Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. ’54 (BA’52) of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee dead at 89 

Mar 21, 2020

Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr.’54 (BA ’52) of Nashville died March 18. A native of Tullahoma, Tennessee, Judge Wiseman was nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 on the recommendation of Sen. James Sasser ’61 (BA’58) 

Read Judge Wiseman’s obituary in The Tennessean

Read Judge Wiseman’s obituary in the Tullahoma News

During his long and distinguished judicial career, Judge Wiseman served on the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules of the Judicial Conference from 1984 to 1989as chief judge of the Middle District of Tennessee from 1984 to 1991, and as a member of the Sixth Circuit pattern jury instructions committee from 1987 to 2012A lifelong student of the law, Judge Wiseman earned his master’s of law from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1990. 

After he assumed senior status in 1995Judge Wiseman continued to serve until his official retirement in 2013, holding court in Nashville and accepting assignments in other districts where there was a shortage of judges, including the Eastern and Western Districts of Tennessee, the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, the Western District of North Carolina, the Southern District of Ohio and the Middle District of Florida. He was elected to represent the Sixth Circuit Court in the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, he served for three months as consultant to the judiciary of Brcko Bosnia, under the aegis of the Central and Eastern Europe Legal Initiative and the U.S. State Department. He was appointed a special master by the Sixth Circuit Court to take evidence in the case of John DemyanyukUkrainian-American accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out while serving as a guard at Nazi extermination camps during World War II. 

“Judge Wiseman was a legendary jurist and one of our most distinguished graduates,” said Chris Guthrie, Dean and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law. “He was also a beloved teacher at Vanderbilt Law whose lifelong example of public service inspired students and faculty alike.” 

Among other notable cases, Judge Wiseman presided over the desegregation of schools in Nashville from 1978 until settlement and unitary status declaration in 2004, and over the Geier Consent Decree, which desegregated Tennessee’s colleges and universities. He was a member of the founding board of directors and vice-president of the Federal Judges Association. At the request of the Tennessee Judicial Conference, he conducted training classes for the bench and bar in judge sentencing when the Tennessee State Courts transitioned to that from jury sentencing. 

Judge Wiseman taught Trial Advocacy as a member of the adjunct faculty of Vanderbilt Law School for 15 years, starting in 1989He also taught national, regional and advanced courses in the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. 

“Judge Wiseman was a talented and compassionate judge who never forgot that he came from a small town in Middle Tennessee. He was also a born teacher, beloved and admired by his Trial Advocacy students. The students who were  externs in his chambers not only had a wonderful and educational semester, they gained both a mentor and a friend for life,” said Susan Kay, Associate Dean for Experiential Education. 

He received the law school’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his long career of public service and his work as a member of Vanderbilt’s adjunct law faculty. 

Judge Wiseman served for two years in the U.S. Army after earning his law degree at Vanderbilt in 1954. He then returned to his hometown, Tullahoma, and practiced law there and in Winchester, Tennessee, from 1956 to 1971He was elected to represent Coffee, Franklin and Grundy counties in the Tennessee State House of Representatives from 1965 to 1969 and served as chairman of the Democratic caucus. Judge Wiseman was a member of a group who set out to reform Tennessee’s state legislature, implementing such practical measures as annual sessionsannual budgets and a fiscal review committee. He served on the planning committee for Tennessee’s Legislative Plaza, which provided the first offices for state senators and representatives. 

Judge Wiseman and his family moved to Nashville permanently in 1971 when he was elected state treasurer. He resigned as treasurer in 1974 to run for governor of Tennessee and returned to legal practice after losing the election, forming the firm of Chambers and Wiseman. Among other clients, Judge Wiseman represented the financial industry of Tennessee in a successful effort to amend the constitutional interest rate maximum so that it could be set by the state legislature. 

Judge Wiseman is survived by his wife, Emily Matlack Wiseman; his son, Thomas A. Wiseman III ’82; two daughters, Mary Wiseman Rochester and Sarah Emily Wiseman; and a large extended family. His obituary states, “Tommy was proud to have been a public servant who tried to make a difference. 

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