Crystal Jessee wants to take the lessons learned in her nearly 20-year legal career and make a difference in the judicial system.
She is one of three candidates qualified to run in the Republican Primary for Circuit Court Judge, Third Judicial District, Part II.
No Democrats have qualified in the race.
“I have practiced law for close to 20 years, and during this time, I have been able to practice in every type of court in Tennessee, and have also been admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court,” she said. “Because of my diverse practice, I have been able to travel to other jurisdictions, and observe many other judges. Representing your county in the opioid litigation has given me insight into just how severely our county was impacted. All of these opportunities continue to drive me to do what I can to improve the court system, and the county in which I reside and practice.”
Jessee says she will balance bringing about opportunities for families that are suffering with being tough on crime.
“I understand that there are grants out there that could bring other avenues of correction for inmates to shift the burden off the jails and mitigate incarceration rates,” she said. “One specific area that needs to be addressed is to start a Veteran’s Court Program through the Third Judicial District. With 10 percent of our citizens being veterans, this is an opportunity that will bring added support to those that have sacrificed for our freedom.”
Jessee cites her community service with civic organizations that have allowed her to serve and connect with the community. She will apply those lessons to the bench, if elected.
“Being a good judge is not just about serving in the courtroom, but it is about knowing your community. Leaders (including judges) should have an active leadership role in their community. I have spent countless hours helping local schools and advocating for the children in your county,” she said. “I see being a judge as an honor and will work year-round to earn the continued support of citizens. One ongoing example of how I have tirelessly worked for the citizens, has been through our fight with the opioid litigation.
“This fight has given me the opportunity to work with many individuals and various organizations to help to begin to build a safer, more responsive community.
“View your candidates, see what social organizations they follow and are a part of, and what they represent. Make sure your candidates support greater causes year around, and not just during an election.”
Jessee faces a potential additional challenge that her opponents do not. A Greene County DUI case led to her request for the judge to recuse himself, citing their long and acrimonious history. Greene County General Sessions Court Judge Ken Bailey ultimately recused himself but, in his ruling, took issue with many of Jessee’s claims and brought up details from a case that led to Jessee being censured by the State Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility.
In addition, legislation currently moving through the process in Nashville would prevent anyone who has been censured by the Board of Professional Responsibility in the last decade from taking the bench. Presumably, if passed, this legislation would affect Jessee.
Jessee testified against the bill in a committee hearing late last month.
“We’re not in the middle of our election cycle. We’re at the end. I started this process May 4, 2021. Our early voting begins April 13, two weeks from sitting here today,” she said. “What we’re telling the voters in my case … is that we can have a candidate come out, be properly vetted, put on the ballot, vote for and possibly elected on May 3 in the primary where my election will be determined. But if Nashville doesn’t like that candidate, you all can change the circumstances and not allow them to take office.”
Jessee told the Tribune that her experience will inform her performance on the bench.
“I came from humble beginnings. I am a first generation college graduate, on my father’s side. I was raised on a dairy farm, raising tobacco every year, and working steadily beside my parents. I understand that value of hard work. I understand how it feels to live paycheck to paycheck. I did not have anyone in the legal field in my family, I had to gain all of my experience from hard work,” she said. “This is the first political office for which I have run. I was previously appointed as Child Support Magistrate for the Third Judicial District and held that position for several months traveling through the counties of Hamblen, Hawkins, Greene and Hancock.
“I started practicing law in Memphis, with an insurance defense firm before moving back to East Tennessee. I have had the opportunity to work for and with several local law firms, including: Douglas Jenkins; Petkoff and Lancaster; Rogers, Laughlin, Nunnally, Hood & Crum; Foster & Flohr; and McHugh-Fuller. Each of these firms practice a broad range of law: including criminal law, civil litigation, contract disputes, domestic law, and administrative law.”
Jessee said her greatest experience was working through opioid litigation representing 15 counties.
“This has given me great insight and experience at a high level, and fostered a better understanding of how the legal systems differ across our state and our nation,” she said. “I am the only candidate running that has been approved to practice in every court within the State of Tennessee (state courts and federal courts), as well as being admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.”
If elected, Jessee says she is not interested in making law from the bench.
“My role as a Judge is to apply the law, consistently, to all that are in front of me. My role is not to make law, but to be an interpreter of the law, based upon the situation and case in front of me. I intend to be tough on crime,” she said. “Our citizens are tired of repeat offenders being let off with a mere slap on the wrist. I will not be an activist Judge, but I will be fair and consistent in the courtroom, just, treating everyone that appears in front of me, as I have done in the past when I was appointed as Child Support Magistrate.
“I will be respectful to all that appear before me, both litigants and counsel, as I realize the value of respect from the bench, and a litigant being able to feel like they are being heard, even if the ruling does not prove in their favor ey are ruled against.”
Jessee is a past president of the Greene County Republican Women and the chair of the Lincoln Day dinner.
“I proudly serve the community, and its citizens, every day, to continue to make Greene County a better place to live and raise my daughter. I have been voted the best attorney in Greene County for the past three years, and the best firm in Greene County for 2021,” she said. “I will use my experience and love of our community to serve the people of Greene County from the bench.
“All of these experiences have led me to be the person I am today. I am you, and that is why I am the best candidate. I have had to work for everything I have, and never take for granted where I have came from. I will continue every day to work tirelessly for our community, and I humbly ask for your vote and continued support.”