Jerry Summers: Judge Robert Love Taylor (1899-1987) Was Both Admired And Feared

Monday, August 8, 2022 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

If there has ever been a more complex and controversial member of the federal judiciary in Tennessee than Judge Robert Love Taylor who served as the United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee from 1950 to 1987 their identity has not been revealed.


To some like Chief Justice Warren Burger of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Taylor was described as “one of the finest, ablest, and fairest judges in the country.”


To some lawyers who appeared before him they literally considered him a judicial tyrant.  He had little patience with attorneys who took too long to try their case and may not have been completely prepared.  In 2009 the late Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge Charles D.

Susano of Knoxville edited the collection of war stories in 220 pages by attorneys who had endured Judge Taylor’s wrath and arranged them in a book, “Remembering United States District Judge Robert L. Taylor: A Collection of Memories (Tennessee Valley Publishers.)


Prominent Knoxville attorney Donald F. Paine (1939-2013) wrote an article in the May 2009 Tennessee Bar Journal publication and did a review of Judge Susano’s work and, although enjoying the humorous nature of many of the Judge Taylor stories, was quick to point out that lawyers and judges need to remember Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct where it states: “A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity...”


Paine closed with the short quip about the jurist. “My memories of Judge Taylor?  I’ve tried to repress them.”


Off the bench many attorneys remarked what a pleasant person and sometimes even in court he would have compassion for individuals who came from the poor sections of the mountains of Appalachia who may have engaged in the unlawful practice of manufacturing and distributing “moonshine” whiskey.


Nominated and appointed to the federal bench in 1950 by President Harry S. Truman he came from a prominent historical Tennessee family.


Both his father Alfred Taylor and his uncle Robert Taylor served as governors of the state of Tennessee and ran against each other in the famous 1886 “War of the Roses” election.


He was appointed by Chief Justice Burger to preside over racketeering corruption trials of Illinois Governor Ottis Kerner in 1973 and Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel in 1977.


Other significant trials that he presided over included the Clinton school desegregation contempt of court cases in 1956 and 1957.


The environmental cases involving the threatened extinction of the small snail darter species against the Tennessee Valley Authority and the proposed construction of the Tellico Dam were also initially tried in Judge Taylor’s court.


A short individual who was known as “Little Bob” Taylor by some in private but not mentioned in public was both admired and feared by the legal community and many others!


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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

 

 


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