District Attorney General Paul Phillips is accustom to speaking in packed courtrooms.
What he isn’t familiar with is saying goodbye.
But on Friday that is what Phillips did.
Earlier this month it was announced by Gov. Bill Haslam that Phillips would leave his post as Eighth Judicial District Attorney after 33 years. Making the news a bittersweet notification was that Phillips’ niece Lori Phillips- Jones would serve out the rest of his term.
Phillips will continue as district attorney general until Aug. 31. But the governor’s announcement prompted Phillips to make a series of visits across the district last week.
Campbell County was his third stop.
In the lower courtroom of the courthouse, Phillips stood before other lawyers, elected officials and well wishers.
His message was simple. He wanted to say “thank you.”
“I wanted to come to Campbell County and say thank you for allowing me to be your DA for more than 33 years,” Phillips said. His memories of Campbell County are fond. As a boy growing up in Scott County, Phillips said LaFollette was always “the big city.” Being able to serve the area in a professional capacity was what Phillips believed is a professional accomplishment.
Part of serving as district attorney general meant working with a variety of people in those 33 years. It was the mention of one of those individuals that caused Phillips to become emotional.
“(Judge) Lee Asbury was a truly unique individual and a blessing to be around,” Phillips said of the man who spent decades as the district’s criminal judge.
Asbury’s successor, Shayne Sexton also received kind words from Phillips.
“Judge Sexton is different but equally outstanding,” Phillips said of the man whose legal career he helped launch.
“He took a chance on hiring me as a young and inexperienced attorney,” Sexton said on Tuesday. “I would not be a judge today without the lessons I learned while working with Paul.”
As Phillips continued to recite people from across Campbell County he had enjoyed working with Judge Conrad Troutman, Judge Joe Ayers, Criminal Court Clerk Bobby Vann and Sheriff Robbie Goins also made the list.
“He is the best attorney general I have ever worked with in law enforcement and now,” Vann said. “In fact, I think he is the best in the state. He will be hard to replace.”
Many things across the district have changed since Phillips took office, he said. The most significant change has been the “tsunami of drugs,” according to Phillips. A drug epidemic across the five counties has given way to an upswing in crime, he said. But he remains optimistic the narcotics can be tamed.
Phillips encouraged the crowd gathered in his honor to focus on prevention and enforcement.
“Churches have a very important role to play,” he said. He said youth groups were key because they had the ability to reach other youth.
“You can turn the corner here in Campbell County. I just won’t be here to see it,” Phillips said.
“Although he will be missed by the citizens of the eighth district, his legacy will thrive,” said Sexton.