By Ron Barry
When it came time for the citizens of Crockett County to go to the polls in 2022, they did what they have become accustomed to doing: They made the Peeples choice.
So did the voters of Gibson and Haywood counties, which means that Clayburn Peeples will return to his position as Circuit Court Judge for the 28th Judicial District of the state of Tennessee for another eight-year term.
Over the three counties, the popular Peeples – who has held the post since 2000 – collected 7,321 votes to easily defeat Jeff Mueller, who received 2,837. The margin was 72% to 28%, returning the lifelong West Tennessean to the courtroom chair.
Peeples was at the Gibson County Courthouse last Thursday night to watch the vote-tallying process, along with his wife Rhonda and four daughters, who were all showing at least some presence of sunburn after spending the day campaigning outside. Also at the courthouse was Crockett’s own Michael Mansfield, who won an August primary to become Chancellor for the 28th District and who was unopposed in this election.
“I have to admit, it’s a lot less stressful this time around,” Mansfield smiled, still grateful that his constituents awarded him 7,844 complimentary votes even though he wasn’t directly challenged.
Peeples carried all three counties in the 28th District, winning Haywood County 2,600 to 625 (receiving 81% of the vote) and Gibson County 3,945 to 1,977 (67%) in addition to topping the Crockett vote 776 to 235 (77%).
Peeples was first elected in 2000 after serving eighteen years as district attorney general and five as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. Prior to his joining that office he served three years as a professor of criminal justice at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and four years as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC) of the United States Army.
A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin and the University of Tennessee College of Law, he is a member of the Trenton First United Methodist Church, where he has taught Sunday School for the past 42 years.
For the past three years he has served as Presiding Judge of the 28th Judicial District, and currently, due to the untimely passing of Chancellor George Ellis, he is the only state court judge in the district. As a result, he has assumed many of the duties of the Chancery Court as well.
In addition to his regular duties in the four circuit courts in the district (Gibson County has two court systems), Peeples has sat with the Tennessee Supreme Court in workers’ compensation cases and lectured at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Even in accepting the large number of votes he received Thursday, Peeples remembered one encounter he’d experienced recently when he had gone to a grocery store.
“A man came out and recognized me and just lit into me that he hoped I get my (backside) kicked in this election,” Peeples said. “He was apparently upset about a case from 20 years ago in which the perpetrator committed an act against a relative of his, and he thought I didn’t give him a harsh enough sentence. I tried to explain to him that the law specifically sets a designated sentence for that type of offense, so it wasn’t even up to me to determine how long it should have been. But I don’t think he cared to hear it.”
But then, showing the patience and wisdom he has exhibited in the position, he said, “But I’m extremely fortunate that the vast majority of people in the cases I’ve dealt with haven’t responded this way. My experience as Circuit Court Judge has been very positive, which is why I still enjoy doing it.”
The circuit courts are the only courts in the District that are authorized to conduct jury trials and also the only courts authorized to hear felony cases. Consequently, Peeples presides over both criminal and civil cases and all jury trials in each of the four circuit courts in the district. Since taking the bench he has handled and disposed of more than 4,850 civil cases and nearly15,000 criminal cases. Included in those 15,000 criminal cases are more than 47,000 separate charges of criminal misconduct.
“I’ve never forgotten,” he continued, “that I don’t own this office. I hold it in trust for the citizens of Crockett, Gibson, and Haywood Counties. As such, I never forget that their values should be reflected in every decision I make.”
In addition to conducting trials, Peeples hears pretrial motions in both criminal and civil cases, probation violations and both adoptions and will contests as well. He is also responsible for hearing all appeals from the 14 city courts in the district and all general sessions and juvenile court appeals.
Working closely with law-enforcement officials from the 26 local, state and federal agencies that serve our district, he has signed and issued more than a thousand search warrants.
Many of the races on Thursday’s ballot were complimentary votes for unopposed office-holders. Among those were District Attorney General Frederick Agee and Public Defender Rachele Gibson, who – like Mansfield – received more than 7,000 honorary tallies.
One of the races that was contested was the District 8 U.S. House of Representatives seat. Incumbent David Kustoff easily won the Republican primary for the November general election, gaining 84% of the vote in trouncing opponents Bob Hendry, Danny Ray Bridger, and Gary Clouse. Kustoff received 69,574 votes; Hendry was closest to him at a distant 6,995.
In the Democratic primary for the seat, Lynnette Williams defeated Tim McDonald 15,816 to 9,186, winning 63% of the vote. She and Kustoff will face off in November.
In races specific to Crockett County, all of the following were unopposed and will return to their positions: General Sessions Judge Paul B. Conley III; Count Mayor Gary Reasons; County Clerk Dana Branch; Circuit Court Clerk Kim Kail; Sheriff Troy Klyce; Trustee Gary Spraggins; County School Board members Silas Jasper Taylor IV, John Robert Cole, Keith Alan Curl, and Henry King; and County Road Commissioners Daniel Hazlewood, Lanny Beaird, and Andy Edwards.
Only one County Commission race was contested. In that one – District 3, Position 2 – Stacy Gibson Sartain defeated Thomas Webb. The following commissioners will serve after being unopposed: Jonathan Dodd, Pat Branch, William Hooten Jr, Kyle East, Cayce Nanney, Lee Woods, Donald Prescott, Jerrel Little, Carolyn Nance, Phillip Lowery, Joseph Gibson IV, Harvey Bradshaw, John Schwerdt, Charlie Moore, David Gilpin, Ronde’ Howell, Wayne Jernigan, Gary Emison, Drew Nanney, Michael Laxton, Michael Newman, and Jared Foust.