Franks, Herschel Pickens

State's Longest Serving State Judge

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Whereas, on the morning of March 19, 2020, the Benevolent Creator of the Universe deemed it expedient in his infinite wisdom to remove from our midst our greatly beloved Herschel Pickens Franks, thus ending the life of one who was at all times devoted and loyal to his family and friends. 


Judge Franks, retired judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, was 89 years old and had enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career. At the time of his retirement, Judge Franks was the longest-serving state court judge in Tennessee history.   


Born in Savannah, Tennessee, Herschel Franks was the only child of Herschel Ralph Franks and Vada Pickens Franks, who had a small farm and country store near Pickwick Lake. He enlisted in the National Guard while studying at UT Martin and then served in the United States Air Force from 1950 to 1954. Upon leaving the military, Judge Franks attended the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville on the GI bill. He started in private practice in 1957 in Chattanooga as a claims attorney for United States Fidelity & Guaranty. From 1959 to 1970 he was a partner at Harris, Moon, Meacham & Franks.  


Judge Franks was appointed by Governor Buford Ellington as chancellor of the Third Chancery Court of Hamilton County in 1970. Governor Ray Blanton appointed Judge Franks to the Court of Appeals in 1978, and he continued to serve by re-election to the Court of Appeals during his 34 years on the court. For the last eight years of his tenure, he served as the court’s presiding judge.  


Judge Franks was an active participant in state and local bar associations and served as past-president of the Chattanooga Bar Association. His many awards and accolades from his peers included the Merit Award and the Justice Francis F. Drowota III Award from the Tennessee Bar Association; the Foundations of Freedom Award from the Chattanooga Bar Association; and the Merit Award from the American Bar Association. He also mentored generations of young lawyers who worked as clerks in his chambers as well as being active in the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. 


As a jurist, Judge Franks authored groundbreaking decisions. Guided by his respect for the law, adherence to the facts, and his deep sense of fairness, he did not shy from controversial decisions, regardless of political consequence. Among the most well-known is Paty v. McDaniel in which he decided that ministers could not be barred from serving in the state legislature because it violated their due process rights under the United States Constitution.  This ruling, which held that a provision of the Tennessee State Constitution was in violation of the United States Constitution, was temporarily reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, before it was ultimately upheld by unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court. In another controversial decision, his ruling in a case involving a comatose patient laid the groundwork for the nationwide development of laws regarding living-wills and the right to die. 


As a husband, father and friend, he is remembered for his kindness, generosity, lively spirit, good humor, and ready supply of stories and tales concerning the law and lore of Tennessee. He is also fondly remembered for his skillful gardening and homegrown tomatoes. 


Judge Franks is survived by his wife of 30 years, Judy Wood Franks; his daughter Ramona Hagmaier and her husband Jason; granddaughter, Megan Hagmaier; step-daughters Mary Beth Black and Anne Black and her husband Martin Beeler; and their children Nora, Genevieve and Nico. 


He will be buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. A celebration of life and memorial will be arranged at a later date.


In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Pilgrim Congregational Church or the Chattanooga Food Bank.


Arrangements are by the North Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home, Crematory and Florist, 5401 Highway 153, Hixson, Tn. 37343.  


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