Doug Overbey realizes the rarity of what he has experienced.
Overbey, the now-former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, looks back on the chance he was given with awe.
“(I am) fortunate to have had this opportunity. … To be the chief federal law enforcement officer (in that area) is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Overbey told The Daily Times.
President Joe Biden in February requested the resignations of Overbey and other Donald Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys, a customary, time-honored practice.
The tradition of mass-replacing U.S. attorneys dates back to President Ronald Reagan, according to a 2007 article by The Los Angeles Times. Trump did the same, as did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden in February acted to remove all but two Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys, The Washington Post reported then. Former First Assistant Francis M. Hamilton III of Knoxville is now the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Entering the arena
A Kingsport native, Overbey first moved to Maryville in 1980 after graduating from the University of Tennessee’s law school.
“I just decided that I really liked Maryville, the feel of the community,” Overbey said. “Just a great community. I thought it would be a great community to live in and raise a family there. And (another plus was) the outstanding school system.”
Overbey practiced law at Knoxville-based firm Owings, Wilson & Coleman before entering the political arena. And his time in that arena was long: He spent eight years in the Tennessee House of Representatives and nine in the state Senate.
He continued to practice law while serving in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“For me, it was the same as for a lot of people who get involved in civic and community affairs, and that was to try to make a positive difference in our community,” Overbey said.
When President Trump began the search for new U.S. attorneys, Sens. Lamar Alexander, also from Maryville, and Bob Corker recommended Overbey.
Thus began a daunting process that first saw Overbey interviewed by attorneys from both the White House and the Justice Department. He then was interviewed personally by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in Sessions’ conference room and for about 50 minutes.
When Trump submitted his nominations, Overbey included, to the Senate, the FBI conducted a background check on him.
“You send in a whole lot of information to the Senate Judiciary Committee: copies of every speech you’ve ever given, any articles you’ve written, every time your name has been mentioned in a newspaper,” Overbey said. “You send all that information to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Fortunately, then I received the favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, then on the floor of the Senate.
“That’s how the confirmation process went.”
How did he feel during the entire process?
“It was a lot of enthusiasm, but some trepidation of always wanting to put your best foot forward and reflect well on your community and your family,” Overbey said. “But the lawyers from the Justice Department and the White House, they put you through your paces.”
Representing the United States
As U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Overbey was in charge of an area that stretches from Lincoln County to Johnson County — 460 miles, 41 counties and nearly 3 million people, he said.
He spent 3½ years in the position. Arguably the highlight of the job, he said, was working with people who take “great pride in representing the United States in court.”
“It was a great privilege. … I would like for everyone to know that the men and women who work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the assistant United States attorneys and support staff, are a bunch of tremendous people,” Overbey said. “They are doing what they want to do. They are serving the United States.”
“I feel very privileged to be one of the persons who has served as United States attorney,” Overbey added. “There are only 93 U.S. attorneys across the country, and I enjoyed meeting my colleagues from across the United States and working with them and meeting Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Attorney General (William) Barr.
“I just have great respect for the work of the Justice Department.”
When Joe Biden defeated Trump in the November election, many U.S. attorneys vacated their roles on their own, Overbey said.
He wasn’t one of them, opting to stay on the job. Overbey used the time to fill staff roles in his office that had been opened, saying it was important for him to get a new management team both in place and working together.
But when Biden officially requested the resignations of the remaining U.S. attorneys, Overbey’s time in the cherished position came to an end.
“The United States attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and when a new president comes in, it’s not unusual for the new president to request the resignation of various political appointees, including the United States attorneys,” Overbey said.
What does the future hold?
Overbey enjoyed spending time at home after leaving the job last month, but he’s not staying as a homebody. Starting March 29, he will return to private practice law at Owings, Wilson and Coleman.
“I look forward to rejoining the firm and picking back up my private practice of law,” Overbey said.
And will there be a return to the political arena for Overbey in the future?
“I really haven’t given that any thought at this time,” Overbey said. “I’m probably not inclined to, but I learned a long time ago never to say never. … I have enjoyed my time in public service, both elected office and appointed, but right now, I’m looking forward to practicing law. We’ve got six grandchildren and I look forward to having time to play with them.”