Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Chuck Cerny honored with Leon Ruben Award for Excellence

Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Chuck Cerny received the Leon Ruben Award for Excellence at the recent Tennessee General Sessions Judges Conference in Memphis. The award was presented by Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Alex McVeagh.

“For those who don’t know, Judge Cerny not only presides over the misdemeanor and felony drug recovery courts in Knox County, but he also presides over their Veterans treatment court,” said Judge McVeagh. “He also is starting a mental health court. For those recovery court judges in this room, who know the amount of time, effort and energy that running one of these programs takes, to preside over three of those, much less his felony tracks that his criminal court/circuit court colleagues allow him to preside over, I don’t know how he does it. Well, actually I do because I sat in his courtroom one night until about 8 p.m. several years ago, when he was allowing me to shadow him.”

Although he had job-shadowed Judge Cerny, Judge McVeagh really got to know him while starting a drug recovery court in Hamilton County.

“He and his family are certainly an example of people who have taken losses, have shown others what it means to live in a way that this award honors folks to live by,” said Judge McVeagh. “In fact, Judge Cerny once said, ’All human beings experience the pain that comes from loss. The only alternative is to not love people. That’s not a viable alternative because loving others is something we are called on to do in our faith systems. It’s also just the right thing to do.’”

Understanding can come from loss. When Judge McVeagh asked Judge Cerny’s staff to describe him in one word, their answer was “compassionate.”

“It’s a word that not only his staff use to describe him, but every participant who has been a part of his program uses to describe him. I certainly believe that Judge Ruben would be proud of this recipient,” said Judge McVeagh. “I can’t think of a better person to present this award to today. He is a shining example of somebody who truly gives that dignity and treats folks with the respect that Judge Ruben treated everyone that appeared before him.”

Judge Cerny approached the podium with tears in his eyes. His voice shook in disbelief, as he accepted his award.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Judge Cerny. “I never dreamed in a million years I would get this award.”

Judge Cerny then recalled the first General Sessions Judges Conference he attended where Judge Leon Ruben made a lasting impression.

“Leon Ruben offered a blessing and I remember he sounded like a good Methodist to me, at first,” he said. That comment drew laughter from the attendees. When the room became quiet again, Judge Cerny recited the blessing in Hebrew and English: “’Blessed are you Lord, who brings forth bread from the earth.’ And I felt in that moment that everybody had a chance to feel a part of things. Leon Ruben was truly a great judge and a great man and he became a good friend to me. I am very honored and shocked and really surprised, but it is very kind of you all to think of me. I’ve tried hard to do this as well as I can. Thank you, sincerely, I appreciate you all.”

Two of Judge Ruben’s four children were in attendance, along with their spouses. They were moved by Judge Cerny’s kind words about his friend, their late father.

The Leon Ruben Award for Excellence is given annually to a judge or judges who distinguish themselves through their outstanding service to the community, the conference and the judiciary as a whole. The award is named for Judge Ruben, who served as a sitting judge for 37 years in Nashville. He also served as a Metro Council Member and was known for his excellent contributions to the community.

Judge Cerny is a native of Indianapolis. He received his undergraduate degree from Purdue University and his Juris Doctor from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Judge Cerny has served on the bench for nearly 25 years.