big shoes to fill.”
“Your immediate predecessor, John Cook, was an exemplary judge. He was bright, a student of the law, dedicated, hard working, and even-tempered. He was a humble man who never forgot judging was what he did, it was not who he was,” Judge Parsons said. “If you are half the judge he was, you’ll be a great judge indeed.”
After saying she has come to appreciate Judge Whittenburg’s intellect, energy, and approachability, Judge Parsons advised him to disregard her comment about having big shoes to fill. “Your predecessor was a giant, but you need to walk your own path,” she said. “And you are already well on your way.
Judge Whittenburg was officially sworn in during a private ceremony held in June and began hearing cases that month.
The man Judge Whittenburg is replacing then took the podium. Judge Cook said the job is a humbling one given the weight and breadth of the decisions the judge must make, and expressed his confidence in his replacement.
“You hope to find someone who’s intelligent, conscientious, and works hard. You also want them to have a good demeanor, good character, and good judgment,” he said. “I believe Nick Whittenburg has all of these qualities, and will therefore be an outstanding bankruptcy judge for this district.”
The Hon. Shelley D. Rucker, a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Judge Whittenburg’s first supervising partner when he was a new associate at the law firm of Miller & Martin, then “counted the ways” in which she was pleased her colleague has risen to the rank of judge.
“Nine was the number of chapters of U.S. bankruptcy code I required Judge Whittenburg to read as a new associate,” she said. “I knew he was Order of Coif, I knew he’d earned the highest grade in bankruptcy class, but I also knew he’d attended Emory School of Law,” she said, joking with the judge.
After citing other numbers, including the four all-nighters he pulled at Miller & Martin as part of the bankruptcy group, the hundreds of colors in his wardrobe (including “azure, chartreuse, and tangerine”), and the 32 months he served AmSouth Bank (now Regions Bank) as associate general counsel in charge of litigation, Judge Rucker ended with 14 – the number of years she expects great things from Judge Whittenburg on the bench.
“He knows his legal stuff, he cares about the people who come through this court, and for those of you who are attorneys, he knows what it’s like to make a living billing hours, negotiating resolutions, and trying cases,” she said. “He brings empathy and experience to the bench, and will carry on the tradition of diligent public service that characterizes the bench of the Eastern District of Tennessee.”
W. Scott Parrish, attorney with Miller & Martin, also had good things to say about his friend and colleague. Parrish traced their history from meeting as clerks at Miller & Martin through their years of practicing in different departments at the firm. He also told several humorous stories, including one in which he and Judge Whittenburg convinced the firm to pay for their family vacations by taking a legal seminar at Walt Disney World. In closing, he said he and everyone else at Miller & Martin will miss him. “On behalf of myself and the entire Miller & Martin family, we wish you good luck. We know you’ll do a great job,” he said.
W.B. Mitch Carter, bankruptcy liaison of the Chattanooga Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, then offered his thoughts about the things that will change for Judge Whittenburg now that he’s on the bench. “Everybody will stand up when you enter a room,” he said, “and your jokes will magically become funnier.”
Next, Paul Hatcher, president of the Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA), presented Judge Whittenburg with an engraved gavel, courtesy of the CBA.
Judge Whittenburg’s children, Katlyn and Baxter, provided the final set of remarks. Both spoke about how their father always made time for them as they were growing up, and encouraged them to pursue their passions.
“My dad always found time to play with us,” Baxter said. “He taught me to play baseball. He spent countless hours in the backyard throwing the ball to me and taking me to the batting cage, all while he was a very busy attorney.”
While Judge Whittenburg’s son is a music major, his daughter studied theater. She said her father could have frowned at her choice, but did not. Instead, he drove to Knoxville to attend every play in which she performed. “And after every show, he’d bring me flowers and go on and on about how awesome I was,” she said.
Katlyn and her brother then traced their father’s life from his childhood to Oct. 16, 2015, when they looked on as he swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, do equal right to the poor and the rich, and faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties incumbent upon ... [him] as a United States bankruptcy judge.”
“All of life’s lessons, and all of his hard work and sacrifice, have earned him the title of the Honorable Judge Nicholas Whittenburg,” Katlyn said, choking up. “Dad, we’re proud to stand before these people and celebrate you.”
After the robing ceremony, Judge Whittenburg looked over the courtroom and thanked the many people who’d had a hand in his becoming a judge. “Thank you for the years of being my partners, my associates, my clients, my mentors, my adversaries, and my friends,” he said. “I’m honored and humbled, and will work hard to be a good steward as I serve the citizens of this district.”
To see more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.