Honor, Courage, and Commitment: Judge Hector Sanchez

Judge Hector Sanchez (UT Law, ’14) turned his own challenging personal experiences into a commitment to serving others. In 2022, Governor Bill Lee appointed Sanchez to fill a vacancy in the Sixth Judicial District Criminal Court. “I consider that my biggest professional success,” Sanchez says. “Most of all, I want my service to honor the position.”

Born in the panhandle of Texas, Sanchez grew up amid the challenges of domestic violence and poverty. For a time, he lived with his mother and three siblings in a shelter, then in public housing. “Growing up in poverty and around crime helps me relate to people I encounter today,” he says. “I have a lot of empathy and understanding.”

Path to Public Service

At age twenty, Sanchez enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Despite being assigned to a non-deployable unit in Norfolk, Virginia, he voluntarily served a tour in Afghanistan. While on active duty, he attended college in the evenings.

After an honorable discharge from the USMC with the rank of sergeant, Sanchez completed his undergraduate studies, earning a degree in criminal justice from Old Dominion University. He then moved to Knoxville, where his mother and stepfather were living. Following the advice of one of his college professors, who encouraged him to go to law school and become a prosecutor, he worked as an intern in the Knox County District Attorney’s Office while studying for the LSAT.

Sanchez attended the University of Tennessee College of Law, graduated, and returned to the District Attorney’s Office, this time as an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting violent crimes as a member of the Major Crimes Unit. At age 38, he was appointed to the Knox County Criminal Court.

Public service is the theme of Sanchez’s professional career. He credits his mother’s example for that commitment to putting others first. “She always had high expectations for me and my siblings,” he says. “Despite difficult circumstances, she modeled tenacity and a strong work ethic for us.”

Sanchez says his time in the USMC also had a powerful, positive influence on his life. “I learned to be selfless and to value honor, courage and commitment. Those core values drive me today.”

Serving as a Jurist

On his appointment to the Sixth Judicial District Criminal Court, Sanchez became Tennessee’s first Hispanic criminal court trial judge. “That’s a huge honor, and I believe diversity on the bench is extremely important,” he says, “but being Hispanic is only one facet of my identity — I’m also a son, a brother, a husband, a stepfather, and a veteran.” Sanchez brings all those experiences to his position as a jurist, along with a desire to see justice done for all.

To cope with the high-intensity criminal cases that he now presides over, Sanchez acknowledges the importance of healthy hobbies such as jogging and a weekly golf game. “It’s important to have something to reset your mind, body, and soul.” 

Advice for Law Students

Sanchez urges current law students and recent graduates not to be afraid to ask for help. “Not seeking out mentors was one of my mistakes early on in my career,” he says, “but I’ve learned my lesson.” Sanchez points to a current mentor, Judge Steven W. Sword (UT Law, ’95), a fellow Criminal Court Judge with eleven years of experience on the bench, as a source of professional wisdom and support.

To those who fought through challenging circumstances to attend law school, Sanchez offers this encouragement: “If a Mexican kid who grew up on food stamps can make it, so can you.”