Judge Brenda J. Waggoner
2005 Outstanding Alumni
Born into a family tradition of law enforcement careers, Brenda Jean Waggoner embraced her "fate" as a servant of the people. After earning degrees at both ends of the state of Tennessee— literally—from the eastern to the western tip, she continues to nurture her ability to help others.
During her student tenure at East Tennessee State University, Waggoner participated in several academic and sports organizations – even earning four letters in women's basketball and volleyball. Through her campus activities, the Knoxville native gained insight into the importance of healthy competition as well as the value of working with others toward a common goal. After graduating from ETSU in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in History, Waggoner received her Master of Arts degree from Memphis State University. While a student there, she worked as the assistant women's basketball coach.
From 1973 until 1976, Waggoner worked as a teacher and basketball coach at Powell Middle School. Her coaching duties allowed her to share her love of the sport and the values that she had learned from it with the next generation.
Waggoner followed up her teaching experience with more education on her own. She earned her doctor of jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee in 1978, a time when only seven percent of the College of Law's students were female. She again served her campus community as Vice President, then President of the Student Bar Association as well as Student Assistant at the UT Legal Clinic. She was officially admitted to practice law in the state of Tennessee in May 1979.
Throughout her career, Waggoner has received numerous honors and awards. These have included the Karns High School Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999, the first such award ever given by the school, the Outstanding Young Woman of America Award in 1981, East Tennessee State University Award of Honor in 1990, induction into the East Tennessee State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000, and the East Tennessee Lawyers Association of Women Martha C. Daugherty Award in 2004.
Waggoner feels that preventing domestic violence and working with children are her life's callings. She was asked to be on the original Tennessee State Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and chaired that committee for several years. The Council wrote and edited the Tennessee Domestic Abuse Bench Book which is used by judges across the state. Waggoner has traveled the state teaching judges, court professionals and other law enforcement how to handle domestic violence cases. Because of her innovation in the courtroom and her dedication to finding solutions to solving the problem of abuse, Waggoner is most proud of receiving the Jane Wheatcraft Award from the Tennessee Task Force against Domestic Violence in 1990.
She was asked to be one of six professionals from the Volunteer State to attend the "Courage to Live Workshop" sponsored by the National Judicial College. Waggoner has taken the knowledge she learned from this conference and now presents programs to 8th graders in the Knox County area on how to avoid the pitfalls of drinking and driving. She was also one of ten professionals from Tennessee chosen to attend "Improving the Courts Response to Domestic Violence Conference;" one of seven professionals from Tennessee selected to attend the "National Institute Against Hate Crimes"; and one of twelve judges nationwide chosen to be at the "National Judicial Leadership Conference."
Waggoner has also served on several professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, as well as the local and state chapters; Tennessee Stop Violence Against Women Task Force, which was appointed by Governor Don Sundquist; Tennessee Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee and Tennessee Court of Judiciary, both appointed by the Supreme Court.
Her civic duties have included being on the board of directors of Knoxville YWCA, the Metropolitan Drug Commission, Child and Family, Inc., and Leadership Knoxville board of directors. She was also a charter board member of the Character Counts Coalition in Knoxville and a charter board member of the Community Mediation Center.
Waggoner served as a referee, an appointed judge with all the powers of a trial judge, in Knox County Juvenile Court, as well as Director of the Juvenile Court from 1980 until 1982. But she found her real judicial niche in what is commonly referred to as small claims court. Appointed in 1987 and elected in 1988, Waggoner has served as Sessions Court Judge for Division 4 in Knox County for eighteen years. The pace is hectic. Waggoner can see up to seventy-five to one hundred cases a day. Nevertheless, she is right where she wants to be – combining two of her favorite things: the legal system and her ability to help others.
There is no way Waggoner will ever know how many lives she has touched or people she has saved because of the work she has done to prevent domestic violence. Though the legal system is not perfect, because there are people like Waggoner who care, who listen, and take time out of their lives to do something, there are countless numbers of women and children throughout the state that have her to thank for their safety.