One of the least controversial members of the judiciary was elected to the Hamilton County Criminal Court in the most controversial political race in the history of the state of Tennessee in the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Hamilton County by defeating incumbent Judge Raulston Schoolfield in the Democratic Primary in May 1958.
Russell Campbell Carden was born September 3, 1915 and, although it is now not generally known, was a descendant of two former governors of the Volunteer State. One of his great grandfathers, Democrat William Hall (1775-1856), was elected to the Tennessee State Senate for three terms beginning in 1821. When Governor Sam Houston resigned in 1829, Hall as Speaker of the Senate briefly assumed the governorship but did not run for re-election. However, as an Andrew Johnson supporter in 1931, he was elected to Congress and served one term.
Judge Carden’s other great-grandfather, William B. Campbell, (1807–1867), was the 16th Tennessee governor from 1851 to 1853 and was the last Whig to hold that position. He would also serve four terms in the United States House of Representative from 1837-1843 and from 1866-1867.
Judge Carden’s father, Frank S. Carden, Sr. (1882-1934), was also active in politics and served in the Tennessee House of Representatives representing Hamilton County from 1907-1911. He also was elected city attorney of Chattanooga in 1915 and served until he resigned in 1922.
He was a gifted orator who also specialized in representing defendants in criminal law and, although the son of a Methodist minister, he started a vigorous and long time battle against the adoption of Prohibition laws in the state of Tennessee in 1909.
Judge Carden’s brother, Frank S. Carden, Jr., was also an active trial lawyer and ironically was a close colleague of Raulston Schoolfield as members of the smaller Hamilton County Bar Association whose members often did not belong to the larger Chattanooga Bar Association that led the campaign to defeat Schoolfield in the 1958 election.
Judge Carden was a graduate of the McCallie School, Duke University and Duke Law School and received his law degree in 1939.
Judge Carden was a quiet individual who rarely publicly spoke bad about anyone but he was a classmate of former President Richard M .Nixon and in private he would not always speak favorably about the 37th President as a fellow law student.
Following his FBI career Judge Carden served as an assistant district attorney under Corey Smith and was engaged in the private practice with future Chancellor J. Clifford Curry, and the law firm of Moon, Harris and Dineen.
When the “Good Government League”, spear headed by attorney Jac Chambliss, decided to pick a candidate to run against the controversial jurist, Raulston Schoolfield, for Criminal Judge they chose Campbell Carden to oppose him.
After a bitter election campaign, Judge Carden won the May 1958 campaign and would serve the next 24 years without any opposition.
He had a firm but fair disposition on the bench as a jurist and would allow lawyers to try their cases with little or no interruptions from him as long as they stayed within the bounds of propriety.
He generally favored the prosecution in technical matters such as search and seizure but would always allow the attorneys to build an appellate record and did not become offended if they chose to appeal one of his decisions or verdicts.
In his latter years on the bench he showed great compassion toward first offenders and young people that he had to sentence in a criminal case irrespective of the fact that they were involved in a controversial case.
After retiring in 1982 he lived a productive life until July 11, 2006.
Former District Attorney Gary Gerbitz gave a Memorial Resolution at the traditional yearly ceremony by the Chattanooga Bar Association that was appropriate about Russell Campbell Carden.
“For many young lawyers, including prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, Campbell Carden was as Judge a father figure. His easy-going demeanor on the bench and his quiet, thoughtful office discussions directed many of our ways through criminal trial procedure. Although he sat as judge on hundreds of criminal cases, most of us remember vividly his instructional discussions off the bench.
In many extremely difficult murder trials Judge Carden, in his quiet but firm nature, directed the adversarial traffic with a ‘Let’s all calm down!’ When confronted with sometimes unimportant arguments from aggressive attorneys on both sides of the case, he would simply remark, ‘Let’s move along,” bringing an immediate calm to needlessly hostile situations.
His demeanor changed the judicial environment from explosive and controversial to thoughtful and even-handed, without a doubt, Judge Campbell Carden changed the Criminal Court judiciary in Chattanooga for the betterment of everyone.”
As one old time lawyer remarked, “The only negative thought that could be said about Judge Carden was that he wasn’t a very good handball player!”
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