District Attorney’s Office Starts New Term with Two New Attorneys


Kingston – As newly elected and re-elected officials took their oaths of office on Sunday in the Roane County Courthouse, two new attorneys were sworn in as Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs).  They joined the office of District Attorney General Russell Johnson, who was unopposed in his recent re-election to his second eight year term.  September 1st starts the new term for not only General Johnson but also the district level judges and the public defender in the four county district composed of Roane, Loudon, Morgan and Meigs Counties.


At the swearing in ceremony Johnson introduced the two new ADAs, Joe Caldwell and Lauren Bennett, and then held a welcoming reception for them at Kingston’s Gloria Jean’s Southern Provisions eatery in Ladd Landing. 


Joe Caldwell, a Kingston resident and native Tennessean, comes on board to replace recently retired long-time ADA and Harriman resident, Patti Murphy, who worked as such all eight years of Johnson’s first term, as well as serving as an ADA for two years during previous administrations and for seven years as an attorney for the Department of Children’s Services.  Caldwell will work in the Criminal Division of the office handling duties in General Sessions Court, then transitioning in the DUI prosecutor position once he had received several months of training, according to Johnson.  Caldwell is a 2013 graduate of the John Duncan School of Law at LMU in Knoxville as well as being a 2000 graduate of the University of Tennessee.  He worked in the real estate in both sales and market analysis before obtaining his law degree.


Lauren Bennett, a Knoxville resident and native of Iowa, is filling an ADA slot left vacant in the Child Support Enforcement Division when Hank Sledge was appointed in mid-July by the Loudon County Commission to become that county’s new Juvenile Court and Judicial Magistrate.   Bennett comes to the district attorney’s office after serving over two years as an attorney with the Department of Children’s Services and four years of private practice in both Iowa and Tennessee.  Bennett is a 2007 graduate of Drake University School of Law and a 2005 graduate of William Penn University, both located in Iowa.


“I am excited about these two lawyers. Even though they have somewhat different personalities and approaches, they both have the intellect, the drive and work ethic to do their jobs well.  They will both make great prosecutors,” Johnson stated.  Bennett and Caldwell both become part of a team of fresh, younger prosecutors in the district attorney’s office.  About this time last year Johnson hired local prosecutor Terry Stevens only three years out of law school to handle the prosecutions in the newly created DUI unit.  In November of last year Alyson Kennedy came over from the Department of Safety a year after her graduation from Vermont School of Law and Tiffany Smith, at

the same time, joined the office just months after graduation from LMU’s Duncan School of Law.


“I like having a group of new folks who want to work hard and try cases.  Even though they have little or no jury trial experience it gives us the potential to be more aggressive in our approach to how we prosecute because they all have a fresh, unvarnished approach to this work.


The most important skill they will need to learn is how to evaluate a case.  Once they have that case file they must ask:  What do I have to prove?  What can I prove and what can I not prove?

What is the ‘value of a case’ for prosecution? Is it a good case to take to trial or do I need to try and resolve it through negotiation? 


A case’s potential for success is often based on the quality of the casework of the prosecuting law enforcement officer or investigator’s when it is handed off to our office to prosecute.  Once we get a case file it is unlikely that we can make that case any better, so these ADAs have to take the facts and circumstances of a case as given them.  Their oath as attorneys for the State of Tennessee is to determine what the truth of the matter is, then make a just result out of it the best they can.  That is all that I can ask of any ADA.”