June 29, 2021
By: Dwayne Page
Hanging up his robe!
After almost 24 years serving as DeKalb County’s General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge, Bratten Cook, II has announced that he will be leaving office when his term ends August 31, 2022.
“The voters of DeKalb County have honored me three different times with election, but like the old saying goes “every dog has its day” and mine has come,” said Judge Cook in an interview with WJLE Friday.
Although he will be stepping down from the bench next year, Judge Cook stresses that he is not retiring as an attorney.
“I am still going to practice law. I love working and I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t working. I hope I can slow down some since I won’t be on the bench several days a week but I don’t play golf 8 days a week like my buddy Hilton Conger,” said Judge Cook with a chuckle.
Judge Cook was elected to his first eight year term in 1998 and re-elected in 2006 and 2014. He made his decision not to seek a fourth term last year, but only shared it with a select few.
“I decided quite some time back that it was time to step aside and let someone else assume the reigns of the court system in DeKalb County. I let some of the lawyers know more than a year ago that I was not going to seek re-election so that they could at least be thinking about running”.
Cook has practiced law for 41 years but becoming a lawyer was not a career path he had chosen until he was already in college.
“Actually it didn’t hit me until probably my second year at MTSU when I had a lot of liberal arts courses such as history, psychology, sociology, and various English and literature courses. I enjoy reading and I found out if you want to be a lawyer you had better enjoy reading. One thing led to another and I thought I would take the LSAT which was the Law School Admissions Test. I did and scored pretty well on it and from there I applied to a couple of law schools, actually only Memphis and UT and got accepted at both but I wanted to go to UT instead of Memphis,” Judge Cook said.
After becoming an attorney in 1980, Cook rose through the ranks to become one of the leading lawyers in town. For sixteen years he served as attorney and prosecutor for the City of Smithville and only gave it up when he became judge because he couldn’t hold both positions.
During his time on the bench, Judge Cook has started several programs through the court system to better the lives of people who come before him, but the one he is most proud of is the Recovery Court, which is a rehabilitation program for drug offenders as an alternative to incarceration.
“I am extremely proud of our Adult Recovery Court, which we implemented about 15 years ago. It is the most important program that I started as judge. It used to be called Drug Court. We still perform the same function; the State just changed the name. I have asked a hundred times over the years “do you want to pay $20,000 a year to house each person in the DeKalb County Jail, or do you want to pay about $5,000 a year to treat them so they can become clean and sober and responsible citizens?” It’s a no brainer. The Sheriff has always been behind this program and is a key member of our Recovery Court team as well as the Assistant Public Defender and the Assistant District Attorney General. I have also been blessed with having other good people working with me in the Recovery Court Program. Right now we have Kate Arnold who is our Coordinator and she is doing a fabulous job. This program has been a tremendous success. We have seen so many people get clean and sober, get their children back, get a job, and get their own place to live. It’s totally transformed the lives of many and those in their sphere of influence. I believe when you change one person’s life you’re really not just changing that one, but it goes out exponentially to their spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends. It’s so rewarding and I thank the Lord that I have had this opportunity,” said Judge Cook. Since 2002, Judge Cook has also overseen a Juvenile Recovery Court in DeKalb County but that is currently phasing out and transitioning to a new statewide program.
“The Juvenile Recovery Court Program is being phased out, not by my doing, but at the insistence of the State. There will no longer be a Juvenile Recovery Court. It will be called Family Recovery and it will work with juveniles and their families more or less in the context of Department of Children Services cases to try and provide families with safe, sober, responsible, respectable environments. I am looking forward to getting that up and running”.
In addition to the Recovery Court, Judge Cook has overseen other programs geared toward helping juveniles and adults.
