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In Praise of Tom Wiseman, U.S. Senior District Judge, by Judge Todd Campbell

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tom Wiseman believed in public service. He served the people of Middle Tennessee for over 40 years as a state legislator, state treasurer, candidate for governor (who finished a party primary election in first-place among the “non-felons,” as he liked to say), U.S. District Judge, Chief District Judge, and Senior District Judge. It was my honor to succeed Judge Tom Wiseman.

When I became a District Judge, I was informally sworn-in by Judge Tom Wiseman so I could hire staff and buy furniture; he gave me a new bible for my formal investiture ceremony; and Judge Tom Wiseman wrote a cheat-sheet for me of prominent criminal cases (which I needed). We shared a passion for watching competitive swimming by my kids and his grandchildren.

Judge Tom Wiseman had a well-deserved reputation as a “judge’s judge.” He was admired by other judges, lawyers (on both sides of civil and criminal cases), U.S.  attorneys, federal defenders and CJA counsel, probation and pre-trial officers, marshals, court security officers, courtroom deputies, court reporters, parties, witnesses, trial jurors, jury administrators, grand jurors, docket clerks, clerks of court, law clerks (chambers and pro se), secretaries and other court staff. The list of those admiring Judge Tom Wiseman goes on and on.

Judge Tom Wiseman also did not walk away from making hard rulings. He could be tough and demonstrated time and time again the strength and courage to make hard (sometimes controversial) decisions. 

The song writers in this town should be on their knees giving thanks for Judge Tom Wiseman. He was smart and cunning, and an expert on many things, including copyright law. For example, Judge Tom Wiseman created a parody exception in copyright law, based on fair use. Campbell v. Acuff-rose Music, Inc., 114 S. Ct. 1164 (1994).

Tom Wiseman was a “old-style liberal,” but, he was not a political hack. He studied law at Vanderbilt and UVA. Judge Tom Wiseman was not just some politician caught in a judge’s robe. He was all judge and kept politics out of his courtroom. Judge Tom Wiseman was a legal giant.

Although words are clearly inadequate, permit me to express my sympathies and condolences in your loss. We all have lost something profound, but in different ways. May god, in infinite mercy, give you and all those who mourn for Tom Wiseman the strength and courage to bear the loss.

Thank goodness for Tom Wiseman. Tom Wiseman was a friend, a judicial colleague and a great man. We miss him.


1Todd Campbell is a medically retired United States District Judge (1995-2016) for the Middle District of Tennessee and previously served as counsel to the Vice President of the United States (1993-1995).