SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Lanning Wynn remembers 1979 well. He was fresh out of college and practicing real estate law alongside Gary Wade, who was also serving as Mayor of Sevierville at the time. Wynn also remembers an opinion issued by the U.S. Supreme Court that municipal judges should not be city employees.
Prior to that ruling, the city recorder handled city court issues. That all changed when Wade asked Wynn to take on the job. Wynn became the city’s first municipal judge, and 43 years later, he’s been the only person to serve in that role.
If you’ve ever been cited in Sevierville for speeding or running a red light, you’ve probably met Judge Wynn, as municipal court primarily handles traffic violations. If you have met him likely noticed his sense of humor early on. Here’s an example.
“At my retirement party, they gave me a very nice plaque and a resolution. I think Tuesday was Judge Lanning Wynn day,” he said. “And I told them, you know, Judge Wade served two terms and he got a street names after him and I’ve been here for 43 years. Where’s my road?”
He carried that humor with him to city court, once a week, for 43 years. Wynn said he always strived to make people feel comfortable.
“People coming into city court, they’re still nervous they’re still scared because it’s court. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them… We try to make everybody feel at ease. We joke with everybody. We try to have fun and when everybody leaves we try to make them feel like they’ve had a good experience,” he said.
Judge Wynn classifies municipal court as the “bottom of the judicial food chain,” but explained it is where you see the most people. He saw that as an opportunity to be kind and to extend grace to both locals and visitors.
“When you’re in somewhere like the City of Sevierville, where you deal with so many people that are out of town, you try to, you don’t want to make people mad and they don’t want to come back,” he added.
He feels he’s grown softer over his decades of service, meaning he’s been more willing recently to feel sorry for a driver, listen to their stories, and occasionally offer them relief from a fine. For bonus points, he said, a defendant had to come up with an original story behind their violation.
“I do remember one lady who was, you know, her defense was a country music defense…she was playing country, so she couldn’t have been speeding.”
Wynn presided over city court for a final time last Tuesday; however, next month the judge will officially hand over the job he was first to fill more than forty years ago.
“I had no idea what, you know, what it was, what I was supposed to do. So, I pretty much had to create everything from scratch.” He credited the help of talented clerks over the years for making the city court run smoothly over the years.
“A lot of the work in city court is handled by the clerks. For me, a lot of times, I just show up in court, talk to people, have good times with them, and the clerk does all the work after we’re done,” he added.
He also expressed appreciation for the many mayors and aldermen who have supported city court over the year. Never, he explained, was he asked to do a favor for a buddy, like get someone out of a ticket.
The outgoing judge will continue practicing real estate law in town but plans to spend more time with grandchildren in the months and years ahead.