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County attorney seeking open chancellor’s position

A once-in-career opportunity has Washington County Attorney John Rambo working on an application for the judicial seat that will become open with the retirement of Chancellor G. Richard Johnson next month.
“Positions in Circuit and Chancery courts only come open every 25 years,” said Rambo, who passed on a run for the third Sessions Court judge last fall to instead take the job as the full-time attorney for Washington County.
“I did not apply for the Sessions Court because I thought it was more important to get the county’s Legal Services Department started,” he said.
Rambo, who served as the county’s contract attorney for years, moved to full-time status in November and is in the process of establishing a number of new programs in human resources, risk management and the formation of an environmental court.
While Rambo would regret leaving the position of full-time attorney after just months on the job, he said the timing of the new job opening was beyond his control.
A decision had to be made quickly, with the announcement of the upcoming vacancy being made earlier this month and the application due by the end of May.
“Being a state judge has been on my mind for years,” he said. “When you think about the ability, judgment and patience needed to assume that responsibility, I feel my years of experience have prepared me.”
Rambo is a native of Jonesborough and grew up on a farm. From age 5 through his years at David Crockett High School, he spent many hours before and after school gathering eggs from his family’s 26,000 chickens and milking dozens of cows.
“It’s why I went to law school,” he said, though looking back he now realizes those years on the farm were some of his best times.
After earning his undergraduate and law degrees from East Tennessee State University and Wake Forest University School of Law, respectively, Rambo returned to the area and began serving as attorney for the Town of Jonesborough at age 24.
He served six years in that position with one year of overlap when he was named county attorney in 1999.
In addition, he operated the private practice of Rambo Law Firm and has served as a Municipal Court judge in Jonesborough for the last 13 years.
Despite all that, a move to Chancery Court is still somewhat intimidating, he admitted.
“It’s scary,” he said. “We all have a comfort zone, and when you have experience and feel like you’ve done a good job, this is stepping out of it.”
The Judicial Nominating Commission will interview candidates on Friday, June 14. Members will recommend three finalists to Gov. Bill Haslam, who will make the final decision.
According to Rambo, the local legal community often makes their opinions known regarding colleagues they view as competent, with the right temperament and a willingness to work hard.
“You hope that your professional reputation sells the commission on the merits of your appointment,” he said.
Should Rambo be the candidate appointed, he would serve in the role until August 2014 when he would have to run in the election to garner an eight-year term.
Chancery Court could see some changes if Rambo comes out on top.
“I have stated for years that I do not favor the clerk and master or any other county official being appointed special commissioner,” he said.
The issue has been a hot one in Washington County where Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd serves as the special commissioner in many instances.
Rambo’s operating style, however, would remain the same, he said.
“I work hard to get along well with the people I need to work with, and I’m not going to change my approach,” he said.
Rambo said he would want to retain the professionalism of the office and continue to move the docket along.
Rambo’s pursuit of the chancellor position has been shared openly during the last week.
“The response has been very supportive from commissioners and county officials, with a further statement of, ‘We hate to see you go,’” he said. “That makes you feel good, to be appreciated.”
While no other applications were received for the full-time county attorney position when it was open less than a year ago, Rambo thinks there will be interest shown for the job if he leaves it to head to Chancery Court.
“It will take some time and effort to find the person who is right for the role,” he said. “It will have to be someone who can work with all perspectives and viewpoints.”