Sumner County Assistant District Attorney Ron Blanton is one of 11 applicants vying for a seat on the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals.
The criminal appeals court was created by the Tennessee legislature in 1967 and hears trial court appeals in felony and misdemeanor cases as well as post-conviction petitions. The court’s 12 members are appointed by the governor and elected every eight years on a “retain-replace” ballot.
The recent vacancy was made available by the retirement of Judge Thomas T. Woodall who steps down Dec. 31.
A prosecutor for 22 years, Blanton – who also has experience with corporate and private practice law - says he is uniquely qualified for the position.
A horrific crime hits close to home
After obtaining a bachelor of science degree from Campbellsville College in Campbellsville, Ky., in 1983, Blanton went to work for Shoney’s Inc., where he worked in the Captain D’s division in various capacities from in-store training to human resources.
In 1986, he started attending the Nashville School of Law while still working full-time for the company. He graduated from the law school in 1990, and began practicing corporate law for the restaurant chain.
It was one of the Nashville area’s most infamous crime sprees that prompted Blanton’s jump from corporate law to criminal prosecution in the late 1990’s.
As Director of Franchise Operations for Captain D’s, Blanton often conducted management training at their Donelson location because of its proximity to the company’s corporate office.
On Feb. 16, 1997 a man entered the store before business hours asking for a job application. Once inside, he forced the store’s manager and an employee into the restaurant’s cooler where he shot them execution style.
The crime was the first of three fast food restaurant killings attributed to Paul Dennis Reid. Reid was convicted for a total of seven murders and received the death penalty. He died of natural causes in 2013.
Blanton was called to the restaurant the next day to help investigators determine if anything had been moved or was out of place.
“I had to go in the cooler where the crime had occurred,” he said. “They had removed the bodies but nothing had been cleaned up.”
Blanton says that at about that same time there had been a similar incident in Little Rock, Ark., where an employee was killed during a robbery.
“I made a decision then that I needed to use my law degree for something besides corporate law,” he said. “I really wanted to help these victims’ families get the justice I thought they deserved.”
Blanton started his own law practice in January of 1998. Eight months later he accepted a position in the Sumner County District Attorney’s office. He left the office for private practice in 2000, but returned in 2003.
“In August of 2003, I had the opportunity to return to the District Attorney’s office,” he writes in his 50-page application for the judicial position. “This is where God meant for me to be at that time.”
Since his return to prosecution Blanton has served as the drug prosecutor working closely with the district’s drug court. He’s also tried several child sex abuse cases in front of a jury. For the last 10 years he’s served as the district’s violent crimes prosecutor trying more than 20 homicide trials – many of them high-profile cases.
In 2013, Blanton and District Attorney General Ray Whitley secured a conviction in the double-murder trial of Lindsey Lowe, a case that received national attention.
Three judges among Blanton’s competition
Blanton has applied for a judicial appointment just once before when the legislature created a second General Sessions Court judge position in 2014. Former attorney Mike Carter was chosen by members of the Sumner County Commission to fill that seat.
Blanton says it’s been several years since an appeals court seat has become vacant.
“I felt like the timing was right for me to apply,” he said.
His competition includes 19th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jill Bartee Ayers of Clarksville; 16th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Barry R. Tidwell of Murfreesboro; 23rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Larry J. Wallace of Dover; State Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Wardle of Lebanon; Kim R. Helper of Franklin, the District Attorney General of the 21st Judicial District; and five mid-state attorneys.
He admitted the other candidates are “certainly qualified,” but pointed out that Woodall had served as an assistant district attorney before his appointment.
“I think my chances are as good as any of the other 10 candidates who have applied,” he said.
State Rep. William Lamberth, a former Sumner County prosecutor, has known Blanton for several years as both a colleague and a friend.
Lamberth acknowledges Blanton’s experience with defense and corporate law but says his prosecutorial experience would add to the current bench.
“There are very few former prosecutors [on the court],” said Lamberth. “His experience with this aspect of the law would just bring another aspect or dimension to the mix.”
Lamberth pointed to Blanton’s temperament as well.
“He’s a very even, steady individual,” he said. “I feel like he would be able to look at cases in an unbiased way.
“I just think he would do a really good job,” Lamberth added.
Blanton will interview with the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments on Oct. 26 or 27 via Zoom. The panel will meet privately and vote on three nominees to present to Gov. Bill Lee. Lee will interview the three nominees and make a selection.