Tom Cates Retiring as City Attorney for Germantown and Collierville

By Clay Bailey
Photo by Mike Brown
The Commercial Appeal July 7, 2013

Tom Cates, who has served as Germantown and Collierville city attorney for more than 17 years and was one of the legal leaders in the suburban fight for municipal schools, will retire at the end of July.

Cates, a lawyer with Burch, Porter and Johnson, said he is stepping down from the bulk of his case work, but will maintain a few limited duties with the firm. The suburbs will continue using the firm on school litigation, with Nathan Bicks probably moving into the lead role, several suburban leaders said.

“I’ll field some calls, but hopefully, it will be to get them to a good lawyer in our firm,” Cates said.

Germantown City Administrator Patrick Lawton said Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy’s administration will make a recommendation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at the July 22 meeting to replace Cates. Bicks is expected to be appointed to Cates’ spot in Collierville at that city’s board meeting Wednesday, Town Administrator James Lewellen said.

Cates, 71, who practiced law for 48 years, has served as Collierville’s Town Attorney since 1995. He has held a similar role with Germantown since 1991 following a stint as legal adviser to commissions such as design review, planning and animal control.

Cates thought about retirement two years ago, but the schools litigation arose.

“I realize there will never be a perfect time to leave,” Cates said, “and, right now, (the schools case) is in kind of a lull.”

Lawton said Cates came along at an important time. His expertise in development and contracts, plus his knowledge of government procedures, was beneficial through the 1990s as Germantown continued its significant growth.

“We’re going to miss him around here,” Lawton said. “He’s such a fixture (at Germantown City Hall).”

Cates’ arrival also came during a tumultuous time in Germantown as Mayor Charles Salvaggio was in a political battle with the majority of aldermen — a group that wanted a full-time city attorney to replace Salvaggio ally George Brannon, who had a regular law practice. Cates was appointed to the city attorney position on an interim basis initially. “After a couple of months, they got satisfied with the job I was doing and that my firm was doing, and decided to keep it the way it was,” Cates said.

He has been in the Germantown role since, and when Lewellen moved to Collierville from Germantown, he soon brought Cates there.

Cates said he plans to continue with his hobbies of hunting, fishing and gardening, activities that remained despite the time associated with the legal profession. He recalls that his son, Andy, told his first-grade teacher he wanted to be a lawyer “so I can hunt and fish all the time.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Cates said, “and it’s always been intellectually challenging. I may miss that challenge. But I doubt it.”

Original article can be found here. Photo by Mike Brown for The Commercial Appeal.