Crowd turns out for unveiling of new plaque for Riley

Thursday, August 5, 2010
Dyer County Sheriff's Deputy Ron Parnell (left) and Dyer County Mayor Richard Hill (right) pose with former Dyer County Circuit Court Judge Joe G. Riley (middle) after an unveiling ceremony of Riley's new plaque beneath his portrait in the Dyer County Courthouse. Parnell, who served as Riley's bailiff, spearheaded the effort to get the plaque.

For years, people have walked by Judge Joe G. Riley's portrait in the hallway of the Dyer County Courthouse and not known who this man was. A small plaque hung beneath the painting while the other judges' portraits had rather large bronze plaques. However, that all came to an end after Friday afternoon's unveiling of a new plaque that will now distinguish the well-respected judge.

Riley served as circuit court judge for Dyer and Lake counties and judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals from Sept. 1, 1978 through July 15, 2004.

A large crowd of people gathered inside the first-floor hallway of the Dyer County Courthouse on Friday at noon to pay homage to a man they say treated everyone with respect and dignity.

Former Dyer County Chancery Court Judge J. Steven Stafford said a few words about Riley, jokingly saying he was concerned why there was a black drape over Riley's portrait in the hallway of the courthouse. He went on to say that the unveiling of the new plaque was a very, very important occasion and people will now know who the person in the portrait is.

"We've decided we're going to go ahead and explain to anybody who may be walking by, who this person is." said Stafford.

The new bronze plaque beneath Riley's portrait reads: Judge Joe G. Riley served the citizens of Dyer County, Lake County, and the State of Tennessee from September 1, 1978 through July 15, 2004. He served as Circuit Court Judge and Judge of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. This plaque and portrait are placed in his honor by the Dyer County Bar Association.

Mayor Richard Hill said he and Dyer County Circuit Court Clerk T.J. Jones and Dyer County Sheriff's Deputy Ron Parnell had been talking about getting a plaque to go beneath Riley's portrait. Parnell was Riley's bailiff while he was on the bench.

"Nobody deserves this more than you do," said Hill to Riley. "You've got a lot of respect in this community."

Hill added that the Dyer County Bar Association and some individuals donated the money to have the plaque made. Addressing Riley, Hill said he should come around to the courthouse more often.

District Attorney General Phil Bivens said he had to be a friend to Riley when he was circuit court judge, on the court of criminal appeals, and when he was a judge on the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary.

"Now he's not with any of those and the only reason I really came here today is ... he's got the second best wife in the world and I just came to see Connie," said Bivens as he walked over to Riley's wife to hug her.

Dyer County General Sessions Court Judge Jason Hudson said he never got to practice law in front of Riley, but took one of his law classes at the University of Memphis.

"Judge Riley, I want you to know, all of the members of the bar association here in Dyer County and Lake County appreciate you and are glad to have this plaque for you," said Hudson.

Dyer County Chancellor Tony Childress said there really wasn't enough bronze in the state of Tennessee to build a plaque that was large enough to put all of the things that Riley has meant to Dyer and Lake counties and the judiciary of the state of Tennessee.

"When I went to the judicial academy, I listened to what this man said and he taught me a lot," said Childress. "He taught me a lot about how to try to be a judge. If imitation is the best source of flattery then I think you're flattered all over the state of Tennessee, because there are lots of judges that try to be just like you."

Childress also mentioned the fact that Riley was the person that would prosecute judges when they stepped out of line.

"He would be stern and fair and those were the qualities he had while he was the circuit court judge," said Childress. "We're lucky to have had you and I'm like Mayor Hill, you need to come around more often."

Attorney Matthew Willis, president of the Dyer County Bar Association, said the plaque was long overdue and they owe a special word of gratitude to Parnell who spearheaded the project to get the plaque.

"On behalf of the bar, we're glad you have a plaque worthy of your reputation and we're sorry it took this long."

Riley thanked the crowd for being there and specifically thanked his former bailiff, Parnell.

"Ronnie (Parnell) had the job of protecting me, among his other duties, when we worked together over 12 years ago and he still thinks he's supposed to do that," said Riley.

He added that he and his wife, Connie, appreciate the opportunity to be with everyone back in Dyer County again, saying it has been a great journey, which began on the campaign trial in the summer of 1978.

"I'm humbled and very appreciative," said Riley.

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