Julie Hibbs has two great passions: God’s law and God’s love, and those passions permeate the legacy she leaves behind.
Hibbs retired Aug. 31 after 24 years as Cheatham County Circuit and General Sessions Court Clerk, with a retirement party held on Friday, Aug. 26 at the Cheatham County Courthouse, attended by approximately 100 people.
Hibbs, who was first elected in 1998, grew up with a love and respect for the law, under the guiding hand of her father, former district attorney general W.B. Lockert, Jr.
“I think it’s the greatest system on Earth. It doesn’t always work, but it’s the best we have,” she said.
Hibbs graduated from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville and continued her education at Nashville School of Law at night while working for the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office during the day. She then began working for the district attorney general’s office under Kenneth Adkins.
Upon her first election to court clerk, Hibbs had her work cut out for her.
“In 1998, the office wasn’t automated, the caseloads were growing, so it was time to turn the boat. The office had been living in the Mayberry days for a long time, but Cheatham County had been a small county for years. In the late 70s and early 80s, we saw growth, but our county offices weren’t always keeping up with the growth,” Hibbs said.
The decision to retire came from recognition she had accomplished what she set out to do.
“My father always taught all six of us that if we saw a need, and we had the talent and the abilities to fill it, we should do it. You need to be able to leave it better than how you found it. That’s something I looked at. I looked to see what we could do to make it better. I had decided that when I did what I needed to do, that I would step down, and that’s what I decided to do four years ago,” Hibbs said.
According to Hibbs, one of the accomplishments she’s most proud of is automating the office so that information is easier to find for all involved.
Hibbs has run her office, in part, based on words of wisdom from Judge Robert Birch to jurors who complain that serving is an inconvenience, “You become a living, breathing Constitution, because you’re carrying out what our forefathers put in place to make sure we have a fair and just system.”
The office of clerk has not only been a job to Hibbs, but a mission field she believes God gave her, and that by serving everyone that comes through the court, she is serving her Lord.
“God placed me in this office 24 years ago and it’s my responsibility as a follower of Christ to do the very best I can. Along with that comes the realization that I serve the people well, but it’s also a mission field. Every day, we have people who are before us who are absolutely lost and have lost hope in everything, and those are the people who Christ has placed before us, to share hope,” Hibbs said.
When asked what she plans to do when she retires, Hibbs said, “Whatever I want to do. The main things are serving and whatever we can do to help. We’re not retiring to go home and sit.”
Hibbs leaves her office in the hands of former mentee Holly Waller, who was elected on Aug. 4. To her successor, Hibbs said, “Always do right, even when it’s hard to do.”
Waller has worked under Hibbs for the last seven years and expressed gratitude for Hibbs’ tutelage, describing her as a friend, confidante, and colleague who has her priorities straight.
“She’s always family first, that always comes first with her, and that’s not always been the case with other jobs some of us have had. She’s just a Godly woman. When we are struggling or have things going on outside of work. When something’s happening, she’s the first to gather everyone around to pray. I think she just puts her trust in the Lord. I know as I’ve taken on the job, I’ve had to lean on Him a lot. I know she does that, and you can tell. She’s got that peace, and she’s very helpful,” Waller said.
The order, professionalism, and compassion Hibbs brought to the job was noticed by those outside the office, too.
Ashland City Municipal Judge James W. Stinnett, Jr. recounted Hibbs’ helpfulness and integrity.
“I could always go to Julie for advice. Julie always had an answer for everything. If she couldn’t solve the problem, she could point me to the right answer. If Julie tells you something, you could take it to the bank. She’s a Christian at work and away from work,” Stinnett said.
Cheatham County Circuit Court Judge David Wolfe said Hibbs is extremely well-organized, a people person, and compassionate to the people who come to her, whether jurors or defendants.
“She cares about the cases. She wrote me a note after a really hard decision I made, saying she knew I did the right thing. If someone’s upset, she knows how to speak to them,” Wolfe said.
General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Phillip Maxey said, “She really is concerned that the job is done right. Her faith shines through in everything she does. You never had to question her about her faith. She lived through the Scripture.”
Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash said, “She treats everyone with respect. Her faith comes out in her professionalism. She takes care of everyone in the system.”
Circuit Court Judge Larry Wallace said, “Whenever I came here, I didn’t have to worry how the clerk’s office was going to be run. I knew it would be an exemplary office. She’s always very supportive of the judges, too. I’m jealous, to be honest, that she’s retiring, but it’s a well-deserved retirement. She’s earned it, and then some. She’s going to be greatly missed.”
Newly retired public defender Jake Lockert voiced appreciation for all the ways Hibbs made the office a more efficient place for him and fellow attorneys to do what they needed to do, including transfer of records to the appellate courts.
“They modernized the office. They’ve been really responsive and taken care of attorneys when they need to file motions, subpoenas,” Lockert said.
Hibbs’ children, Sara Adams and Sam Womack, attested that their mom is a driving force both in and out of the courthouse.
Adams said, “We often talk about how formidable our mom was. She would command the room. Being a woman, she also had the respect of a male-dominated courtroom. That’s something we always looked up to her for. I think actions a lot of times speak louder than words, when people saw the work getting done and getting done right.”
Womack noted, “Mom’s a very welcoming and trusting person. It was never an issue for people to open up to Mom easily. She very much had a helper’s heart. I think it’s rare to see the standards she held and held them for that long.”