“Several programs were started for juveniles back when I first became judge including a teen safe driving school that I require all offenders of virtually any traffic violation to attend. We have juvenile drug and alcohol classes and a juvenile anger management class. I started a smoking cessation class and require every student to attend who gets caught with either tobacco products at school or the last few years its been probably more vaping products than tobacco. We also have a crisis intervention program in DeKalb County for not just the children, but families that may have crises in their lives and need help. In the adult arena we have basically the same categories of programs like our safe driving school. We have alcohol and drug assessments for anyone that is convicted of an alcohol or drug offense. That assessment will show if they need any type of treatment whether its inpatient or intensive outpatient or maybe no treatment. Whatever treatment is recommended is what I require them to do. We have clean and sober classes for adults, anger management, and domestic violence counseling”.
“One thing I unfortunately have not been able to implement and I wanted to a year or so ago but couldn’t largely because of COVID is a mentoring program that would go hand in hand with the Department of Children Services because there are so many young people in our community that are being raised by a single parent and most of the time that single parent is a mother. These young boys need a man in their life to teach them how to be a man, how to be responsible and respectable, and how to treat girls, and the girls also need someone in their life to teach them how to be a respectable young lady.
Over the years Judge Cook has received his share of honors but he said it’s his wife Judy and secretary Tish Summers who deserve most of the credit for the recognition.
“I have been blessed with having a wife who has always supported me. When I first ran for the judgeship Judy got out and beat the bushes, walked about every road in DeKalb County, knocked on thousands of doors and has always been behind me in my efforts to create these different programs and also my secretary Tish. She has been with me over 30 years and has been instrumental in helping me. When some accolade or award comes along its always me that gets it, but its Judy and Tish that really deserve the awards,” he said.
From that first election to today, Judge Cook has always had the support of his immediate and extended family.
“Judy and I will celebrate our 48th anniversary this year. We have three children, Megan, Bratten, and Andrew and five grandchildren, Ari, Devin, Bratten IV, Bexley, and Kara. When I first ran for Judge in 1998, my mother Jo Bill Cook was a tremendous help as well as my mother in law and father in law Earl and Ravanell Driver along with several of my aunts, two of whom have passed away, Jeanine Cook and Tincy Stone. I still have other family living who were instrumental in my election and two re-elections, including my uncle Joe Stone and aunt Janie Knowles and I love and appreciate them. I regret that my dad Bratten Cook, Sr. died in 1994 and never had the chance to see me become a judge but I know he was extremely proud of me for becoming a lawyer”.
When on vacation Judge Cook and his family often take trips to Florida and he plans on continuing to do that perhaps even more so in the future.
“My second home is Disney World and I hope to be going there more than I have in the past. Its where I really get my energy from and my batteries re-charged”.
Judge Cook currently serves as president of the local bar association and he looks forward to continue working with his fellow attorneys as he carries on his law practice after stepping down from the bench.
“We are blessed to have attorneys, primarily from DeKalb County but other counties that practice in the General Sessions and Juvenile Court who are intelligent, articulate, cooperative, and good people to work with. It makes a judge’s job so much easier. We have a great bar association here of which I have been president for years. They are great lawyers. The late Chancellor Vernon Neal, who was my favorite judge of all time, once said he would put any lawyer in the Upper Cumberland up against any lawyer in Knoxville, Chattanooga or Nashville and guarantee you they would outshine any of those big city lawyers. I think that’s true”.
Judge Cook said he hopes his successor will carry on the programs he started and would be willing to fill in for the new judge from time to time if the need should arise.
“I hope I can be of some help to my successor and show them what I have done and what the job entails. I have been blessed to have former General Sessions and Juvenile Judge Vester Parsley and City Judge Hilton Conger as well as other judges from surrounding counties fill in for me when I have had conflicts, sickness, or vacation and I would do the same for my successor. I just hope and pray whoever my successor is will continue on with these programs we started especially the Recovery Court”.
Asked if he had ever during his career contemplated seeking higher office, Judge Cook was quick to respond “no” but he added that his belief is everyone has a purpose in life.
“When I first made the decision to run for judge in 1998 I did a lot of thinking, but I did a whole lot more praying. I believe I was meant to do what I have done in my life. I have been so blessed far above what I deserve in my life with the opportunities I have been given and although I have been honored many times in my 40 year career with different awards, nothing quite equals the people of your home county selecting you to be a public official. They not only did it once or twice, but three times for me and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it”.